There are certain truths about cats that are universal. They are cute. We love them. They love us. Unconditionally. The unasked-for cuddles, shouts, purrs, mraows and rubs are unbelievable. If you feel a bit rubbish, they ramp up their chin knocks and chirrups and snuggle up next to you. They just seem to know. When they are athletically jumping for a toy or stretching out in luxury, you are in awe of the incredible beings they are. Either way, they are little therapists in furry bodies. You know you are anthropomorphising, because they are just animals. Amazing ones, but animals all the same.
As kittens, they will shit behind the telly because you bought posh litter and not the corner shop variety they like. When they get older, they will regurgitate entire sardines into a plug adaptor when you are bedbound from spinal surgery and short your entire house. You won't stop laughing for days. You will curse their fluffy hair-shedding every time you vacuum. You wouldn't be without them, ever. And when they go, it hurts like hell.
Let me tell you about my dear departed Eartha. She died yesterday.
My beautiful Eartha, the day before she died
I didn't want cats. I wanted another dog. But I worked at NME at the time, and the long hours and nights at gigs meant it would have been cruel as pooches are so human-dependent. However, I'd just bought a flat and it had a GARDEN and being from the country, I'd always had pets. Then my boss said his rescue Burmese cat had had kittens. I thought, oh, let's just go round for a look. I'd worked at a vets for years. I knew the score. I wasn't going to be swayed by some fluffbombs.
Reader, I came away with half the litter. Little raven black Darcy, and tortoiseshell Eartha. They both filled my heart with joy, and the aesthete in me loved that she had the most amazing colouring, almost like a brindle dog. I loved that she had one orange front paw, one jet black one. Both cats were beautiful. They were always a bit like dogs too, always running to the door to greet me when I got home every day.
Thus I embarked on my first ever cat journey. They have both been the best cats I could have wished for and I thank their mum Treacle loads for getting knocked up by the local black and white alley cat. The slag.
Eartha and Darcy waiting for some fish on their birthday this year
Eartha was so eccentric, funny and lovely. Even people who didn't like cats adored her. Despite her and her brother having the exact same upbringing and socialising, they were very different animals. Eartha never liked being picked up. Darcy, you can throw over your shoulder as a stole whilst rubbing his belly. But she preferred sidling up for love and shouting at you if she deemed you weren't giving her enough attention and affection. She was always by my side, my little tortie shadow.
She was more nervous and considered than her bold bro, with a look on her face that was as imperious as it was cute and daft. Eartha took ridiculousness seriously. If she fell in the bath while you were in it, her face conveyed that she meant to do it, you know-nothing human.
She was also massively greedy and very lazy, so hunting was out. The one time she caught a bird, she was so shocked she let it go as soon as she got into the bedroom with (really not) hilarious consequences.
Eartha and Darcy as kittens
It tells you all you need to know about the soft silly that she was. Eartha never, ever scratched me - let alone bit me - once. She just wanted and gave love. She even miaowed 'goodbye' to me (ie, mum, why are you leaving me and not giving me another cuddle?) when I said 'goodbye' before leaving her at the vets yesterday for what would be the final time.
When they were quite young, her brother caught a rat and fought it to the death in my bedroom (he still has the scar on his lip). I mentioned it to a friend and he said I should be worried about what Eartha brought in next, as she would want to equal her brother.
Until then, she'd just brought in earthworms and left them on my bed. I feared I would wake up to a duvet writhing with them. Next night, she came through the catflap shouting and my heart sank. I turned on the light - and she had brought me a leaf. A very big leaf, but a leaf nonetheless. I gave her a big treat for that.
Eartha loved a good book - well, she'd sit on anything you were reading, frankly
In fact, she'd sit on anything that you were about to sit on too
She once went missing for 15 days - for such a homebody, I thought she was a goner. I'd searched everywhere, rang everywhere, put the posters up, but with no joy. But then one day whilst I was gardening, Darcy started shouting outside next door's shed. Michael had already looked in it when I'd first asked two weeks before. But Eartha was so scaredy, she'd hid right at the back. It was only after we'd emptied the whole thing that she shot out despite being starving, thirsty and cold, it being the middle of winter. She was thin but none the worse for her ordeal. That had been her only previous brush with death.
One last story about my lovely, loving, silly, beautiful Eartha. She was so nosey, she once poked her head through the raggedy bottom of an old anorak I had (the hem had gone and the tie round the bottom was exposed) and it got caught round her head, which scared her so much she dashed out the catflap with coat attached - cue Batcat with a flowing black cape flying down the garden. I raced out to see if she was okay but she'd gone over the fence. After a day frantically knocking on neighbours, I got home and she was lying on my bed like butter wouldn't melt, minus the anorak. She'd had her day as a superhero.
Beautiful Eartha keeping me company through the kitchen window while I washed up
But yesterday, her superpowers ran out. After 14 and a half years of health and happiness, the vet found she was riddled with cancer. She was put to sleep on the operating table whilst still under anaesthetic, on my agreement. It was the kindest thing to do. She'd thankfully only been ill for a few days but when a greedy cat stops eating, as she had done at the weekend, it says everything.
I went to say goodbye and wiped the sleep out of her eyes one last time. After one final stroke of her now cold but still silky fur, I saw the X-rays that revealed the inoperable tumours taking up half her body. Tom the vet had no idea why she didn't show symptoms before as she didn't have a chance. He put it down to her being so happy.
Sleep well, poppet
Few things are worse than coming home with an empty cat basket and collar. But I know I did the right thing.
I think 14 and a half years of being the most spoiled and loved cat, and going so quickly and painlessly without any suffering is the best you can hope for really. It's the deal you make having pets - you know they don't live for very long and you will be devastated when you lose them. But the fun, love, companionship and joy they bring is worth the pain at the end and the massive hole they invariably leave. It's a privilege that pets choose to share their lives with us.
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