In Memory of Princess and Attila

PRINCESS
1988 — June 6, 2008

ATTILA
1988 – 1995

Late in the summer of 1988, a friend stopped by our house on Long Island with a boxful of kittens that had been abandoned behind a dumpster. She was taking them to an animal shelter, and dropped by to see if we would maybe want one.

At the time we wouldn’t have considered ourselves cat people, but once the box was opened we were smitten. They were little balls of fuzz, eyes not long open, mewing and pawing playfully in a writhing mass of soft fur. One in particular stood out from the rest. She was a Maine Coon with hair the color of autumn, highlights of brown, orange and dull gold. We picked her from the bunch, along with another kitten she had bonded with, a tiger-striped tabby.

We named the Maine Coon Princess — because of her regal air, and the tabby became Attila. (Yes, as in The Hun — and it wasn’t hard to see why).

Originally planned to be family cats, they became mine within the first few days. They quickly adapted to their new home, exploring every nook and cranny. Princess was very demure, ate daintily, and would allow herself to be picked up or petted if and when she deemed it appropriate. Attila was all tomboy, romping inside shopping bags, batting balls of tinfoil across the floor and tearing apart any toy she was presented with.

In 1991 I accepted a job transfer to Miami, and Princess and Attila moved with me. The drive from New York was split into 2 days, with an overnight stay at a motel that did not accept pets. There was a funny episode where both cats managed to find an opening in the slipcover of the sleeper sofa in the room, and got up into its interior, 2 large lumps moving around underneath the fabric. We had to cut through it to get them out, then pushed the sofa against another wall to hide the damage. We checked out EARLY the next morning!

I had a second-floor apartment in Miami with a screened porch that overlooked a canal. There were always ducks, cranes and other wildlife coming and going. Princess and Attila would sit out there for hours, watching the activity and enjoying the early ’90s version of HDTV for cats. Princess had her 15 minutes of fame one afternoon when her hissing alerted my sunbathing downstairs neighbor that an alligator and crept out of the canal and was moving in the direction of the apartment complex. From then on she was known as the Alligator Alert — in the community.

In the early morning hours of August 24, 1992, we were all huddled in the bathroom of a friend’s home as Hurricane Andrew roared across South Florida. The extremely low barometric pressure inside the eyewall of the storm caused Princess’ long hair to practically stand on end, making it seem like there was a slight chance that she might actually explode.

We all survived the ordeal, unlike my job and most of my possessions. I left the Sunshine State a few weeks later with the cats and the clothes on my back. My brother had flown down from New York to make the drive North with me, and it was every bit eventful as that first drive down had been. The car’s alternator went kaput on a desolate stretch of I-95 near Jacksonville. Our overnight stay at another No Pets Allowed — motel once again almost ended in catastrophe — my brother and I came back after getting something to eat to see Attila swinging Tarzan-style from the blinds in the window. Another EARLY check-out!

I stayed in New York a very short time before moving to Georgia. Just in my mid-20s, my first years here were very unsettled as I moved around a lot. Both cats were troopers: after all they’d been through, moving was just another adventure.

Attila passed away in the summer of 1995 after battling with feline leukemia. I was devastated, and worried about how Princess would deal with the loss. she did look for Attila in those first few days afterward, but ultimately she seemed to accept the situation and moved on with her life. The shift in the household dynamic also changed our relationship as she became more affectionate than usual, actively seeking out lap time and getting comfortable with being picked up and held for longer periods.

In 1996 I purchased my first home. It had a large, fenced-in backyard where Princess spent many an afternoon romping and lounging. Her regal and demure disposition was sometimes misleading — it turned out that she was an extremely avid and ruthless hunter. There were a few times that I called her in from the yard, and she came sauntering up to the back door, a freshly killed bird in her jaws.

There were long summer afternoons with Princess rolling around on the sun-baked concrete of the driveway, purring like a freight train while I stroked and rubbed her fur. At Christmas she would wrestle with garland, chew on ornaments and sleep for hours under the lights of the tree. We spent nights on the floor in front of the fireplace, where she loved to bask in the heat of the flames.

The days and weeks morphed into years, some good and some not so much. I lost my Mom to cancer. I found myself unemployed for a brief while, with too many bills and too little money. Princess was with me through it all, a loyal companion who never complained. There were many long and sleepless nights spent on the couch, her purring in my lap and me stroking her soft fur as I talked out my problems to her.

In the last phase of her life, I sold my home and moved in with my long-time partner, Marc. Princess was again the trooper, settling in to her new surroundings like it was just business as usual. There was the issue of Marc’s big tomcat, Mr. Livingston, and how they would get along, but Princess lived up to her name. She ruled in this new environment — Mr. Livingston quickly found himself deferring to the matriarch.

By late 2007, the arthritis in Princess’ hind quarters prevented her from managing the steps, so she remained downstairs full time. Her favorite place was the sunroom, with windows on three sides and plenty of sunlight to nap in. She still had her way of announcing herself upon entering a room, although her distinctive meow — was now more of a high-pitched bark. She was sleeping more and more, and a check-up at the vet revealed slipped discs in her back. This made it increasingly difficult to pick her up, as it caused her to yelp in pain if she was twisted the wrong way. Her weight was dropping, and she was losing muscle mass. She carried on, enjoying the time she spent with her human companions, even though it became more and more painful for her to enjoy much time on our laps.

It was early May when she began having accidents around the litter box (the pain in her back legs made it difficult for her to squat) and by the end of the month she had stopped using the box altogether. The floor around the litter box was now covered with wee-wee pads. She had always been fastidious about her hygiene, and it was at that moment I accepted the inevitable. Her time had come.

The decision was one of the most difficult I ever had to make, but I understood that to hold out any longer would have been selfish on my part and unfair to her. I had always planned for her end to come in the comfort and security of home, not during a stressful last trip to the vet. I contacted Transitions, a mobile veterinary service who provided in-home euthanasia, and made arrangements with Pet Dreams Memorial for her cremation.

On Friday, June 6th I took The day off work and spent my last morning with her. She had deteriorated rapidly in that last week, getting up only to eat a few nibbles, wobbling pitifully on her weak hind legs. Opening her last-ever can of food that morning took the breath out of me. Her last meal was one of her favorites — StarKist Tuna. I gingerly picked her up and took her outdoors one last time, but she was in too much discomfort to really enjoy it. Back inside, we lay together on the floor where I stroked her fur and softly reminisced aloud about our life together to soothe her.

The vet arrived and the procedure began. A quick shot to tranquilize her, then the final injection. She passed from this life lying on my lap, her last memory being my hands on her fur, my soft voice in her ears. Twenty wonderful years with the best friend I have ever known had come to a peaceful end.

I miss you terribly, little girl. Thank you for coming into my life and bringing me so much joy. Thank you for your love, companionship, and loyalty. There will never be another like you.

If you’ve read this far, you hopefully enjoyed the life story of two beautiful animals who greatly enriched my life for having been such a major part of it. Our pets are more than pets — they are members of our families. They come into our lives and leave their footprints on our hearts. Love them and cherish them while they are here. Do not dwell in the sorrow of their passing, but rather in the joy of their memories.

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
—Mahatma Gandhi

Tribute To A Best Friend

Sunlight streams through the window pane
unto a spot on the floor. .
then I remember,
it’s where you used to lie,
but now you are no more.

Our feet walk down a hall of carpet,
and muted echoes sound.
then I remember,
it’s where your paws would joyously abound.

A voice is heard out in the yard,
and up beyond the hill,
then I remember it can’t be yours.
your golden voice is still.

But I’ll take that vacant spot of floor
and empty muted hall
and lay them with the absent voice
and unused dish along the wall.
I’ll wrap these treasured memorials
in a blanket of my love
and hold them dear for my best friend
until we meet above.

—Author Unknown