This post is not my usual rambling content. It’s a different animal. About a different animal. A unique animal. It’s about our cat, Streak. Streak was born on February 9th 2006. One of a litter of six, she survived when most of her siblings did not. She was always strong. On April 1st that year, Nikki went to visit the new family.
Let’s take that back a step.
Under the original plan Nikki meant to adopt the mother, Holly, herself a kitten. Before Nikki could swing by to do that it was discovered that Holly was with children. Because cats. Oops. So they waited.
After Holly dropped her own litter, Nikki went to visit. And decided that now was the time. She chose Streak from the litter because of her amazing brindle colouring and white chest blaze, and took her home. With Holly. They were inseparable. Nikki knew that. Two for one. BOGO. That turned out to be a great deal.
Streak was named within a week. Nikki named her after watching this kitten run incessantly backwards and forwards around the apartment for hours each day. A habit she never outgrew. Boundless energy. When Streak tired she would run five feet up the wall to sit atop the coat pegs by the door, and playfully swipe at everyone that passed. That cost some eye level shenanigans, I recall with a smile.
Over the next fifteen years mother and daughter grew together. Played like kittens. Fought like lions. Learned mutual respect the hard way, with battle scars on both sides. Cats. Neither would give an inch. But they curled up together every night. If you ever wanted a definition for family, that’s it right there.
One year after Nikki adopted this dysfunctional family, she added me to it. I met the felines.
It’s fair to say I was not an overnight success. I’ve always been more of a dog person. I think they sensed that. They both spent months sniffing around me before grudging acceptance. I think it’s also fair to say that worked both ways. Apart from the sniffing, that was all them.
Roll forward the years. Streak and I reached an accommodation. Then friendship. Then love.
It reached a point where she would greet me at the door. Sit purring on my chest for hours as we watched TV. Rub against my ankles, at the risk of oversharing often while I was on the toilet. Demanding to be petted she would leap up and sit on the keyboard staring me straight in the face. Jumped up on the back of my chair and dug her claws into my shoulders, arms, chest, legs, as I tried to type. Lay curled up peacefully beneath my monitor stand for hours. Then ignore me for hours, when she bored of me. She would sit on my chest each night, as I lay in bed. High maintenance. Cats, am I right? Earlier this year, Nikki started saying that Streak was my cat now. I never thought of it that way. Streak owned Streak.
Streak’s streaking followed her through life. When we moved into our own home she had extra space to run. She would race up and down the stairs, for no clear reason. Run from room to room, waking the house with the thunder of her paws. Leap onto keyboards and laps and window sills, where she would watch the world go by and argue with squirrels. And swat her mother in the face just for giggles. Sometimes, they sat on each side of a door swatting paws at each other under the door, just to pass the time.
Streak loved boxes. Did not matter what was in them. As soon as they were empty, they weren’t. She was in. Holly sat and watched through all this. She was definitely and always the mom.
Two weeks ago we noticed that Streak was slowing on her runs up the stairs. She developed a cough. Stopped meowing. Then she slowed her previously ravenous eating, her appetite waning a little. We thought it was a bug that would pass, as she was otherwise her feisty self. Then one morning she vomited quite a lot of clear fluid. That was new. And that was the beginning of a terrible two weeks.
We took her to the vet, thinking it a chest infection or something she swallowed. Had some blood work done, which came back clear. X-rays told another story. They revealed a lump. In her throat. One that was restricting her breathing. And growing.
Steroids were prescribed to reduce the inflammation and swelling. Nikki administered them dutifully, always a trooper, that wonderful woman. They had no effect. I railed against the inevitable, calling the vet to ask could it be an abscess that would pop, a hairball she would cough up? It wasn’t.
For the last week of her life Streak was turning up her nose at food and would not drink. We had her rehydrated with fluids twice. We were only delaying the inevitable. For a terrible extra week we watched the weight drop from her. She was constantly hungry, thirsty, and scared. But could neither rest nor eat. Instead of running up the stairs she was taking each one so slowly now. Refusing to give in. But with no way to win. Strong to the end.
I don’t think she slept at all for the last few days. She roamed the house looking in vain for a place to be comfortable. All her favourite places. She could not walk away from this. The simple act of breathing kept her awake. It was such a drain. Her chest heaved with each breath. I don’t think we slept, either. Every time I got up during the night (many) to look for her I was terrified to hear her laboured breathing. And even more terrified when I couldn’t hear it. I remember finding her on the couch with her head on her paws. In my seat. So still. So silent. I approached with my own lump in my throat as she raised her head. So slowly. So strong. So clearly sick of all this.
After several days during which she could no longer face the water we placed in front of her, nor the food we tried to feed her, our choice became clear. We could let her starve. Or die of thirst. Or suffocate.
Or give her the needle.
When we called to make the final appointment we were offered 2pm or 3pm. Of course, I wanted one more hour. I spent that last hour sat in the basement with her, being there, watching. So that at least she wasn’t alone.
As the time approached we scooped her up, hugged her, took a few photographs. Made her and her mother sit together, though even then they didn’t want to. Holly hissed. Then licked Streak tenderly on the throat. She knew. Family. Then we placed Streak’s unresisting form into the cat carrier for the last time.
I drove the long way to that final appointment. I figured she should see ‘freedom’ at least once before she went. We took her out of the carrier for this final journey, something that would previously have resulted in a whirling dervish. Not this time. She sat quietly on Nikki’s knee, until she dropped to the foot well to soak up as much heat as she could to warm her diminished frame. I flipped the heating for her.
We got video of this ride, but I’m not sharing that. Ever. Family.
Streak, I feel, was close to death before we even arrived. The catheter was placed without loss of an eye. Nikki and I spent Streak’s last few minutes with her, alone. When the vet came in, even then I was throwing out ideas of how we could fix this. Let’s just lance it, see if it pops. Nothing to lose, right? The vet’s compassionate eyes spoke volumes and matched his words. There simply was no fix.
For over a week, even on the way to this appointment I was hoping she would cough up the blockage. With tears streaming unashamedly down my face, I scratched her head and looked into her tired eyes before that needle was pressed. I begged her quietly, “If you’re ever going to cough this fucker up, now is the time ya little bastard”.
She looked me square in the eye, and didn’t.
Nikki held her and I was still looking into Streak’s eyes as the needle was given and the lights went out. No fight was remaining in this lion that we had / have / will love for so long. She went quietly. The vet checked her heartbeat, spoke gently to us, and left the room. We spent a long while just hugging and crying and petting. But Streak was gone. My legs may, or may not, have crumpled beneath me as we left. I make no apologies for my love.
Now, we simply have to deal.
Grief has no scale. Whatever form it takes, it is terrible for those left behind. Nikki and I curled up on the kitchen floor for an hour today, sobbing and screaming and second guessing and… you know how this works, I’m sure.
I know she was only a cat. Regardless. I took photos of the paw prints she left in the bath tub. Nikki washed out her food bowl for the final time. It looks odd, only having one bowl there. There will be many such moments ahead.
I have lost many loved ones in my almost 60 years on this earth. It never gets easier. Love is love is love. Loss is loss is loss. For what it’s worth I’m a Brit. We famously don’t do ‘feelings’. But let me put it this way: I’ve never written an obituary for any of the many humans I’ve lost. So what does that tell you?
This photograph was taken on the very day she died. Struggling for breath, hasn’t eaten for a week, dehydrated and scared, she still has more life and more attitude than I can begin to explain. This girl is and will always remain a legend. Not that she cared then or now what anyone might think.
Strong. To the end. Streak.