Monday, July 6, 2015

Smudge, 1998-2015

Even though I knew this day would come, I don’t much like it. I’m sitting in a very quiet house today because yesterday I made the very hard choice to help Smudge leave this world of pain.

She was a good cat.

When I posted something on Facebook, just a sweet picture of her wandering in front of the azaleas this spring, I knew that most would figure out the reason I had changed my profile picture. Condolences came in from just about every continent – Australia, Asia, Europe, South America, Africa.

Smudge had led such a well-traveled and well-documented life that not only did she have fans and followers from everywhere, but a good portion of those people had met her. Or had come face to face with her as she glared at them from under a chair or behind a door.

Because let’s face it, Smudge only liked one person. Me. And even I got on her nerves from time to time. This was a cat who would not deign to sit on my lap for the first ten years of her life. When she finally discovered the joys of lap-sitting, I could not keep her away, even when the temperature hovered in the 90s. In her later years, she would camp out there for as long as I would let her, tucking her head under and having a look of sheer contentment on her face.

When we adopted Smudge from the Humane Society, she got her name because she was just a tiny gray smudge of a thing, small enough to fit in the palm of our hand. I knew I would adopt her when I lifted her out of her cage and she started purring.

Home for most of her life was our house on Burlington Place, where she could sit on the window seat in the family room watching the birds fly by, or sit on the back patio catching a few rays of sun. She was too timid to wander much past our little yard, and that was fine by me.

She was still a young cat when we moved with her to Brussels for a year. There we lived in a four-story townhouse with a walled-in garden, a lovely spot when it wasn’t raining. I thought it kept Smudge from wandering far, but one day I saw her high atop a ten-foot wall and knew that her European adventures were bigger than I realized.

Our favorite story about Smudge in Brussels involved the trauma of the move. We were living in a temporary apartment with a fireplace. As we were in the processing of moving to our townhouse, Daniel called me and said, “I can’t find Smudge. I think she either took the elevator down or jumped off the fourth-floor balcony of the apartment.”

I rushed back to the apartment. Before I could start the search, Smudge appeared from a ledge inside the very dirty fireplace. She was covered in soot, a true smudge. That was, I suppose, one of her nine lives gone.

Getting her back to Washington seemed relatively easy, and I could tell that she knew she was home again the minute she got into our house.

Over the next dozen years, she had the life of a cat, getting chubby and lazy, lolling in the sunshine and rebuffing any attempts by the kids to make friends with her. She was a quiet cat, hardly mewing or making any kind of sound.

I’d look down and there was her dark presence, by my side. If it wasn’t possible to be in my lap, she’d content herself with being near me in a room or begging treats from me in the kitchen.

Then came China. And China took at least 6 of her remaining lives, as we had to smuggle her in to avoid quarantine. Accidentally locking her in the bathroom of our temporary apartment just added insult to 

She never much loved the Chinese brand of cat food so I became a cat food Sherpa, bringing dozens of cans of high end cat food from the U.S. to satisfy her elderly and finicky palate. She even had a food donation from the American ambassador. When Ambassador Max Baucus and his wife were moving to China, they also moved a giant bin of cat food with them. But somehow the cat didn’t make the trip, and so we ended up with a diplomatic delivery of Iams cat food that lasted Smudge many months.

In China, she would sit on a chair by the window of our glassed-in quasi-patio area, while I typed on the computer. As an older girl, she didn’t have much interest in the magpies that landed in the trees outside the windows. Then again, she wasn’t much bothered by the endless hours of fireworks on Chinese new year either, so that was a good thing.

Getting her home again was another challenge, one that included an accidentally packed cat carrier, a long trip in a substitute carrier, and the final delivery home again. Once again, she clearly knew she had made it home. She knew every room, she remembered how to get outside.

And even though I knew she was slowly dying of renal failure, she lasted long enough that she was able to enjoy the warm weather of a Washington spring and part of the summer. 

We had an overload of rabbits in DC this year, and one day I looked up to see Smudge bouncing after a bunny who was as big as she was. There was life in the old girl to the end.

By the end, she was ready to end the pain. She didn’t want to be touched, she stopped eating and drinking, and her plaintive cries were wrenching. It was time.
When I brought her to the animal hospital, I never left her side. I held her in her red blanket that she loved, and I talked to her and pet her, my tears dropping down on her head as I spoke. She went peacefully, and then she wasn’t there any more.

Later on Sunday, I went out into my garden, and there, as if it was waiting for me, was the tiniest bunny I had ever seen, with big brown eyes. It was just a smudge of a thing.