I’m including in my book called “Riding Shotgun” a chapter about our own pets. Everyone is interested in what kind of animals their veterinarian goes home to. Here’s one segment of that chapter I’d like to share with you.
Fussy was our first pet to share, a cat Charles acquired during a working summer in Atlanta. After that summer I kept her at my home in Clarkesville until we got married that December. Then she moved into our tiny Athens apartment with us where she provided worlds of entertainment. It might have been a small apartment but she figured out how to run and leap and attack from under the bed and hide in the closet and generally to make of it a “deep, dark forest” or a New York borough, certainly a place of adventure. When Charles was buried in his books on histology, anatomy, poisonous plants and parasitology, Fussy kept me company purring in my lap, swatting at my knitting needles, and chasing my pencil when I dropped it.
When we moved to our first house (a rented one) in Cairo in 1968, Fussy was there for me. Charles was gone for long, long hours and Fussy, along with the wonderful little person growing inside of me, kept me quite occupied. Even before William was born, neighbors would prophesy that Fussy was going to be a handful when the baby came. “You’ve spoiled her rotten,” they’d say. “She’ll smother that baby when your back is turned.”
The house we lived in had inherited a dog, a collie named Laddie who had belonged to former renters. The Wards across the street fed him. Mary said she told the family she would feed Laddie. But Laddie didn’t move to her house. He stayed on our open carport. Whenever I let Fussy out, she’d investigate Laddie and they were good to each other. But I didn’t let her out much. She had free range in the house, perching in window sills to watch the birds, hiding under beds when she didn’t want to be found, lying on soft pillows and, often, in my diminishing lap, or even on top of my bulge.
When William was born, Fussy was very curious. She’d sniff the baby, edge carefully around him. I watched her very closely. I loved my cat. But I loved my baby more and I wouldn’t let anything happen to him. One day when he was two or three months old and beginning to move a lot, I noticed Fussy was ever more interested. She sat by his infant seat when I set it on the floor watching his every movement. I realized one day that I could not afford to turn my back on the two of them for fear she would attack a little tender hand or rake one paw down a sweet little cheek.
“Okay, Fussy, today you are going to stay outside until 5:00,” I told my gray striped cat the next morning. “It won’t be so bad. You need to learn to enjoy the outside as well as the inside.”
She howled from one window to the next all around the house for hours. I steeled myself to wait one more hour before letting her in. It would be best for her and for me and for Baby William. I slid a pie into the oven and opened the door calling jubilantly, “Fussy! It’s time! Come here, come on in.” But there was no Fussy. When had I last heard her crying at the window? Charles and I both hunted for her that night, and the next day I called and called her all around the neighborhood. Then Dot Crozier, a neighbor, heard me calling her and stopped by looking stricken. “Brenda, your cat’s missing? I—I think I saw her out on Highway 84 yesterday—she’d been run over. In fact, I moved her off the highway. So she wouldn’t get—you know, mutilated. But I didn’t recognize her at the time. I didn’t realize it was your cat. I thought your cat was always indoors. Oh, I’m so sorry!”
She was right. I went where Dot directed me and there was my cat, my poor stiff cat. I wrapped her in a towel and hauled her home where Charles tenderly buried her under a pine tree. I could not stop sobbing for a week. Why had I put her out so long? Why hadn’t I figured out a better way to handle the situation? Nothing Charles could say entirely took away the sting of guilt and sorrow. In a way, I’ve never gotten over losing dear Fussy, though there have been many more losses that were also very sad. Aside from mourning the demise of many of our own pets, I’ve mourned both on the phone and in person, with bereft pet owners. I can honestly and fervently tell them I identify with their grief.
The best picture I have of Fussy is one I took when we were packing to go away for the weekend and she got in the suitcase and just sat there staring calmly and steadfastly at me with those brilliant yellow eyes of hers.