March 27, 2009 at 6:50 pm Leave a comment

Pepper as sundial.

Pepper as sundial.

 (Previously posted in January)



We have all been freezing our arses off in Rhode Island since the beginning of January.  That includes my husband, our three cats, dog, and me.  None of our little menagerie has wanted to venture outside for weeks.  It has been easy, of course, for the cats to stay indoors, given that there are plenty of boxes here and there for them to use.  Jerry, our dog, lets me know when he needs to take care of business and only stays out long enough to do so, then hurries back inside.


Pepper, a five-pound, tortoise shell/calico at age 15 is the most senior of my geriatric crew of three.  We adopted her from Providence Animal Rescue League when she was about two months old.  She grew into a persnickety little character and doesn’t particularly like anyone but me.  Pepper has earned my husband’s respect, though, because she’s an insatiable mouser. 

She loves the heat and follows the sun streaming through the opened curtains all around the house.  In this photo she strikes a sundial pose.  I came up with her name because her coat reminded me of coarsely-ground pepper.  It only occurs to me now, given her love of all things hot, that Pepper, indeed, is an appropriate name.


Next is Jerry, the “terrier mutt” I  brought home one day after his lousy owners let him run around loose foraging for food because they didn’t want him anymore.  When he was about six months old his owners finally figured out that he was not going to self potty-train, so they wanted him gone.  Too bad they never heard of the Providence Animal Rescue League.  At any rate, my husband Michael was livid because I had not discussed dog ownership first (my rescue was spur-of-the-moment because I had to act swiftly). I softened him up by telling him we could name the dog after Jerry Garcia.  We remember the dog’s age by linking him to a notable historical marker, Jerry Garcia’s death in August 1995.  The dog came home with me in early September, and Michael was still mourning the loss of the Grateful Dead’s leader.


Michael found Lucky, the third of our aged pets, emerging from the wooded easement across the street from our urban home.  Adjacent to a dead end, the spot has been a convenient place for the ignorant, lazy and irresponsible to discard unwanted animals.  Off and on for three days we had heard what, at first,  sounded like a baby crying in the woods.  The poison ivy and thorny multiflora rose vines made it impossible to look for the source of the mournful yowling.  Then, one day as Michael stood at the end of the driveway talking with a neighbor, out came a fluffy, sandy-orange cat, with leaves, samples of tiny twigs and burrs stuck in his huge, feather duster of a tail.  We named him Lucky because he was damn lucky he found us.  About six months old when he joined the family, Lucky turned out to be a big bruiser.  He played rough; Pepper didn’t.  Twice her size he either didn’t realize that she perceived him as a menace or he didn’t care.  Now that he is also a geriatric case, he doesn’t have the energy to start a rumble anymore.


That accounts for the aged three of our gang of four.   The most recent addition to the posse is Molly, a black and white,  incredibly long-haired cat with a tail that rivals the fluffiness of any squirrel’s.  Michael found her the weekend following hurricane Katrina (yet another historical marker with which to date our animal).  Probably not quite a year old, she had been abandoned with her three kittens at the edge of the woods leading to the grounds of a nearby school.  This was quite a rescue, because by the time Michael called me on his cell phone — he was out walking Jerry — to tell me about his discovery, the mother cat had run into the woods, hiding beneath the poison ivy.  To shorten this drama considerably, I’ll report that we were able to get the kittens first, then retrieve mom a couple of hours later. 


I found homes for two of the kittens, kept one and finally realized we’d never find a home for mommy cat.  There we were with four cats and a dog.  Michael laid down the law:  “No more pets or I am divorcing you.”  


The new gray and white kitten was the love of my life.  I named him Teddy after a wonderful friend who is a major cat rescuer — that is another story, which I will tell in another posting at another time.  A year later little Teddy disappeared and  I was inconsolable for days.  To feel better, I created the fantasy that because he was so cute and cuddly that someone had probably found him as he explored the neighborhood and gave him a home…  So, we were down to three cats now and it would stay that way, as I didn’t relish my husband leaving me.


After the Super Bowl this past Sunday Michael announced that he was going to bed.  I decided to work for a few minutes on some writing.  Next thing I knew, Michael was running through my office door.  “Pepper is under the bed and she is making a terrible sound.  She’s all sprawled out and she isn’t moving.  I’m scared that something really bad is happening.”


I shot into the bedroom and got down on the floor.  Pepper’s eyes were staring straight ahead.  Her mouth was slightly open. At first I thought that she was, indeed, dead.  Then, I could just make out the rise of her side as she breathed.  I saw what looked to be vomited blood pooled beneath her.


We picked up the bed and moved it so that I could gather Pepper up in a towel.  She was completely limp, not even able to lift her head. When I picked her up, she let out low, heart-wrenching moan.


Pepper had come down with an upper respiratory infection a couple of days prior and the vet had given her a shot and antibiotics for us to administer twice daily.  Though still suffering from a runny nose, she had seemed no worse.  We expected it would take a few days to see significant improvement.  Now wrapped in a towel for warmth, she lay on top of a fleecy blanket next to the bed.   I lay down next to her.  Michael kept talking to me.  I think he was afraid that I was going  to break down.  But I was calm. 


It was clear that Pepper was dying.  She was old and it didn’t make sense to rush her to the emergency animal clinic.  This would be her time.  I just wanted to make her comfortable, to stroke her and scratch behind her ears.  I wanted her to know that I would not leave her, that she was loved. 


“Go to sleep,” I told Michael.  “I know you have to get up at the crack of dawn. I’m ok.  I just want to be with her for awhile.”


I kept thinking about the fist-sized kitten we had brought home from the Providence Animal Rescue League some 14 years ago.  We didn’t realize it until we got her home that she was sick with an upper respiratory infection.  I’d had to hydrate her with an eye dropper and warm her food so she could smell it and be enticed to eat.  I came home every day at lunch to give her medicine and make sure she was ok.   She had permanent sinus damage as a result and was a sneezy cat throughout her life.


Pepper’s breathing had become labored.  I kept stroking her.  She had the death stare, and at one point her tongue hung from  her mouth.   I kept loving her.   Then, I thought I discerned a faint purr.   I am sure that she was purring!   She knew I was transferring love through my fingertips and palms.  She could feel it.  Slowly, her breathing became more regular and relaxed.   It even appeared that her eyelids were getting a bit heavy, as though she could fall asleep and would wake up the next day, having had the worst night of her life.


Finally, I plugged in the Santa Claus night light yet to be packed away for next Christmas, got into bed and turned off my bedside lamp.  Michael snuggled up next to me.  “I’m so sorry about Pepper,” he said.  I said I was too.


I didn’t want to fall asleep. I wanted to be aware of Pepper’s last breath. But at the same time, I wanted to sleep and wake up to find her magically cured.  I remember looking at the clock at about 3:45.   In the light cast by the little Santa Claus, I could see Pepper in exactly the same position she was when I got into bed.   I slipped from beneath the covers and put my hand on her head, her neck and body.  She was cold.  She was gone.



When I spoke to the vet on  Monday, she was shocked and sorry for our loss.  We discussed that Pepper had been sicker than we had known.  The upper respiratory infection, the vet concluded, likely had been a secondary infection because of her overall weakened state.  Pepper probably had advanced diabetes or kidney failure. 




© Priscilla L. Young and priscillayoungwriter’s Blog 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material including original photographs without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Priscilla L. Young and priscillayoungwriter’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.




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