Anyone who knows me knows how much I love cats. I see in each of them an individual with their own personality, and I have always given myself over fully to the love and responsibility that comes with “owning” a cat. However, I have also come to realize that there are some cats with whom you can have a special bond. You may not get this, even if you are a cat person. I didn’t quite understand it years ago when Steve tried to explain to me just how very special his cat Hobbes was. After all, I had always loved all of my cats, each with their own quirks, in relatively equal ways. But with Elsa, it was love at first sight for both her and me.
You should certainly not take this to mean that there is any loving better, less, more, etc when it comes to my cats. But while I love Cassady for her perpetual outer grumpiness covering a trilling liquid purr just below the surface, and Ezra for his eternal teenage boy mischievousness and need to ALWAYS be in the middle of whatever we are doing, Elsa never brought anything but pure love and sweetness from her very core. She was the most overtly and enthusiastically sweet cat I have ever encountered.
My landlady summed it up best years ago with a simple statement that I have always remembered. When she was stroking Elsa’s head and gazing into her eyes (something you just couldn’t help but do), she commented, “This one isn’t a cat. This one is an angel.”
The story of how Elsa and I first met has been told so frequently that it has almost taken on legendary status for Steve and me. But the pure, unexaggerated truth is that the moment I picked her up out of her cage at the Humane Society, she started purring. And as I lifted her to my chest, she climbed up and draped herself over my shoulder to rub her face against my head. At that moment, I looked at Steve and started to cry. There was no logic behind it. The connection was immediate; she was already mine. (Minor amendment: Steve notes that with her face rub, Elsa had claimed me as hers, as well. He is, of course, right; Elsa and I were already each others.)
Her desire to snuggle close to my head was ever-present. Right from the start, in those first few weeks when I would spend my evening hours with her in a separate room while the other cats got used to her smell in the house, she would climb up to lie right next to my head.
Over the years, she frequently spent long hours of the night sleeping draped across my head, often climbing aboard before I’d actually managed to put my head all the way down.Although this behavior did sometimes make it difficult to breathe if her vast white underbelly slung low over my face, I always loved it, often falling asleep at night with her purr rumbling in my ear.
She was also a very chatty cat, her purrs frequently interrupted by mews and mrapps as you scritched her head. Her big green eyes looked at you with so much love, you couldn’t help but spend long minutes gazing into them and talking right back to her. As she purred, her exceptionally long whiskers would come so far forward in cat-eagerness that they would almost touch in front of her nose, and as she really got into it, she would often start to drool, which you would realize as your hand came back a bit damp from an intense chin rub.
Elsa got sick in the spring of this year. After weeks, and then months, of trying to figure out and treat what ailed her, we were recently given some very bad news when she was diagnosed with bronchogenic adenocarcinoma. The good news, as one of our regular vets put it, was that Elsa didn’t know she had cancer. This has been a source of some comfort. Of course, the bad news was that we knew she did, and these last few weeks have been very hard.
Elsa passed away suddenly last night from complications, and more unexpectedly than you would think given her diagnosis.
Many years ago, perhaps before I even moved to California, I saw a PBS program about the bond people have with their pets. I don’t remember too many of the details, except for one. There was an extraordinarily wise child, somewhere in the 8- to 10-year-old range, who was talking about why animals have such short lives compared to humans. He was saying that we live in order to become better, more compassionate people, and we spend our lives in pursuit of that ideal. He said that the reason our pets don’t live as long as we do is because they already come into the world with the capacity for love; they don’t need to spend as much time here trying to attain that goal.
At the time, this program turned me into a sopping mess, but I have held onto those words throughout the years, finding comfort in them and using them to comfort others who have lost their pets. I turn to them again now as they are the only possible explanation for why Elsa, a cat with such a huge innate capacity for love, could have to leave us when she was just 10-years-old.
I know we took excellent care of her and that we did everything we could for her. But I thought we would have many more years together before I would have to say good-bye. My heart is absolutely broken. I’ll miss her near-constant purr and her weight on my head.