Meet Penny. You can’t meet her in real life because she died seven weeks ago. She was 12, and should have had more years left in her, but we both knew her time was up and it was time for her to head to cat heaven. Penny went peacefully at the end. It was like she knew what was coming and she was ready to go, but it still tore me apart having to say goodbye, watch the injection go in, watch her quickly die, and then walk out of the vet clinic, alone, with an empty cage. It completely broke my heart.
I adopted Penny when she was just eight weeks old. It was at a time when I was starting over. The year before I had spent 11 months in a residential psychiatric treatment clinic during which time I made the decision to leave my marriage. I decided a new town might be best so I chose to set up home in the city where I had been at the clinic. That way I could continue to see my psychotherapist from there as an outpatient. So there was lots of new stuff going on for me.
Pets weren’t something that had never really been part of my life. My father was allergic to cats and so for that, and various other reasons we did not have pets while I was growing up. Except for a couple of weeks with Patch and Badger, who were guinea pigs. That ended in disaster for eight year old me when the youth from the church next door to our home decided it would be funny to let them out of their cage one night. We never saw Patch and Badger again. So adopting a cat was a big decision for me, but I wanted something live to care for. I liked the idea of coming home to a cat and to having cuddles.
Penny quickly let it be known that she was boss (like most cats) and she made her likes and dislikes clear. She had something of an anxiety problem, perhaps a social phobia, because she would take off the minute anyone came near the house, not returning until they left. She loved me, and me alone. Actually in time she also grew to love my Dad and for some reason she was the only cat he had never ended up in fits of sneezing around. Penny also wasn’t into cuddles. She sat on my knee a lot but it was on her terms. She hated to be held in my arms, she always needed to be able to make a quick exit. That said, she was very loving.
Having Penny was great for my mental health. I had someone else to think about and so my decisions could also affect her. On several occasions the only thing that stopped me from doing things that would have got me a trip to hospital, was the thought of who would look after Penny. It was great because it wasn’t just all about me and my actions and consequences were for than just me. At that time my belief in myself was at an all time low and so to make the right choice for me seemed virtually impossible, but I could allow myself to make the right choice for Penny. Penny saved my life more than once.
When I was upset, Penny somehow knew and would come and just sit down next to me. Sometimes she would even try to wipe away my tears with her paw (usually resulting in a scratch across the face, but the thought was there). Somehow she knew when I needed her, even if she had to come inside to find me. She actually stopped me from self-harming because she would insist on sitting with me and I couldn’t bear to do it in front of her. It was a crazy notion that hurting me was fine but this would also hurt her (not physically) and so I couldn’t do it. I also think that when I was struggling with my eating disorder, having the responsibility to feed her gave me a message too. It was ok for her to have food and so it was ok for me too.
Penny had to be euthanized because she appeared to have a heart problem. In the year before she died she developed hyperthyroidism, something I also had at the time. When she got sick again, stopped eating and just wasn’t herself anymore; while I hated to say goodbye, I knew it was time for her to leave. She had shrunk down to 2.5kilograms and was just fur and bone. She could hardly walk straight because she was so weak and her heart was racing. It had been a stressful time for me in the last year but it had been too for Penny. She too, had endured over 10,000 earthquakes. She had no idea what was happening to the world as it shook. The earthquakes took their toll on my health, that of my family, but also on Penny.
Saying goodbye was the hardest thing. My Dad died only 10 months before and actually I wept so much more with Penny. But then Dad’s death was importantly I knew Penny was ready to go. Her time was up and I couldn’t let her suffer. Actually I believe that Penny is with Dad, and I’m sure this time he won’t have allergies and she won’t be afraid of cuddles. And neither of them will have heart disease. I’m left with Penny’s collar and her ashes (they’re going to be sprinkled under her favourite tree but I just need them inside for now). For me this song by The Pretenders will always be Penny’s song and even though I don’t have her, she will always carry on.