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Great Grief and New Hope


When I reintroduced my column last January, I opened with a story about my two cats, Tip, a pessimistic little feral tiger who has lived in my house for more than a decade and her love interest, Eric the Red, a great red-haired tomcat, who I finally persuaded to join my household 11 years ago, some 18 months after he took up residence in my barn.

The two formed a fast bond, a remarkably human-like relationship that offered both the pleasure of warm companionship and the occasional spats and resentment all lovers know. Last January, I recounted Tip’s pique when Eric stayed out too long. She, obviously agitated, searched for him for more than an hour when he failed to come home one morning in his usual fashion. Her relief at finally finding him appeared to have turned to resentment by the time he breezed through the door. By then, she was sleeping on the warm office floor and, instead of rubbing against him and trailing her tail seductively under his chin, he was met only by her curled-up back and a cold shoulder.

I have had occasion since to wonder if Tip’s obvious agitation that morning was because she knew more than I did. A month later, my fingers detected a small lump on his side, concealed from view by his luscious long fur. A trip to the veterinarian confirmed it to be suspicious. Almost as anxious as Tip had been, I made an appointment to have it excised—and then things got worse.
A pre-surgery x-ray revealed another spot in his lung. It was inoperable and the vet said surgery on the skin cancer might stimulate its growth. Take him home, she said. Keep his stress level low and just love him. Tip and I had no trouble doing that.

But it was hard to watch the tumor on his side get larger. Tip hovered, sometimes to his great annoyance, and I worried. I watched constantly for signs of pain and, when they came, we went back to the vet. This time the x-ray told a different story. The lung cancer had grown very little, while the skin cancer was aggressive. The vet said I might have another year with him if the tumor were removed. We took the chance and, for a few months, we were happy.

Tip and a now more comfortable Eric went back to their entwined naps on the patio or on the pillows of our bed. He would snooze beside me in the pre-dawn hours when I sat reading, his coat richly auburn in the lamp’s warm pool of light. I would pet him and wonder how long we had.

Not long enough as it turned out—but there would never have been enough time. The cancer returned quickly and cruelly and it was only three months before we faced the inevitable. The new tumor on his side began to bleed. He and Tip slept near each other, not touching, all that morning. I called the vet, who took him in quickly, but by late afternoon it was all over and my old friend was gone.

Hard as it was to come home without him, it was worse still to live with Tip. Long silent, she now cried with raspy, croaking wails. She called for days and would not eat. A tiny cat with no weight to spare, she became gaunt. She would not be handled to take the anti-depressant the vet prescribed. I began the search for a new companion in hopes that it would relieve her grief.

Now, Tip, while the dourest of felines, has a real penchant for red-headed tomcats. Before Eric, she had set her eyes on my ancient long-haired orange cat, Pounce. Pounce distained her overtures but she doggedly trotted after him until his demise. Eric, his successor and a good-hearted sort, was initially cool but eventually decided she was kind of cute—and besides, it was nice to have someone to clean his ears. A chauvinist, he was just nice enough to her to keep her besotted.

So, I decided her new friend had to be orange, long-haired and not too young. A kitten would be unbearable at her age. After hours of fruitless searching online, I finally located an appropriate cat in Delaware through my sister-in-law. A three-hour journey to rendezvous and transfer the cat turned into a seven-hour nightmare as we became mired in the snowfall that snarled traffic in New Jersey and southern New York last month. It was morning before we could come home and my free cat now cost two hotel rooms and dinner and breakfast for four.

But the question still remained: Would Tip be comforted by his presence? Would he be amenable to her company? The jury is still out. Tip still cries and, originally, she thought he was a pale imitation of her lover. She chased him upstairs out of her sight. Still, she was intrigued. She’s decided she wants to be friends. They now touch noses, and she tries to rub along his side. Leif Erikson—so named for the historical son of the real Erik the Red—is alarmed. He clearly thinks she is a cougar.

But each day is a little better. Leif is calmer; Tip cries less. She is eating again and has taken to sleeping on my printer where she can watch for him each time he comes downstairs. Yesterday he chirped at her and today they butted heads in a friendly fashion. She and I are still sad, but life goes on and there is new hope.