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RIP Little George Washington aka Kitty

October 19, 2011

On Saturday I said a final goodbye to one of the first and best friends I made in New York: my beloved, luxuriously soft, generously sized, pink-striped gray tiger kitty, George.

We met in 2000. By no stretch of the imagination was I a cat person, but I had a mouse problem in my East Village tenement apartment. Besides that, my sister was pregnant for the first time. She was getting a baby, and I wasn’t getting a baby, and I’d be ending my 20’s before long with no lasting relationships or offspring on the horizon. What, I could take care of something small and needy and mewling, too. Look, I’ll prove it.

So I responded to an advertisement with a 718 number, oblivious, in my early years of New York living, to the fact that parts of Brooklyn could be a full hour away from my apartment. I rode the F line out to Brighton Beach alone on a Sunday. The woman I’d made an appointment with, who’d turn out to be a full-throttle kook, buzzed me into the anteroom of her house, a urine-soaked hall lined with cages full of sad, nameless cats, reaching out from between the bars with sad, probing paws.

Hello? I called. The woman had buzzed me in, but did not appear.

“I’m eating a roast beef sandwich,” she yelled down some carpeted stairs. “I’ll be down when I’m done.”

I remained trapped in the hall of crying, smelly kitties for about 10 minutes.

I finally yelled up that I planned to leave.

At that point she rushed downstairs, choking down the remainder of her sandwich.

The cat she had in mind for me, “a mush,” she kept saying, “a real mush — the perfect cat for a dog lover”—was in the basement, along with the FIV positive cats, though the little cat was FIV negative.

George was 4 months old and still living with her momma. She came out of their shared cage to play with me. She was shy. I waved my fingers and she reared up on her back feet to swat them, and then fell over, the picture of awkward charm.

We agreed I’d take her.

I tried to name her something Russian based on her roots — the woman told me she was a Russian Blue and also, she was coming straight from Brighton Beach. Sabrina, Katrina, Katerina, nope.

This little kitty was no showboat. She ran crooked. She was not a highly prized Russian blue, but on closer examination was a French sort of cat often described as looking like “a potato on toothpicks,” combined with some wild stripey tomcat. She was so . . . human, if you consider the sense of human meaning having some qualities that set you apart from the rest of the animals in a good way, and yet being quite fragile and flawed at the same time.

To be honest, and hopefully not too narcissistic, the kitten reminded me a little of myself.

When I was born, my parents made a call to many family members and taped them. One call to my Great Uncle Bill stood out. When he heard the news of a new healthy niece, my uncle’s first question was:

“Are you going to name her George?”

“We’re going to call her Meredith,” my dad explained.

“Little George Washington,” my uncle sighed.

Now that I am an aunt, I love being an aunt. It is one of my top favorite jobs that I have ever had. But in my younger years, I thought that maybe I should aim to be the equivalent of my Uncle Bill: ever single, highly indulgent, bright and unusual, always with a New Yorker magazine in one hand and sometimes with a cigar in the other. And perhaps a little Bailey’s Irish Cream.

To the continued confusion of plenty of people, I named the cat George, though she responded most consistently to Kitty.

As a kitten, she distinguished herself by playing fetch as ardently as any dog.

She was with me through an arson / suicide in our East Village apartment building. I was out when it happened. The cat, of course, was home. My door had been axed in and when I was finally let back up the wet, glass strewn stairs, homicide detectives trailed me through our smashed and smoky rooms, wanting information about the man next door who’d set the fire and killed himself in the process. I’d been trying to tell the police about that guys for months, and finally they wanted to talk with me, right when couldn’t find my pet. I was distracted, to say the least. They finally helped me find her before we did an interview. She was deep, deep, deep in the closet, and she stayed hidden in a closet for many hours a day after that.

To get away from the bad smoky apartment, we moved to Brooklyn together.

When I met my husband, the first thing he said on entering my apartment was “Oh. You have a cat.”

Never a cat lover, and prone to allergies, he eventually grew to love and care for her, once we all lived together.

Our eventual son has always been a large fan of animals (not to mention a fan of large animals), and was heard the other days saying,

“I love you Kitty, you are my FAVORITE.”

Apt words for a lovely girl who never, ever raised a paw in anger to Henry, despite his often enthusiastic pursuit of her, and his near-constant invasion of her space.

A terrible mouser, a wonderful friend, oh Kitty, you are my favorite, too. But when a pet no longer enjoys the things they enjoy, it is time to let them go. At least that is the word on the street.

George enjoyed, more than anything else, eating. When she stopped eating last week, I knew what we were facing—we had a cancer diagnosis and a weeks-old prognosis that she might have a month or two—but I didn’t digest it yet.

She was still sweet smelling and perfect looking and in a way, didn’t look sick. She’d lost several pounds but with her “frame,” she could handle it. But I could feel her spine under her fur, and she was becoming very listless. I’d put her on the bed to sleep at night, and kept getting up overnight to be sure that she was still with us.

Overnight on Friday, I felt a sickness in my chest, a weight, and a decision had been made, in my heart more than in my brain, that I would say goodbye on Saturday.

On Saturday I contacted the vet who has been overseeing her care for the last months. I was so upset that even the people at the desk — normally a pack of horrible, annoying receptionists — were kind to me. Sobbing has its benefits; I should remember that. We laid a plan.

I took (take) solace in the fact that the vet had some background information on me as I was making these decisions: this doctor was one I’d initially met after I’d rescued a cat with no eyes who only weighed a pound. When I brought the little blind kitty in one stormy night she was hypothermic and riddled with worms. I thought I was bringing her in to put her out of her misery, and I felt a little scared of her, despite her size. (Eyes are sort of a signature feature on a cat, as it happens; no eyes can be kind of scary.) This vet told me that with some deworming and defleaing and some medication, that this was a fully salvagable animal. I spent more money than I will ever admit to medically board her while I was on my honeymoon. (Those were flush, pre-kid times.) When we returned from our trip to Turkey, one of the vet techs adopted the little cat.

Through all of that, George was patient with me, and I like to think that the vet, who met me in that context, wouldn’t think I was cruel for not opting for surgery and a course of chemo for my 12 year old cat, which was our other option. Though my need to share this story about the eyeless kitty shows that I still have doubts about my actions and feel some guilt.

I did not, for sure, want to see someone I loved get as sick as they could possibly be before they died. I did that with my sister. I cannot tell you how much I hated it. But that experience made me know how important it is to be with someone I love at the end.

And I am glad, I suppose, that George and I could spend her last moments together. People talk about cold comfort but the corollary, not being there, would have been too much. So I do not like this, not at all. But given the facts, I would not have wanted it any other way.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2011 8:35 am

    I’m sorry. We put our dear cat Idgie to sleep a year and a half ago and it kills me still. She’d been with us for 15 years, so I know how you feel.

  2. October 19, 2011 8:50 am

    I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my best boy, Charlie (also Fuzzy Face, MacFluff, Snow Leopard, many more names) on Thanksgiving morning last year. He was suffering from renal failure and we tried everything we could, but once he stopped eating he pretty much told us it was his time to go. I know that he waited for that day because my husband and I were both home for the holiday.
    He adopted us and was truly our friend, a person in his own right. My husband told him all the time he was his best friend, and I think would have given him a kidney if such a thing were possible. (He also claimed to be allergic but mysteriously never had a sniffle or a red eye, even when Charlie literally slept above his head on his pillow.)
    It’s hard with cats-people don’t understand. Dogs they get, cats they just think you’re crazy. But until you have a massive white mister cat sitting next to you watching the Rangers Canucks game you just don’t get it I suppose.
    I am thinking of you, out here in the country (Long Island, but not that far from NYC). Thanks for your post.

  3. Kelly permalink
    October 19, 2011 8:51 am

    So sorry to hear about your loss.

  4. jenn permalink
    October 19, 2011 9:16 am

    i had a special place in my heart for george AKA kitty, so sad to hear she’s gone.

  5. Karen permalink
    October 19, 2011 9:20 am

    You made me cry, as usual- but never fear, it’s a good thing to be reminded of the important stuff when ensconced in Soulless Corporate American for 10 hrs/day. I am not a cat person, but my mom had one “for us kids” when we were growing up- she lived to be 15 and boy she was one mean ol’ 5 lb kitty by the time she let us know she’d like to go now, please. She used to bring me live birds early in the morning when I came home from college for the summers, as if to say, shouldn’t you be getting up for work now, missy? Whaddya think this is, Club Med?

    My best friend was with her dog, Roxy, at the end, and it’s so important to do that- not that I am looking forward to it, I thank my lucky stars every day that our boy, Newton, is still little more than a pup (he’s 5). I know that George knew she was in good hands 100% of the way. Thanks for, as always, writing about the important things so beautifully, Meredith.

  6. Andrea Cohen permalink
    October 19, 2011 10:21 am

    I’m so sorry, Mer. George was lucky to have you, and this is the loveliest eulogy.

  7. Robert J. Phillips permalink
    October 19, 2011 10:47 am

    We know how much George meant to you. George was good for you and you were good for George. As always you expressed your feelings beautifully.

  8. October 19, 2011 11:15 am

    Thank you, I feel sure you made the right decision, this is a beautiful tribute to a wonderful kitty.

  9. Axuve Espinosa permalink
    October 19, 2011 11:50 am

    This was really great. I saw what Laura went through during the last months her cat was alive and how wrenching it was to have to say goodbye to such a great, great friend. I always loved George and saw how much you loved him.

  10. Four Eyes Edit permalink
    October 19, 2011 12:56 pm

    So sweet and a wonderful ode to sweet Kitty!

  11. Nancy Phillips permalink
    October 19, 2011 4:15 pm

    Meredith, how very sad that you have lost a good friend and great companion in lovely George. My sympathy extends also to Matthew and Henry, whom George was certainly pleased to add to her family. And despite the eccentricities of the Brighton Beach Cat Lady, she scored a home run when she made this match. I always thought of George as the Auntie Mame of the feline world — independent, swaggering, curious, engaging and beautiful. We will miss our grandkitty.


  12. Alana permalink
    October 20, 2011 5:55 pm

    Oh Meredith… I’m so sorry. I started reading this post aloud to Case early this evening, who I figured would just listen and I could multi-task because I had no idea you had lost your precious George when I saw you today. I had to stop when George swatted at your fingers at your first meeting. I was literally choked up. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard my voice come out that way. I came back later this evening and am once again in tears. I’m so sorry. George was obviously a big part of your life – as Charlie is for me. I can’t imagine. I love this post.

  13. chris permalink
    October 27, 2011 7:10 am

    I’m so sorry to hear about George. I met her once, and I remember how she shyly accepted my petting. She was a sweet girl. Try not to feel guilty—you gave her a happy, loving life, and the honor of a peaceful departure. Big hugs.

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