Friday, January 8, 2021

Tashi & Me: Feline Love and Loss


On December 30, 2020 delivered a final insult with the loss of my cat Tashi. Here's my tribute to this formerly feral girlfriend.

It all started back in 2007, when I noticed several black and white cats suddenly hanging around my yard. 

One tuxedo cat of the bunch caught my eye. During a downpour one afternoon, I saw it perched delicately and resolutely atop a fence post outside my kitchen window, seemingly oblivious to the drenching rain.

Reasoning that if they were well fed, they wouldn't hunt and kill birds (I was wrong), I started leaving dishes of food out for the feral cats on my back patio. 

One day while sitting on my back steps, I noticed that little tuxedo cat was willing to come feed within a foot of where I sat. When her head was down in the dish, I slowly reached out my hand and gently scratched the top of her head. She didn't flinch!

So began years of Tashi slowly moving inside and becoming my loving, funny, feisty pet. 

The gaze.

When I say years, I mean years of slowly building her trust. By 2009 she would come inside and sit on the corner of my sofa. But only if the backdoor was open, and I was sitting silently on the other corner. I could give her pets and scratches, and when she decided it was time to retreat, boom, she was gone.

After a couple more years, she was comfortable being in my house (she made a beeline to the heat vent in the living room) and would even would do sleepovers on the couch. But I could never go outside, pick her up, and bring her inside. Nope. It was all on her terms.

Tashi not coming inside at night when I called her.

By 2013, she was decidedly my pet, and we had our routines. She became my alarm clock, set a little too early, when she jumped on my bed each morning asking for pets and breakfast. She was very bossy to the other feral cats (there were about nine at the peak) and let them know my house and I were her property.

Getting comfortable.

I knew I was in deep when I went away for a long weekend (my neighbor would leave food out for the cats), and I got worried sick when I heard there was a cold snap with night temps down to 13 degrees in Seattle. I did a web search and read that domestic cats can die with prolonged exposure to that cold.

But of course Tashi was okay when I got home, and she gratefully came inside and found her way to a heat vent, then my bed.

By 2016, I kept her inside when I went away for a week and paid to have someone come in to feed her and give her meds. As the vet said, better an angry cat than a dead cat. By this time I was aware there were coyotes in the 'hood.

Just like people, the longer you're with an animal, the more the layers of their personality peel back. Tashi had many layers. She had street smarts, but was caught more than once swatting and chasing huge racoons quadruple her size. She was affectionate, trained me to serve her purposes, and made me laugh out loud the more talkative and chirpy she became. She HATED getting pilled and let you know loudly.

 As she had more health issues the last few years (chronic kidney failure, common in older cats), Tashi finally settled down and became mostly an indoor cat. She showed her affection with lots of head butts and face rubs and kitty kisses. She sought my company, followed me down to my office, and slept on a pillow beside my desk while I worked.

After a couple hospitalizations with pancreatitis (most expensive pet ever) a couple years ago, I didn't think she'd last through 2018. But she bounced back.  Wow this little cat was a fighter.

She knew tabletops weren't for cats. Did she care?

Tashi had a pretty good 2019 after a series of urinary tract infections. She gained back weight, and we managed to stay away from the vet for over 6 months. Meanwhile, she had finally become comfortable with a few friends who spent time in my home too. 

But in 2020 the infections returned, one after the other. She bounced back, but not as strongly with each one. The antibiotics started being less effective. 

In October I received a package from a good friend that now has extra special meaning. Suezy had commissioned our mutual artist friend Don to paint a retablo (in traditional New Mexican folk art style) of St. Tashi, Patron Saint of the Catless.

So that's why Suezy had asked me for photos of Tashi!

"St. Tashi" by Don Sandoval

So the beauty of this gift is that now my Tashi is my patron saint! This is of course tongue in cheek, but still, it gives me comfort. Because this complicated, sweet feline spent 13 years burrowing deep into my heart. 

And me? I sadly don't have any decent photos of Tashi and me together. But I leave you with this little clip below, with me calling and trying to cajole her to come inside. She basically did what she wanted to do. Fortunately for me, for years that was being my entertaining, insistent, cuddly companion.

Have you lost a beloved pet in the last year, or perhaps adopted a new pet? Would love to hear in a comment below. And think about donating to the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project.

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