Even when you know it is coming, and soon, it is never easy to lose a animal friend. Last night, after a six month struggle with cancer, my beloved Sabrina passed away at the age of 12.
I had been away in Mexico for work earlier this week, and very worried about leaving Sabrina behind, though she had excellent care with my ex-wife Beth and my roommate Sarah. When I arrived home Friday night, Sarah and I found Sabrina had collapsed. Beth came over and Sabrina passed away on the sofa at home she had slept on so many times before, surrounded by those people who loved her.
Sabrina was a wonderful, clever, silly, and strong cat, and a good friend. She was incredibly strong-willed, and wasn’t shy about making demands for food or attention in her own unique ways, which I will share below.
Sabrina’s life was a blessing to us and her from the beginning of our time together. In summer of 2008, Beth and I had three cats — Simon, Sasha, and Zoe — and we were not planning to get any more at that time. However, our pet-sitter worked in animal rescue, and she came to us with a sad story: there was a beautiful long-furred female cat at animal control who was very sick and was going to be put down the very next day if she was not adopted. Beth offered, and I agreed, that we would take her in as a foster until we could find her a permanent home.
Sabrina was in a deplorable state. She was underweight, she had a lung infection, her fur was largely missing due to flea bites and being covered with motor oil. She was in even worse condition than animal control was willing to tell us or treat, and Beth gave them an earful when they called to check on Sabrina’s status.
But Sabrina was a survivor, and she recovered quickly and gained weight and a full coat, and became intensely curious about the other kitties. She and Zoe met each other by playing footsie under a door.
Their relationships would be a little strained as time went on, as Sabrina liked being the alpha kitty in the house, so she got into spats with Zoe and Sasha semi-regularly. Over the long term, however, everybody agreed to get along, more or less.
As Sabrina got better, she got bigger and her coat grew lovely and luxurious, especially her full tail and her beautiful pantaloons on her rear legs. She also became incredibly curious, and was fascinated by bags, boxes, comforters, and even televisions.
My favorite memory of Sabrina’s curiosity is her early interest in how the toilet works. Whenever I went to the bathroom, I would have to flush the toilet for her so that she could peek inside and watch the water drain. One night, while I was in bed, I heard a rattling coming from the bathroom. I went in and found that Sabrina was on the toilet seat, trying to flush the toilet by herself! She never figured it out, but she was always eager to investigate new things.
Sabrina also loved to wrestle! In particular, she would happily fight with my hand and arm, grabbing me and biting and clawing. The rescue group we ended up working with later thought that I was teaching her bad habits, but Sabrina was smart enough to know when we were playing or not, and she would only wrestle and bite me. Though sometimes she could get overworked, she would always stop if you told her to be gentle. I was also always impressed that though she could bite hard, she would deliberately bite my knuckles or bony parts of my arm, where she wouldn’t draw blood. She also had a particular pose that meant she was ready for battle.
Though Sabrina was also willing to put up with a bit of nonsense in the pursuit of her play.
If there was one thing Sabrina liked more than anything, though, it was eating! She was interested in any and all food that she could get, cat or human. We called her our “kitty gourmand.” If there was food being prepared in the kitchen, she would be there. Sometimes, if turkey was being provided, all the kitties would be there, which gave me my only opportunity to get everyone in a single photo.
If she didn’t get her food, Sabrina could stalk and glare very well.
But glaring wasn’t the only thing that Sabrina would do! If she wanted food, she learned early in her life that she could pull on papers or books to get our attention. The sound of the pages being fanned would either wake me up or drive me crazy enough to do whatever she wanted, either feeding her (again) or giving her some playtime, and she used that trick to the end of her days.
Sabrina’s favorite pose for grooming always cracked me up. She liked to sit like a human.
Like most cats, Sabrina’s other favorite activity was snoozing, and her sleeping poses were those moments when she was most precious.
Like a lot of cats, she had the adorable habit of leaving her tongue sticking out while she lounged, and I had a hard time resisting poking it to tease her. She was too adorable.
She would also cover her eyes while she slept if there was too much light in the room.
She kept doing this even as she got sicker. I like to think that she was mostly comfortable even while she was struggling with her cancer.
The lymphoma that Sabrina was afflicted with is an aggressive cancer, and Beth and I did everything we could to fight it. In the end, we tried three different chemotherapy regimens, but the cancer adapted to all of them. This was always the likeliest outcome — the average survival rate for cats from lymphoma is about seven months.
But when she was first diagnosed in December of last year, I made it my goal to keep her comfortable and happy long enough for her to enjoy some time outdoors exploring when the weather was warm. So, last month, I started taking walks with her in my neighborhood.
In spite of her illness, her same spirit of curiosity drove her. We wandered further and further away from my house, usually taking her only for 20-30 minutes outside. But she got to enjoy the breeze, smell the grass, hear and watch the birds.
A neighbor’s little dog, let outside by a neighbor without a leash, came running up one day, yipping away. Sabrina didn’t shy away, but sniffed the dog back out of curiosity. At least until the dog started barking because it wanted to play. Another time, a bird landed only a few feet away, and Sabrina went after it with surprising speed. Her old instincts were with her until the end.
I was worried that the other kitties might be cruel to Sabrina as she got sicker and weaker, but they seemed to understand, and welcome her. They would sleep right beside her, as if they wanted to comfort and protect her.
And this is the way I choose to remember her: brave, strong, curious, and loved. So much love. She was my friend, and my family, and my joy. I feel like I have lost so much with her passing, but she gave me so much more by sharing her life with me.
I will miss you, Sabrina.