Our sweet "Little Girl"

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Her name was Ellie, but it didn’t start that way. Nineteen years ago, she was adopted by Cindy in Manhattan Beach, CA and because she was so little and was always hiding, Cindy and her roommate didn’t even have a chance to name her. They simply called out “Where are you little girl?” and the name “Little Girl” stuck. Years later when I came into Cindy’s life, I found that she came with two cats, a huge 20lb Russian Blue name Wally and apparently another tortoise shell calico, although I think I didn’t see her for the first six months because she seemed always to be hiding behind a water heater, or up in the rafters or somewhere else to be safe from humans. I couldn’t help but make it my mission to learn more about this shy little animal to find ways to socialize her to the outside world. I think what I really wanted to do was to let her know that humans were not all bad, that we could love and care and provide shelter and comfort to even the most mistrusting. Living in the Palisades, I often let Ellie and her brother wonder in our fairly large backyard where her natural instincts took over. Even though Ellie’s markings gave her almost perfect camouflage, I learned to find her by the chattering of squirrels and birds in the trees; apparently, they considered her to be a clear and present threat. And it was this little girl cat that I saw from my office one afternoon dart across the backyard and in midflight tackle another cat who had found its way into our yard. Yes, the little beautiful cat was a serious bad ass when it came to protecting her turf and her family.

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It was also there that we began to bond as much as she would with any human besides Cindy. And for obvious reasons as it was a little creepy calling out “Little Girl” around the neighborhood, my pride and embarrassment made me shorten her nickname to L.G. but L.G. was a bit too locker room for such a delicate lady so eventually L.G. evolved one day into Ellie, a much more appropriate name for such an elegant, wonderful and beautiful creature.

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While her brother Wally lived his life in perpetual schizophrenia, one minute cuddling up and drooling on us and the next tearing our arms and ankles to shreds, Ellie lived her life quietly, serenely, never breaking anything, never missing her litter box, never intruding on anyone or anything, unless they threatened her family.

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Time passed and Ellie made her way with Cindy and me from Manhattan Beach to Playa Del Rey, to Pacific Palisades and finally to Scarsdale, NY where she became a mature lady. And then as fate would have it, Ellie’s health started to deteriorate. First she became deaf and then blind in both eyes. At first she would wander around our basement bumping into boxes and tables and we wondered at that point how a deaf-blind kitty would be able to find her food, water and litter box at a minimum. But she did. Every day, multiple times a day, for years she would make her way up a flight of stairs by herself to join Wally and us, to drink from her bowl and to be a part of the family. Wally and Ellie were inseparable. Wally used to groom her with his rough tongue as well as fight with her, but he was always there for her, except towards the end of his life, when Wally seemed to know that his condition was deteriorating and he separated himself from being around her, almost like he was grooming her again, but this time for life without him in it.

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Two years ago when Wally died, we only assumed that Ellie would follow right behind. But instead, Ellie, the cat who never wanted or needed human contact became our closest family member, literally. She became the true matriarch of our home making her way up the stairs in our house, and while blind and deaf would jump high up on the bed to make lay on Cindy’s chest or even crazier, balance on Cindy’s shoulder when she would sleep on her side. The little ninja cat would make her way around our house as if she had complete use of all of her senses jumping over dog fences and onto beds, couches and furniture with complete ease. When we finally brought Ellie out to the new house in Ohio, within hours she acted like she had been living here for years, even when we were moving furniture around and repositioning her litter box and our bed. Our friend Carolyn, who saw her even this past month in her house was so impressed by her ability to adapt to new surroundings, said she thought Ellie was faking. As challenged as Ellie was, nothing seemed to phase this kitty and she became the family member that Cindy and I admired most of all. She loved life and like her brother she never let anything and daunting as blindness and deafness get in her way of living every minute.

We knew she had a mass over a year ago, but at her age, we decided not to biopsy it because we had agreed that we weren’t going to put Ellie through the same torture that we subjected Wally to trying to keep him alive, driving day after day to the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan, hoping for a miracle that, of course, never came. When it happened, it happened rapidly. One day she was jumping up onto the back of our couch, balancing on the top, and two weeks later, she was gone, the past 10 days she was barely able to walk from her bed to the litter box without our help. She dropped from eight pounds of beauty and grace to three pounds of skin and bones and when she would stumble trying to get back to her water bowl you could hear the sound of the thud when her hips hit the ground. Just to be close to her and to give her human contact, we slept on the bathroom floor next to her because she couldn’t walk far enough to get to our bed. It was amazing that this little girl cat who spent the first 16 years of her life doing everything she could to hide from human contact became addicted to it or maybe it was just that we became addicted to her. Yes, I’m sure that was it. I unabashedly admired her self sufficiency, her ability to go through life with all of the good and all of the bad, and she never let it affect her basic lifestyle. I so badly wish that I had more of her qualities, because as blind and deaf as she was, she seemed to see life so clearly, focusing only on what mattered most and we felt blessed that this included allowing us to have emotional and physical contact with her and her with us.

We went to the vet yesterday with the premise to deal with her eyes, one of which had become filled with blood again because of the stress of the move, but deep inside, we knew that there was much more wrong with her than that. So we dealt with the obvious ophthalmic issues and then begrudgingly or knowingly accepted being referred to an internist to look at her, hoping with all of our hearts that she just needed fluids and perhaps a quick shot to help her regain the appetite, strength and vitality that she demonstrated only two weeks earlier. But deep down we knew there was much more going on. I had seen my mother drop from an elegant 115 lbs to a skeletal 70 lbs before she passed away and that path was brutal and filled with unbearable pain and unnecessary abuse with the inevitable outcome unchanged. Ellie’s path was looking eerily similar.

As expected the prognosis was not good. The options were untenable, put a frail old friend through a battery of surgeries and chemo that she most probably wouldn’t survive and be tortured during the process, or take her home to starve while letting the cancer ravage her body for an hour, a day, or a week until she couldn’t get up and would die as a result of a cardiac event while using what little energy she had left to try and find her way dutifully to her litter box. The third option, that which was unspeakable, was to play God, to say goodbye to her with some level of decency and dignity. So at 7:15PM on December 2nd, with Ellie lying peacefully on my chest wrapped in towels with water bottles to keep her body temperature warm, a young veterinarian we had only met barely an hour before began injecting her first with a thick white sedative to put her further into deep sleep and then with the chemical which would permanently stop her heart, taking her away from us forever and taking away her life. I watched the viscous fluid make its way into the catheter while barely able to breathe, feeling like I should somehow scream out “STOP, Don’t do it, I want her to Live”, but I didn’t, I couldn’t because deep down I knew that this was the only humane solution. How hypocritical is that when imposing death is considered humane. The little sweet cat we loved so dearly who had been with Cindy for half her life and with me for years was gone.

Her end was incredibly peaceful, she just fell asleep. And in that moment, Cindy reached out to take her in her arms to tell her that she would finally be seeing Wally once again; that Wally was waiting for her, to groom her, to play with her and even to fight with her forever more. I can only take solace in knowing that as our tears continue to flow, her pain is gone and she is at peace.

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