I had to say goodbye to my cat Squeak this morning. She was 16 or 17 years old and spent most of her life with us. She was a part of our lives for the past 12 years. Melissa and I suspected that she was a runaway that found her way to our flock. She was sweet and grumpy. A fiercely independent cat that was happy to live her life at a distance from us, but comfortable enough to allow us to keep her in our care.
Squeak had the most magnificent blue eyes. They were offset by a understated but dignified coat that always reminded me of cookies and cream ice cream. A dirty shade of vanilla sprinkled with subtle dark black undertones. She carried herself with a great pride her whole life, right through today. In a few words, this was Squeak's world and we just lived in it.
We first found her in about 2004. Melissa had an open heart and never met an animal she did not like. Squeak appeared on the scene at about the same time as most of our cats, coincident to the period when Melly first started feeding the feral cats around our neighborhood. We noticed Squeak's personality early on, when she would sit our our front step every afternoon, like clockwork, and wait to be fed. We would put food out, she would eat her meal a separate distance from the other cats, and she would disappear into the late afternoon sun. Over time her routine changed and she started to live in the myrtle bushes near our front door.
In 2008 I brought home a ugly project truck to restore, a 1960 Willys pickup. I never did much work on that truck. Twin pressures of time and money kept me from getting it going. In time the truck became Squeak's home. There was a hole in the floor of the cab and she would climb up into it each night and sleep on the soft and threadbare bench seat. During the day she would find her way onto the roof to bask in the sun and keep watch over her dominion. You could always spot her and those piercing blue eyes, the color of a hot summer afternoon right before a thunderstorm.
When we bought our new house in Phoenix we agonized over what to do with our feral cat population. At this point they numbered in the double digits, and we had been taking care of most of them for eight years. Our worry was that if we moved they would be scattered to the wind, subject to whims of the coyotes, canine and human alike. Our fears were confirmed that January, when the old man who lived at the end of our street captured one of our ferals in a trap and supposedly relocated him to a crime-ridden neighborhood in South Phoenix. He left us a very nasty note telling us where we could find our cat, Carl, and what we could expect for the rest of the pack if we kept up our feedings.
We never did find Carl again, though Melissa never stopped looking. In the four and half years from the time Carl disappeared to the day we lost Melissa she kept him in her thoughts and hopes. There was not a humane society or pet clinic between here and El Paso that she did not check with the dream of being reunited.
The incident solidified our resolve to 'rescue' Squeak and our other cats from the dark forces of human nature. We ended up building a 1500 square foot indoor/outdoor enclosure in the backyard of our new house and got to work relocating everyone here. She spent the better part of two months catching everyone so they could be moved. Along the way we picked up two more that were not originally part of the plans. Over the years, her large heart led to several more additions. In time we ended up with 11 cats and three dogs. Melly spent at least two hours, and often several more, each day for the rest of her life in the enclosure with her cats, making sure that they felt only love for the rest of their lives.
On the night that Melissa passed I made a promise to her and to myself that I would the same for the rest of my life. So it was with an extremely heavy heart that I had to shepherd Squeak to the other side this morning. It was time, possibly a little past time. There are so many hard emotions associated with the decision to let Squeak go. On some levels it feels like a failure, that I somehow let both Squeak and Melissa down in my promise. On other levels I know that this was the right thing to do, and that Melissa's love gave Squeak the best life she could have had for the past twelve years. The truth lies somewhere in between.
The truth is that Melissa and I had made the decision to help Squeak through to her end in the week before Melissa left. We both knew that this was coming, and that it was not fair to let Squeak continue to suffer with old age. Melly and I resolved to get through the Fourth of July holiday and reconvene on the subject later that week.
After my unexpected twin loss I could not face the idea of losing Squeak as well. And so I waited. For a time Squeak rallied and seemed to be doing better. It became evident in over these past few days that today's choice was the right one.
I am surrounded by outlaws. Each of these 14 animals, now 13, is a unique soul that Melissa dedicated her life to saving. My 13 are in turn saving my soul and providing me purpose through these difficult times. To let Squeak go today focuses a bright light back on to my life. It is highlighting what I want to get out of this world, and the legacy I am trying to ensure that Melly has left behind. Each of these animals has taught me something. Squeak taught me what it means to be tough and independent, but also open to love. I am so lucky for having known her. She was only a hobo, but one more is gone.