He came in to our lives in the way things sometimes do; when it is only in hindsight that you can see how preordained and perfect the whole story was from the very beginning. When you are in the middle of it, the future seems uncertain. You weigh alternatives and agonize over choices. It isn’t until you look back on it that you realize that choice had nothing to do with it. Sometimes in life, the things that are meant to be, just come to be. Charlie was one of those things.
Dorothy had been a client at Renforth for years, or perhaps more appropriately, for decades. She was in her late 70’s when I first met her, already established as a fixture in Renforth’s story. Dorothy was a woman with scores of stories to tell about the fascinating life she led; stories full of heartbreak and redemption, struggle and perseverance. Many of her tales included accounts of the role her beloved four legged companions played in them; sometimes how she saved them, sometimes how they saved her.
She maintained her house and her menagerie largely by herself much longer than any of one could have expected. Eventually though, the burden was too much and the time came when it was necessary to find a place that could provide more living assistance. Unfortunately, the residence did not accept cats. Through our technician Sonia’s perseverance and Renforth’s amazing community, new homes were found for her two cats, Lady and Charlie.
Charlie’s new owner-to-be had a vacation planned and was unable to take Charlie right away so we invited him for an extended Renforth sleep-over until she returned. When he first arrived he was somewhat withdrawn; understandable given the circumstances but after a couple of days, we were all concerned. It seemed like there was something more going on than homesickness. Blood work confirmed it. Charlie was sick; Charlie had become diabetic.
With treatment and super nursing care (and lots of love from all of us), Charlie began to feel better. Caring for a diabetic cat isn’t always easy, however, often not for the faint of heart or the busy of life. Charlie’s almost new owner just wasn’t in a position to take a diabetic cat. Charlie, once more, needed a new home.
We had talked about having a clinic cat for years but the reality was hard to imagine. Renforth is a busy place. A clinic cat has to be unflappable. He has to have a sense of when he is in the way and be able to tell when he needs to stay out of the way. A clinic cat knows how to handle himself with dogs; bolting across the room after a minor scare is a sure way to launch an excited dog in to a predatory mode. A cat that is too sensitive gets overwhelmed by clinic action and spends his days hiding and feeling insecure. A cat that has the potential to be aggressive can also be, as one can imagine, a big problem. But if you were to make a list of what a clinic cat needs to be, and of what Charlie was, you would find you had two identical lists.
Charlie didn't become our first-ever-clinic-cat via a conscious decision - it happened without questions or answers, while we were all just doing what we do everyday, almost imperceptibly, without intention or design. But happen it did. Charlie became a part of Renforth, a part of all of us.
As Charlie settled in we started to see our first glimpses of the true personality of this hilarious cat. Charlie was a such a great cat - such a character. He could be, he always seemed to be, funny. All of us can tell you about that. He could be cool…just ask any of the enthusiastic canine patients that Charlie stood precisely far enough away from so that they could see, hear and sort of smell him, but couldn’t actually touch him. He was sentimental. His first Christmas with us, Dorothy sent a Christmas picture of herself to the clinic. We posted the picture in Charlie’s room, by his bed. He nuzzled that picture for weeks - no kidding. He could be sweet and loving - Dr. White and Catherine, especially, know all about that. He became an integral part of our everyday. He greeted us in the mornings with chirps of hello and a somewhat impatient clamour for breakfast. Suddenly it was impossible to imagine that we had ever been without him.
We got word in the spring that Dorothy had passed away. We knew that her health had been declining to some degree but her passing still came as something of a shock. I don’t think anyone ever told Charlie, if they did I’m sure he wouldn’t have understood the words, but I have no doubt that however he came to know it, and whatever it means for a cat to know something, when Dorothy passed Charlie knew.
The inherent blessing in not knowing that our loved ones' end is nigh is that our last few days aren’t weighed down with the impending threat of grief. Charlie’s blood sugar levels were fluctuating outside of the ideal range for a few days but that had happened before and we had been able to get him back on track fairly quickly. This time though, the fluctuations persisted and very suddenly he got really sick. The doctors ordered more blood work and x-rays; the findings were unequivocal. Charlie was in congestive heart failure. The prognosis was grave and his condition was declining rapidly. It was clear that the only humane option was euthanasia.
We were fortunate to be able to give Charlie a peaceful passing; all of those that loved him most were there with him to say goodbye and give him their final hugs and cuddles. There are tears running down my cheeks as I relive these memories but my sadness is tempered by what I believe in my heart to be wholly true. Charlie’s heart wasn’t broken; it just had somewhere else to be. Take care of him Dorothy; we know you will.