Like jo(e) has extra kids, we have extra cats. We've often joked within our family that Offspring is a cat herder -- they just flock to her. Everywhere we go, cats find her, seek her out, and befriend her. And Offspring never met a cat she didn't immediately take to.
We have our actual cat, Lotus, whom we adopted when Offspring was a little over two years old. Then came the extras. Offspring was small, maybe about four when the first extra started showing up. He was this humongous gray cat who was lovable like a teddy bear. Offspring, in her childlike wisdom, named him Grady.
Grady weighed about 25 pounds, but none of it was fat. He was all muscle, and loved to hunt. We marveled at the time we watched him chase some poor hapless creature up the small tree in the neighbor's yard. The blue jays -- who are very territorial -- chased him all over the yard one afternoon, angry because he was too near their area. Grady was obviously just humoring them until he wearied of the game. The blue jays swooped down on him one too many times; two followed him into a nearby bush, but only one came out.
Grady always presented himself when you opened the front door in the mornings, twining around your ankles in search of pettings and food. Our main computer sits in our living room beside the picture window, and he would climb up and stare in at you with baleful eyes, for those pettings and food. He had a sissy-sounding meow for such a large cat.
We figured he'd been someone's pet at some point, since he was neutered, and seemed healthy. He wore no tags; had no collar. He roamed the neighborhood, charming all the residents. We were not the only house that laid a food bowl out for him, and our other extra who joined him a year or so later.
About two months ago, we noticed that Grady had a lump on his left shoulder, right where the leg socket meets the feline torso. At first, we thought it was just a clump of matted fur from where he'd gotten brushed with some pine sap that had hardened. We didn't give it much thought. But, as time went by, that lump got larger. It didn't seem to distress him -- he didn't howl when you touched it, and it didn't seem to pain him or interfere with his walking. We debated on what to do about it. We couldn't afford a trip to the vet. We could probably barely afford it if one of us got sick, much less an expensive vet's bill. The last time we took him to the vet it ended up costing us $580 that we didn't have then, and are still paying off.
By the middle of August, though... that lump was so large that it WAS affecting his walking, and he began squealing when you tried to hold him, something he'd never done before. We began to despair a little more every time we saw him.
We agonized over what to do. Do we put ourselves into further debt, and take him to the vet? Do we try and find a local animal hospital to take him as a charity case? Should we try the local, no-kill rescue group? Do we take him to the Humane Society, who, despite the name, will surely euthanize him? JF cried for days, the hurt for this lovable animal taken in as if it were his own pain. I tried researching animal rescue groups, but there were none near enough, and no one out there who wanted a sick animal for nothing in return. JF called the no-kill place time and time again, begging them to get Grady some help. They hemmed and hawed, but eventually gave him some lip service about "checking with the director" and never called again.
One morning, when Offspring and I went out to some function, JF tearfully, finally bundled Grady up in a towel and drove him to Animal Control. The vets there thought for sure that the lump was some kind of tumor, most likely cancerous. Whatever it was, they said, it wasn't good. You know it's not good when they go get everyone else in the building to come look at it. They took pity on JF, seeing the obvious distress the poor man was in, telling him they'd take care of him. They took our name and phone number, assuring him they'd call. They never did. Grady was just gone.
I step to the front door often, expecting to see him sunning himself on our porch. He's not there. I hear a noise from the picture window, and get a little leap in my heart, thinking he's back. It's not him. It's never him. Passing by the pet aisle at the grocery store, my hands automatically go toward the bag of food I bought for him for so many years. It's like he was never there; he's just gone.
JF beats himself up still, calling himself a monster. I try to reason with him, knowing there's nothing that I can say that will really make it all right. He tortures himself, talking about how Grady howled and tried to run from him -- this sweet animal who never ran from us before. How he looked at him, as JF drove him away from his home. We all cry. We explain to Offspring why we felt we had to take him. The words sound hollow even as I say them. It still hurts, and I still hope to see him sauntering across the street. I don't suppose I'll ever stop hoping that one day, he'll come home, even though my head knows he won't.
I miss you, Grady, every day. I'm so sorry, boy. We wanted so much to help you, but we just couldn't. Love wasn't enough.
Offspring with Grady in happier times.