Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Sonny Side of Life

The first time the kids and I saw Sonny is was at a shelter called CatNip Cottage.  We were looking for a companion to our tuxedo kitty Skittles who had just lost about 1/3 of his tongue in an accident and was now permanently regulated to being inside.   We felt bad and wanted to find him a companion to make up for the friends he was losing on the outside. 

I had researched places to adopt kitties and found this lovely shelter that had a website where you could look at videos of the cats before you went to adopt them. Sonny’s profile had the headline “Instant Purrer” and in the video you could actually hear him purring.  His on-line bio stated that he had been abandoned with his sister in a box at a stop sign in Alpharetta.  Some volunteers noticed the kittens and brought them to the shelter.  Sonny’s sister was adopted first and he was left there just waiting for a family to love him.
So on that Fourth of July weekend eight years ago, we went to the shelter after selecting him on-line hoping that our hunch would be correct- that this little kitty would be the right match for the cat we had at home.  The woman at the shelter opened the crate and this little black and white cat immediately walked up to Amber and licked her face.  We were smitten and knew immediately he was meant to be part of our family. 

We brought him home and our other cat Skittles was not so sure- he hissed and spat at him.  Sonny took it in stride and didn’t answer back – realizing this other feline was the alpha cat.  We reassured Skittles that he was still our baby and by the end of that Independence Day weekend – they were grooming each other and the best of friends.
Amber finally had a cat who she could put in a baby blanket and hold like an infant.  Sonny would gladly oblige because being loved by his girly bear beat being in a shelter any day.  Skittles realized there was someone who actually liked playing baby-time with Amber and it took the heat off of him. 

As Sonny grew – he got taller than Skittles, but he never forgot the pecking order.  One time I saw them both standing at a door that was closed.  Skittles looked a Sonny who got on his hind legs and tapped the door until it opened – he then waited for Skittles to walk through before he also went inside the room.   It was hilarious and almost a little cartoonish but that was there relationship and Sonny never pressed his size over Skittles.  
Then one day four years later, Skittles started to not feel well and was losing weight.  We tried doing everything we could to help but nothing – even feeding him with eye droppers and making kitten glop seemed to help.  I had just been laid off and we just didn’t have the money to take him to a vet to find out what was wrong.   Sonny stayed by his friend’s side even grooming him because Skittles didn’t have the strength to do it himself.  He was pretty weak and I gave him a bath to make him feel better.  We were posting updates on Facebook and people were sending prayers.  The next morning he was gone.   After we said good-bye to our little cat, our Son-bear would lay down in the spot on the rug in our bathroom where his friend had died.  He often stayed there for hours at a time. 

In the months that passed, Sonny became more serious and not as playful because he
missed his friend.  People like to dismiss animals as not having good memories or not capable of grief but he was grieving.  He visited all the places that his friend used to go in the house to hide from the chaos that two kids can bring about.  He did start to jump up on the chairs or even the table at dinner time and wanted to be part of the conversation.  He wouldn’t try to steal food (at least not most of the time) he just wanted to be included in the conversation.   He would still tolerate baby time with Amber but it was more out of duty then being playful. 
Four months later on New Year’s Eve, we decided that like Skittles, he needed a friend to play with and went to the same shelter were we had adopted Sonny.  This time it was a six month old white kitty named Vanilly who was ironically the last cat to be adopted out of that shelter since they were closing their doors.  We brought him home in a pink pet carrier.  He was afraid to come out of the little box since he had spent almost all of his short life in a shelter not used to the sights and sounds of an actual home.    Sonny was near-by wisely trying not to scare this new-comer who warmed up to him and after a few hours left the security of the carrier and began to investigate things.  He started to play with Sonny who played back but without the vigor he had before Skittles died.  He felt more like the elder statesman and Vanilly was the young brash cat who had a knack for knocking things over and running to Sonny for help.

Many times Sonny felt like more of a dog than a cat.  He’d beg for lettuce even though he was well over 20 pounds.  He would sit on the couch 
and watch TV with Amber or make a hammock under the lining in Danielle’s box spring and hang out there.  He would come when I called and asked him to "see mommy."  On Sunday nights, he’d come upstairs and watch Desperate Housewives with me.  I would actually turn to him and ask if a specific plot point seemed weird – he’d just look at me and meow in agreement.   When DH went off the air, he’d sit and watch The Walking Dead with me, Max and Amber or Breaking Bad with us on Netflix.   More than anything he wanted to be part of what we were doing.   Many a morning, I would wake up to find Sonny at my feet – touching my toes while purring in his sleep.
On Max’s 50th birthday, Sonny started to choke on a piece of food.  Max was home luckily and gave him the Heimlich maneuver and the food was expelled but for a minute there it seemed too late and Sonny got limp as if he was dead.  Then he came back while Max was holding him.   After that day, he was seemed to be his old playful self, bopping Vanilly on the head, pinning him down and chasing up and down the stairs – all of which Vanilly loved and thanked him by grooming him on the head.  Our best guess was that he was dead in that minute but the angels and Skittles sent him back knowing how heartbroken we would be if he left us. 
Sonny also had a knack for being the center of attention and when I would record my Princess or Ann Coulter videos, he would jump on the chair I would be using with the lights blaring – ready to perform with me.  I’d write parts for him such as The Royal Kitty; Ann Coulter’s Stupid Cat named Stupid and most recently – Sister Mary Cat in a web-series about a rogue Nun who says what she thinks and ends each segment with a chat with her beloved kitty.  It would amaze me how well he would put up with me and the cameras but he seemed to genuinely enjoy it.  And as far as acting partners go, he was one of the best I’ve ever worked with – on-time, hitting his mark and always knew his cues.  He also was not distracted by his cell phone which also helped speed up the production process.  He also looked great on camera.

A few weeks ago while getting ready for a visit from the Vice President and High Holidays at the synagogue where I work, Max called me to tell me that he thought that Sonny we not feeling well.  That morning I had seen that one of the cats had gotten sick on the carpet but didn’t think much of it since Vanilly does that from time to time.  I got home and tried to see what was wrong.  He seemed to be dry hacking and spitting up.  Later that night, he went into the bottom of our master bathroom shower and just wanted to stay there.  I tried to get him to drink but he was not having it.  He had been sick before – in fact when he choked and Max saved him – he was having hard time getting food down.  He spent the night in our bathroom and was purring but not really connecting too much with us.
I woke up that morning and tried once again to get him to eat but he was not interested which for a 20 plus pound cat is not normal.  I asked Amber to keep an eye on him and she said around noon that he still had not moved much.  This time around – we had the money to take him to the vet’s office so I made an appointment that afternoon.  Max picked him up and brought him in a laundry basket because being the big boy he was – we did not have a carrier big enough to bring him.  Max called me and let me know that the exam revealed that he had a blockage in his bladder and that they could unblock it and he should be fine.  I felt a huge sense of relief and moved some money so that we could pay for his care. 

When I got home – he seemed out of it from the procedure so I just figured it was the anesthesia.  I sat down and got him some water which he started to drink and really it felt like we had turned a corner.   That night – he wanted to stay in our bathroom and we brought in his litter box, food and water so everything was in one place.   The next morning he was still groggy but again I figured he was still wiped out from the vet's office.  I brought him into bed and told him how much I loved him.  I got ready for work and asked Amber to keep an eye on him and see if he managed to get something to eat.  We had a case of special food and antibiotics to give him that the doctor had prescribed.
I was in a meeting all morning and when I got out – I called home and Max answered.  I was surprised and wondered if he came home for lunch to see how Sonny was doing.  I asked if he was doing okay – Max paused and said “Sonny passed away about 30 minutes ago.”  I lost my breath and I uttered a very loud “NO!! NO!!” over the phone to the point that a co-worker came in to see what the matter was.  I told her that Sonny had died while trying to keep from completely losing it.   Max told me that Amber had called him after she checked on him and he was not breathing.   He cancelled the rest of his meetings and went home.  He was not sure how to tell me.  I told him I would be home early from work that I could not leave immediately but I would cancel the rest of my appointments as well.  I went into the bathroom and closed the door.  My body shaking because I had just lost a very dear member of the family.  I managed to pull myself together – do the rest of my work and get some checks signed to cover the Vice President’s visit.  I was amazed at how well I was able to function probably because I was still in shock and the reality had not really hit me yet – maybe it was just a colossal mistake and he would be just sleeping when I got home.  Once I was in my car, the tears started to flow and the song “See You Again” played.  I just let it play as the warm salt of my tears flowed down my face.  I got home and asked Max where Sonny was.  “He’s actually in the same place that Skittles died.” 

I went upstairs and saw my sweet little guy – looking like he was asleep but obviously was not.  His pink nose was now gray.   I touched his fur which was still soft but his purr box was silenced.  Max said that he would wait until the kids and I said good-bye and that there was a special place in the garden just for him – next to Skittles and Coogy – a stray baby cat we tried to nurse back to health but who died 10 days after we found her.   I told him how much I loved him and how much I valued his friendship.  I talked about the shows we watched, how wonderful he was to Skittles and Vanilly and how much we were going to miss him.  I had the kids come in to say good-bye.  They talked to him too and petted him – Danielle even got some of the fur and put it in a plastic bag.  I wanted them to see that death could be peaceful and not something to be afraid of. 
I told them how lucky we were to have known him and at least he didn’t suffer for long.  He knew we loved him and that maybe God found a family that needed someone like Sonny to help them and that’s why he was called away from us and back to heaven.  Souls like Sonny are very rare and there is only just so much to go around.   At the point that we had said all our good-byes – Max wrapped him in our best golden towel and buried him under the rose bush in our garden. 

That night I hugged my family a lot tighter.  We sat around saying how on Sunday, Sonny was jumping on the counter, drinking out of the faucet and chasing Vanilly and now on Wednesday night – he was gone.   This one really hit hard.  Skittles had been sick a long time so at the point that he died, it was sad but not unexpected.   We had Coogy just 10 days so while losing one so young was tough – we had only known her 10 days  We had a cat expert tell us that something was wrong – her mother sensed it and left her behind – so there was nothing more we could do for her but love her and make her comfortable.  But Sonny was a huge blow – we just thought we had more time with him.   We tried to do right by him - we had money to get him the medical treatment he needed. The vet assured us that he would be fine in a few days but it was not even 20 hours after the appointment and he was gone. 
In the days that followed, all of us would veer from sad to sobbing to feeling better and then feeling bad that we did not feel worse.  That’s the nature of grief – it’s not consistent and you never know when you’ll go from laughing to crying.  I wondered if Sonny had been living on borrowed time after he nearly choked to death and if God had extended his time with us because we needed to learn more from him.

Some of my greatest teachers have been my pets.  They give you love and understanding and see you as someone worthy even when the world can make you feel lower than pond scum.   They teach you how to love, how to care for something greater than yourself. They teach you that miracles can happen – that animals like my cat in college Gizmo can survive being hit by a car and falling off a third story balcony, that Skittles can survive losing 1/3 of his tongue and that Sonny can get the Heimlich and come back to life.  They teach you that life goes on and while you may swear that you’ll never get another pet and open yourself up to that kind of heartache – the universe sends you another creature to love just as much but without forgetting those blessed pets that came before whose lessons will help you become a better person.
Their greatest gift is to teach us how to deal with their loss so when we lose someone that we truly love and feel that searing pain that brands our hearts which seems impossible to overcome - we've learned there will come a day where you can talk about that person not in sadness but about all the wonderful things they used to do that made you happy, that made you love them and as long as you have that – they are never really gone.  They are as close as that blessed memory.

Yesterday, we were pulling into the parking lot at Target and we saw a little stuffed bear in front of us that looked like it had been left behind by a child.  We put it up on the cart area so that if the person who had lost it came back they would find it.  When we came back 90 minutes later and the bear was still there.  We decided to take it home rather than have someone throw it out.  As I put the little stuffie on the dashboard I realized he was waving to us.  I then started to cry because we used to call Sonny our little bear and as much as some people think the universe is random – this sign was not.  It was Son-Bear saying “Hi- it’s me and I’m fine – tell everyone I said hello and I love them too.”   That seemed a fitting message and wherever possible – I’ll always try to see those little miracles whenever they pop-up.  That was my friend’s greatest lesson - to always look at the Sonny side of life. 

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