Last Saturday, November 20th, Winnie took off on her biggest adventure yet... she left terra firma to explore the wonders at Rainbow Bridge. I am so sorry, but I just didn't have strength to do a post. Even now, it's hard to type this for the tears.
Almost a year ago, I recorded this short video:
My beautiful Win drifted to sleep with belly rubs - her favorite caress in all the world - while making biscuits. I am very grateful to Doc Andrew and his staff for making sure our girl's last hours here were warm and soft and peaceful.
In many ways, Winnie made our introduction into fostering possible. She was the grandma - the arbiter of good behavior - and a calming influence on all of our residents, permanent and foster alike. Nothing ruffled our Win - a new foster could be aggressive and she'd just sit and look at them, even as they charged her... and then drew up short, not knowing what to make of a kitty who didn't even twitch a whisker - threw 'em for a loop every time! And everyone behaved well around her.
Win has been part of my life for 16 1/2 years. She's seen me through joy and sorrow. She was never much of a cuddler yet if I cried, she was on my lap, or next to me in bed, headbutting my face and sticking to me like glue until I was in a better place. What I wouldn't give for one of those headbutts now. My family and neighbors often threatened to steal her away from me and, around here, she was known as Winne the Wonder Cat.
Win came to me as no cat should... she was a gift. And a gift she truly was. When I was living in Aspen Hill, I lost my Little One (also a black cat), at the age of 17. Friends of mine, Jan and Les, and their family were temporarily bunking with me - a long, but good, story for another day... it was a big house, unlike the Casa of today. They saw me through four months of nursing Little One, and Jan was with me when we helped Little One to the Bridge. The next weekend, Jan and the kids went to my vet, Doc Meyer, and asked about a new cat for me. I remember being in our church's kitchen, and young Paul coming up to me with a sparkle in his eye, saying he knew something I didn't. Jan and family were always full of fun, so I didn't think too much of it.
When I got home, everybody was lined up and grinning from ear to ear. The kids, Paul and Liz and Rachel, came forward to present me with a little black ball of fluff. I'd been heartbroken over losing Little One and really didn't feel ready for another cat, but I just didn't know what to say, with those children looking so happy and expectant. I wouldn't have hurt those kids for the world, so I smiled and cooed and made over the tiny kitten, still wishing they hadn't. Not that I'd ever recommend gifting an animal, but you know how glad I am now!
The first night I brought the wee one into my bed, but she was having none of it... she was off to explore the house! It was clear she was an "alpha" from the start. There were already 3 man-cats and a dog in the house and this pint-size pumpkin made it clear the premise was hers. She backed down from no one.
The next day, Jan told me that the kitten had been considered hard to adopt. Her hind legs were longer than her front (giving her what, later, became known as the "Winnie Walk" or the "Winnie Waddle"), her head was too small for her body, and she had an extra lens in one eye, giving her a kind of spooky appearance. And, of course, she was black... not the most adoptable color. One of the kid's favorite videos was Disney's "Hocus Pocus" and it was viewed with irritating regularity that year! After the umpteeth time of the kitten displaying her headstrong tendencies, I called her a little witch. Ahhh haaa! There's the name! And, so, she was christened Winifred, after Bette Midler's character in "Hocus Pocus."
In those days, the vet recommended kittens be fixed at around 9 months old. Now my cats are indoor only but, at that time, they were indoor/outdoor. My cats had always been indoor, until my Dad came back from living in Europe and stayed with me for a year, just before Jan and Les's family moved in. Dad had declared it was unnatural to keep cats in and, despite the fact that they were my cats, and it was my house, started letting them out. *sigh* What's a daughter to do? I think you may see where this is headed.
I took Win in to the vet at 8 months old to have her spayed, only to be informed that she was already pregnant! What??? I know the signs of a cat going into heat and she never displayed a single one! Little hussy just went out and took care of business. Win is the only cat I've had to get pregnant on my watch and I was mortified. Jan had known, though... she'd said, "That kitten looks like she's sitting on a tennis ball... I bet she's preggers." *double sigh* She was right.
And so two more little black cats came into this world - a boy and a girl. Being way too young to be a mother, Win lost three of her five babies at birth, and the little male who lived was an "at risk" kitten. All eyes and not much body. The little girl was strong and healthy - I called her "The Tick" - she'd plug in and visibly swell up with maternal goodness! Despite her youth, Winnie was an awesome mom and, soon, the babies were toddlers. Paul, seeing the little boy weave and stagger one day, said, "You should name him Lurch." Another "Ahhh haaa!" moment. Keeping with the spooky theme, they became Gomez and Morticia.
When the kittens were 8 weeks old, I promptly had Win spayed. There wouldn't be any more kittens, if I could help it... I felt guilty enough that these two had come into the world (and, believe me, my vet let me have it, too!). Much to our amazement, Winnie continued to nurse the kittens. And nurse. And nurse some more. The kittens were five months old before she finally closed the milk bar. Doc Meyer said he'd never seen a spayed cat do that before. Jan was sure it was because Winnie knew Gomez was such a sickly little runt, and I've got to agree.
Well, Winnie's good care paid off. Both her babies grew up big and strong and sleek (and were neutered earlier!). Gomez, by the way, grew up to be one of the largest cats I've had... not weight wise, 16 lbs or so, but tall, and long, with the longest legs I've ever seen on a cat... and the biggest, most beautiful, green eyes. I fell in love with Winnie's babies and just could not give them up. Tisha, as many of you know, passed away last year, at 14, from intestinal cancer. Gomez, sadly, disappeared in 2003. That's when all my cats became indoor again. In 2008 I saw a black cat, with a collar, in my back yard... huge eyes and long, long legs. He wouldn't let me near but, to this day, I pray that was Gomez, who'd found himself another lovin' family.
I had moved to Bel Air, MD, when the kittens were about 7 months old, soon after Jan and Les's family moved on, and rented an historic house, in the "old" part of the city, for a year and a half... and discovered Winnie's exploring nature. The kittens were about 9 months old when she started taking off, for a week (or two, or three) at a time, scaring me near to death. She stayed in the woods near the house, living off the land. And then she'd turn up, as though she'd never been away. I tried to keep her in, but to no avail... she's sneaky. Again, while I wouldn't recommend this, I know she enjoyed walking on the wild side.
When I decided to move back to my home town (Bel Air is only 1/2 an hour from Baltimore, but it just seemed too far away from family), I bunked with my sister for nine months, while searching for a home of my own... she had a big house, too, LOL! I bought the Casa, which is only two blocks away from my sis. Winnie showed up on Lori's doorstep the day after I moved. In fact, I received calls that "Winnie came for dinner," for months afterward!
Those of you who have been reading for a while, have met Gary, my neighbor, who remodeled the first floor of my house (oh, my gosh, I don't think I've shown you the new and improved Casa... ok, then, that's a post to come!). From '98 -'03, when the cats were still indoor/outdoor, Winnie was a regular visitor at his house. She snoopervised all of his household improvement projects and Gary and his wife, Roxanne, would sometimes come home to find Winnie lounging on their bed, with their cat, Jasper. Win would sneak in the house when they weren't looking! Gary always said Winnie could be his cat any time. If they weren't such good friends, I think he would have swiped her. They were disappointed, I think, that I let Doc lay Winnie to rest, instead of bringing her home to be beside Jasper.
I've been so blessed. Gary and Rox have helped look after Winnie these last months... Gary has stopped in during the day to make sure she was OK, ever since we discovered her thyroid condition. Shortly after that, Win also developed kidney problems. And Winnie has suffered from chronic sinusitis for at least five years... Doc Andrew tried everything... fortunately, her lungs had always been clear. On our last visit, Win finally showed signs of fluid in her lungs and we both knew it was time to let her go with dignity.
Doc Andrew had a very soft spot for Winnie. On Monday, the poem below, and "At Rainbow Bridge" were in my mailbox. He emailed me Wednesday, to see how the girls and I were getting along, and to reassure me I had given Winnie the gentle passing that was her due.
The Last BattleIf it should be that I grow frail and weak
And pain should keep me from my sleep,
Then will you do what must be done,
For this -- the last battle -- can't be won.
You will be sad I understand,
But don't let grief then stay your hand,
For on this day, more than the rest,
Your love and friendship must stand the test.
We have had so many happy years,
You wouldn't want me to suffer so.
When the time comes, please, let me go.
Take me to where to my needs they'll tend,
Only, stay with me till the end
And hold me firm and speak to me
Until my eyes no longer see.
I know in time you will agree
It is a kindness you do for me.
Although my tail its last has waved,
From pain and suffering I have been saved.
Don't grieve that it must be you
Who has to decide this thing to do;
We've been so close -- we two -- these years,
Don't let your heart hold any tears.
Winnie, my darlin', thank you for the love. Thank you for the warmth and the smiles and your special strength. Thank you for a wonderful 16 years. I will love you always.