Ashira

Nov. 13th, 2014 04:07 pm
bookofmirrors: (Mirror Mirror)
My cat Ashira died unexpectedly this morning.

Ashira was a birthday present. The first year [livejournal.com profile] blckwngdorcl and I were dating, we were wandering the mall in Kennesaw on my birthday. I'm generally opposed to mall pet stores, but of course, we always went by there to look at the puppies and kittens and whatnot, 'cause puppies and kittens. They seemed to be having a sidewalk sale of sorts that day, because there were a few enclosures outside the store. Ashira was in one of them.


She was clearly frightened. She was sitting in her own litter, which cats don't typically do unless they're upset about something, and hissing at anyone who got close. There was thick green drainage coming from both of her eyes. Obviously, I had to take her home.

We had some cash on us, and admittedly, I had left some in the car, so we had more, but I went up to the clerk and asked how much it would cost to get her. I forget the amount he named, but it was more than we had on us, and less than we had if we would have gone out to the car and gotten the rest of the cash we had. At any rate, I pulled out the $65 we had and laid it on the counter. I pointed out that she was clearly sick, clearly not well-socialized, and scared. I assured him I'd give her a good home. Almost as if he were hypnotized, he agreed and took the money we gave him. He shared with us that someone had found her as a stray and brought her into the store. One of the workers at the store said that she had almost taken her, and that she was scared, but even though she was frightened of it, she really enjoyed physical affection.

We didn't have a carrier, and they didn't provide one, so [livejournal.com profile] blckwngdorcl took her and held her, such that she was looking backwards over his shoulder. She dug her claws in, but didn't struggle or try to escape. She was clearly terrified. The whole time we walked through the mall, he put out "don't-see-me" vibes, 'cause we didn't want to get stopped by security for carry this animal. We walked by at least one guard, and none of them paid us any mind.

I always take any new cat to the vet before I let them interact with the other cats in the household. At that time, we had Neg, Loki, Whimsy, Smithers, and Silver (called Murke at the time). I don't remember much of what the vet said about her at the time. She was healthy, except for her eyes, and I'm guessing they gave her an injection for that, 'cause I can't imagine, especially back then, that she would have come close to tolerating eye drops/ointment. They said she was about 6 months old, so we set her birthday as 6 months back from mine, so April 16. They told us she was a domestic shorthair (as all my cats are/were), and that her coloring was called lilac-point lynx. Certainly, she was the most beautiful of the cats, with that coloring and her blue eyes. Later, even though she had stripes instead of spots, I thought she looked a lot like a snow leopard, which is an animal that's important to me from my shamanic workings. (As an aside, there actually now is a cat that's been bred for that coloration... same as Ashira's, but spots instead of stripes, and called snow leopard.)

We were in Trybalaka at the time, an a capella singing group, which sometimes met at our place to practice, so of course, we had to show off the new cat to them. A friend in the group, Melody, suggested her name, from a song she was singing with another group at the time. Asherah is a (primarily, at least, I think) Hebrew goddess, mentioned rarely in the Bible as a consort of Yahweh (well, technically El, I think). I just changed the spelling and the pronunciation.

It was a challenge socializing her. We kept her in our office for some time, and every day, I'd catch her and hold her on my lap while I was on the computer. She'd settle into it, and let me pet her, and even purred once or twice. But catching her to do it was traumatic for both of us. After a week or so of this, I decided it wasn't worth the trauma, and decided to let her come to us, if she chose to.

She didn't choose to. For about 3 years, she wouldn't willingly stay in the same room as a human. Anyone coming into a room she was in was met with a hiss, which was followed by her bolting out of the room. She wouldn't eat if we were in the room, and having to pass either of us in the hallway or wherever was clearly terrifying to her.

She absolutely *loved* the other cats, though. She would try to rub up against them any chance she got. She very much wanted affection, and she didn't want it from us, but she certainly wanted it from them. Whimsy, with her characteristic princessly airs, wanted nothing whatsoever to do with her, and would strike at her if she got too close. Most of the other cats reacted similarly.

Not Neg, of course. Neg, my Buddha cat, my ambassador, he of the Very Old Soul, whom I cry to remember even now (as we speak)... he did as he'd done with every cat since I asked it of him with Loki - he took her in. Even he, the undisputed benevolent monarch of the house, would sometimes get frustrated with her clinginess and swat her away, but for the most part, he showed her the ropes, and they would often be seen curling up together. If I was ever able to touch her or get close to her in those years, it was because I was petting Neg, and she wanted to be close to him. When Neg died, Silver took over that role. When Silver died... well, Smithers and Whimsy tolerated her most of the time.

She was the first cat I didn't declaw. Having grown up with dogs, I considered declawing a fairly harmless mostly cosmetic procedure, and had only recently been exposed to what an absolutely horrific thing it is to put a cat through. But she would never have needed it, anyway. Born out of fear, her obedience was immediate and absolute. One use of her name in a firm tone, and she never did that thing again, whatever it was. And she was absolutely the most gentle cat I've ever owned. With the exception of Whimsy, who wasn't above biting people that annoyed her in her younger years, none of my cats have ever been mean, by any stretch of the imagination. But Ashira just radiated gentleness. Until today, she never ever attempted to bite me or anyone else. Until today, she only ever struck at me twice. The first time was shortly after we got her, and I had to corner her to get her into her carrier when we were moving to another apartment. She struck at me once, but stayed right where she was, and was clearly absolutely mortified that she'd done such a thing. Then, as every time I picked her up, she curled up into me and held on for dear life. (Of course, she would only tolerate that for a very short time before she desperately tried to get down.) The second time was recently (so, 13 years later) when I had to board them while we were in Atlanta. The boarding was so traumatizing to all of them that, when I went to pick them up, she struck at me as I was trying to get her out of the cage-like thing they had. Nothing else (until today) ever made her react violently. She was the sweetest of cats. An archaic novel would use the word "dearest", and that would be entirely accurate.

I was going to the animal communication and shamanic healing classes about that time, and when there was a call to bring any animal forth for healing, it was always her. She had some pretty intense experiences, usually reluctantly, by all accounts. Stories are often told in allegory when it comes to shamanic work, but it was made clear that the 6 months prior to me getting her had not been happy ones for her. We did everything we could to help her heal from that. I don't think she ever fully did.

But she made progress. Over the years, she started allowing us to pet her. I'd lie down with her when she allowed it, and pet her as long as she'd let me. The times got gradually longer, until I often had to be the one to stop it myself, because it seemed she would let me go on indefinitely. I tried picking her up a few times for reasons other than putting her in her carrier to go somewhere, and that never went very well; it was too much for her, and I eventually stopped trying. There was no point in putting her through that for my own selfish reasons. Every little milestone was met with awe and thankfulness. The first time she let me pet her. The first time she came when I called her. The first time she came out into the middle of a room we were and laid belly up without a care or fear in the world. The first time she slept on the bed with us. Every little thing was a cause for celebration, joy, hope. By the end of her life, she would come well over 50% of the time I called her, almost always came close for petting at every opportunity, rarely ran from us, and the bed was her domain. Even accidentally kicking her in the middle of the night, which I would have thought would have sent her running, never did. Her look and demeanor, when she didn't revert back to her fear, was that of a dowager, even though Whimsy was the clear matriarch, and had been since Loki died.

She was healthy pretty much her whole life. It wasn't until her checkup last year that she was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. After much discussion amongst ourselves, including her input via an animal communicator I trust, we decided on minimal to no intervention. She didn't want the daily trauma of a pill, and we had tried the ear ointment that Silver had used before he died, and she didn't like that, either. The thyroid food none of them ended up liking for more than a few days, and she most decidedly didn't want surgery/radiation. So, as our roommate put it, we had her on Hospice. She was going to die at some point, and we were all OK with that, because it was on her terms.

While on a metaphysical level, I believe we all die on our own terms, I really really hate the way Ashira actually died, though.

As some of you may recall, my mother-in-law died in late August, which necessitated a trip to Atlanta for both [livejournal.com profile] blckwngdorcl and I. We normally try not to travel together, because making sure the cats are taken care of is an issue. For various reasons, we weren't able to get an in-home sitter, so we opted to board them at the vet.

Keep in mind, none of my cats, alive or dead, have ever been boarded in their lives. You could tell they were freaking out about it from the time I dropped them off, and I was in tears at the thought of them staying there. When I picked them up, several days later, they were all clearly traumatized, and that marked the second time in her life that Ashira ever struck at me. She did it repeatedly as I reached for her, such that I ended up picking her up with a blanket. As usual, once I had her picked up, she relaxed a bit, and even though all the cats showed signs of PTSD for a few days afterwards, they all seemed to weather through it after a while, and things went back to normal. I promised them I'd never board them again. No matter how nice the facilities or how well-cared for they were, it was just too much.

So, this morning, they had an appointment for their yearly checkup. I had asked the vet to do it while they were there being boarded, but the vet recognized, as I did, how freaked out they were while they were there, and opted not to traumatize them any further, which is a good thing. At any rate, I always catch Ashira first, because if she gets wind I'm gathering cats to put in carriers, she'll hide, and she hides well, and in hard-to-get-to places. So, I was able to get her in a position this morning where I was able to pick her up.

And she fought me. She fought me like she'd never fought me in her life. I'll have some cuts to remember her by for a little while. She tried to bite me, which she'd never ever done before. She urinated in fear; although now, I really don't know if it was fear, or just her bladder emptying in death. But she died, there, struggling in my arms, one claw firmly lodged in my head, her face in my hair as she tried to bite me and I was trying to hold her and calm her down and keep her from getting away and not get too damaged myself in the process. This cat, whom I'd spent the entire time I'd had her trying to alleviate her fears, died in terror, no doubt from a heart attack.

I've gone over and over it in my head. Logically speaking, and according to the vet, there's absolutely nothing I did to cause her death - at least not by squeezing her too tightly, or suffocating her, or anything like that. She literally died of fright - the second cat I've ever had to do so, although I wasn't home when it happened to the first one, whose story I've never written, because he died before the days of blogs. The vet tells me that, in cats, it's not the loss of blood flow to the heart that causes heart attacks, as it is in humans, but usually a rupture of the tendonae chordae in the ventricles of the heart. I don't know if that hurts or not. In humans, there are no nerve endings in the heart itself. At any rate, I am convinced that she was so scared that I might be taking her back to be boarded, that it caused her heart to basically burst.

I hate that. I hate that her life ended this way. I had no warning. With the exception of Mika, who also died from fright (well-meaning rottweiler), all my cats have given me some sort of warning when they died. Neg told me he wasn't moving to the new house. Loki told me she was getting cancer a good 6 months before it happened. Skye didn't warn us exactly, but her diagnosis came before she started showing any symptoms, and that was warning enough. Silver I just knew. I especially hate that she died in the state she did, terrified of what I was going to do to her, that I was going to leave her again. I should have told her beforehand, but I typically don't warn the cats prior to taking them to the vet - it's usually on the way. And yeah, I know she probably had one of the best lives possible while she was alive, and made so many strides into becoming less fearful, and often loving. I get all that. But I still hate the way she died, and the role I played in it.

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