I’m a sucker. I freely admit it. And so, back in October of 1998, when a cute little kitten in the Tulsa Pound looked me in the eye and bit the end of my nose, there was no question that she would be my cat. That was how June came to be a part of our lives.
She was a tiny little thing when we brought her home. I could actually hold her in one of my hands. But she had a meow that could be heard from across the house when she wished to express her displeasure with something. Thankfully, she almost always reserved that displeasure for car rides or being put in the pet carrier.
June had only been with us for a couple of weeks when I noticed that she wasn’t interested in much of anything, except for laying in a blanket out of everyone’s way. She didn’t want to play, but she was grateful if I held her and kept her warm. I suspected that something was wrong, and a trip to the vet confirmed that she had some kind of respiratory infection. She was not appreciative of her medication, but my bedside manner must have been spectacular, because once she recovered from her illness, I became the nearly constant object of her affection.
Henry, our first cat, really loved June (Yes, Henry & June). June basically had no choice but to snuggle with Henry, since he was pretty much always twice her size and very insistent on curling up with her. When Jack, our third cat, came along, June decided that she really didn’t need an annoying little brother and she did her best to avoid him. But always, there was me – her endless supply of warmth and tummy rubs.
In so many ways, June was the archetypal cat. Her love for me was only slightly past tolerance, and she made it very clear that we, her human staff, never really lived up to her high standards. Our ability to get food into her dish took far too long for her. We never made it into the living room to sit on the sofa early enough in the evening. And our audacity at moving her off of a warm lap in order to do such inconsequential things as going to the bathroom or cooking a meal was simply scandalous. She put up with us, but really only because she had to. But she was elegant and lithe, and meticulously cleaned her tuxedo-patterned fur. She was beautiful, and she knew it. We would often refer to her as “Queen June.”
Children were born into our lives. June was not impressed. Henry’s displeasure with the children got him re-homed with another family. June scoffed at his stupidity for giving up a pretty great gig for a cat. But the new little humans just weren’t me, so they would never live up to her standards. Since they did take up a lot of my time, she begrudgingly warmed up a little to Jack, though. He was still an annoying youngster in her eyes, but the company of an annoying cat was still better than no other cat at all.
Sadly, the short time it takes for your babies to become big kids is glacial compared to the aging of a cat. And before we knew it, the vet was referring to June as our “little old lady.” Both she and Jack were experiencing reduced kidney function. There was new food to try and slow what we realized would soon be inevitable. We began to brace ourselves for goodbyes. Then, unexpectedly, Jack left us almost as quickly as he’d come into our lives in the first place. June, on the other had, kept going like a trooper. Her seventeenth birthday came and went, and the only noticeable effect of her health problems was gradual weight loss. We adopted two new cats, Nox and Luna, and while June was about as impressed with them as she had been with Jack, I would actually catch her playing with them and running around. It made me happy to see that there was still some kitten in her.
The thing about gradual weight loss, though, is that you don’t notice it until one day when you pick up your cat and realize that she’s light as a feather. It was a year since we’d lost Jack, and our regal queen was surely showing her age. It was clear that her hearing was gone, and our once shy cat would now go to any guest in our home and make it clear that she was to receive attention and warmth from them. But as always, mine was the preferred lap, and I was the one whose tummy rubs were guaranteed to get June “making biscuits” with her front paws.
We never knew June’s exact birth date. The estimate of her age when we rescued her from the pound made it convenient – and fairly accurate – to say that she shared a birthday with Dana. And June’s eighteenth birthday happened to fall on a Friday, which meant it was also a night when we were hosting a meal in our home with friends. So she was lavished with affection by people who had grown to love her and had learned exactly how she wished to be held and nuzzled. It was bittersweet, because I knew in my heart that it would be her last birthday.
Four weeks later, another Friday evening dinner found June making her desire for affection known to anyone who would pay attention. It wasn’t the usual crowd, but she didn’t care. Ava was off to a sleep-over, so she wasn’t home to help me feed the cats like she normally does. I divvied up the can and put June’s dish down in front of her. I noticed that she seemed to be standing strangely, but I saw her lean in to eat. I headed upstairs with the kittens’ food – they had to be separated, or they would eat June’s food, too. When I came back, June was moving toward the living room, but she was tripping over her own feet. Badly. She’d maybe taken two bites of food. In the last couple of weeks, I’d thrown away more of her food than she’d eaten. I started to panic, but that’s when I kick into emergency mode and go all calm and logical. I both appreciate and hate that about myself. I grabbed June’s dish and went to her side, setting it down in front of her. She took a bite, then started to move toward the living room again. It was painful to watch, so I gently picked her up and moved her to the rug with her dish. She laid down. I stroked her fur and she looked at me with her cloudy eyes. Once she seemed settled, I went upstairs and got Dana. One look at my face told her everything.
There was never any question. In the end, it was going to be me. It didn’t dawn on June that we were in the car until we were almost to the vet’s office. She had enough in her for a few last protesting meows – she always hated car rides. And here I will tell you that if you are in the State College area, I cannot recommend Metzger Animal Hospital enough. It was midnight, but the staff on duty were so incredibly kind to both June and me. Dr. Martinez did a brief examination and went over options with me. He felt that June’s inability to walk or even really support herself was more than just weakness and might be a neurological problem, as well. It was clear to me that any treatment was only going to provide a brief delay in what was becoming unavoidable very quickly. So I continued to hold June in my arms. He gave us a few minutes alone, and she laid her head on my chest as I wept. She went to sleep there in my arms, and was finally able to relax like she used to. It was calm. It was peaceful. She was in the very spot she always preferred.
Goodbye, my little June bug. The sunny spots here won’t be the same without you…