Love Story to Sweetie

WHAT CAN YOU SAY about a 9-year-old girl cat who died?

That she was bright-eyed. And beautiful. That she loved Breyers blueberry yogurt. And Cabot cheddar cheese. And me. That she was finicky, which I viewed as evidence of her refined sense of taste. Once, when I offered her a piece of Jarlsberg, she batted it across the kitchen. My kitty liked her dairy piquant.

I never learned where I ranked among her favorite things—I might have topped yogurt and cheese, but certainly not shrimp nor the summer sun patch by the sliding glass door. Many times, Sweetie was enjoying a sun patch when I called her to come lie on Papa. She appeared to work out an algorithm of the opportunity costs of leaving the warm spot, concluded it was more sensible to stay put, and lay her chin on the floor as final verdict.

 

We met—that is to say I bought her—in a pet store in ritzy Scarsdale, New York. “Critter Comforts” was the name. At the front near the checkout was a fenced-in display of cats and kittens—rescued feral cats, discovered living underneath a local orphanage. The display was the veritable bargain bin of house cats. A sign offered incentives (shots, food, toys) to buy one of these implicitly inferior animals—ones lacking papers, pedigree, provenance. But none of these things would have mattered anyway; I’m a sucker for the underdog(cat).

It was mid-morning, shortly after feeding time, and the mothers and their kittens were piled atop each other on carpeted perches, smushed against the wire fence. They were all dead asleep—except one: a gorgeous, green-eyed tabby with minute streaks of orange in her gray-black coat and the stripe pattern of a tiger. Unlike most cats, whose faces broaden out as they get older, Sweetie’s always retained its youthful proportions: big eyes and svelte mouth with a paper-white chin. She stood up tall and gazed at me, and as I reached over the fence, she leapt into my hands.

It was my one and only experience of love at first sight.

I walked her around the store, she ensconced in the crook of my arm, shopping for toys and cat accoutrements. I remember buying her a carpeted stump with a hollow den for sleeping. A carrier. Some catnip mice and what would eventually prove to be her greatest recreational activity, the one at which she was an unmitigated natural: Feather-on-a-Stick. (Feather-on-a-Stick included a game I invented: “Bigjump.” Upon my saying “Bigjump” in a sprightly and encouraging tone, Sweetie would jump to ever-increasing heights and claw the feather to the ground. I once measured her jumping prowess with a yardstick and determined that in order to proportionally replicate her feats, Michael Jordan needed to have a vertical leap of 20 feet.)

Of course the five dollars per spare feather was outrageous, later prompting in me an irrational desire to win the lottery so I could start my own feather-on-a-stick company and drive this one out of business, but for the moment all I cared about was showering affection on my new writing companion, so I bought everything—including food and food dishes and brushes and bitter apple deterrent spray—as well as three extra feathers.

The cat was my wife’s idea. It was November 2001. After 9/11, I had taken a voluntary severance package from a Manhattan financial services firm, and with Alexas’s blessing was focusing full-time on my writing. Prior to this, I had wedged writing into my days John Grisham-style: before work, during train and subway rides, during lunch alone in the gourmet corporate cafeteria, during soporific meetings to stay awake.

Alexas had insisted on a companion for me partly because of the long hours I would be home alone during the week, but also because a few years earlier I was diagnosed manic-depressive, specifically Bipolar II. Alexas had read about the therapeutic effects of pets on the mentally ill. Getting a cat, she argued, would soothe my own savage beast by giving me something to care for. (It would also prevent my becoming a solipsist, I added.) And for several years this strategy worked—in the early months especially. Between writing stories and submitting them and getting the mail and burning the rejections and flushing the cinders down the toilet, I had kitten duty to attend to, which included being ubiquitous and forthcoming with copious no’s when I caught her biting on electrical cords or scrunching into dangerously tight spaces.

Since my bipolar meds made me tired—even more so during a depressive cycle, which lasted from two days to two months—I took a nap every afternoon. Having always slept flat on my back, I allowed Sweetie to curl up in the V between my legs. Her naptime was invariably shorter, and within an hour I would be awakened by light, exploratory footsteps on me beneath the blanket that gradually worked their way toward my chest, until her sweet face burrowed out from the covers. She blinked, licked my cheek and curled up, purring—all 2 pounds of her—atop my beating heart.

Feather-on-a-Stick, Bigjump, and aquarium fish-watching were her preferred activities in the early years, although we eventually had to get rid of the aquarium. Sweetie had figured out how to flip open the top hatch, trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to catch herself a snack.

It was around this time that I started to understand the questions and responses implicit in Sweetie’s meows. From the beginning she employed a full palette of cat communication techniques: sharp, plaintive meows with sustained, scolding eye contact (usually used when I had done something wrong, like being away for several hours); bright, contented chirrups; and the calculatedly adorable “silent meow”—used whenever she wanted my attention but knew I was working. Also in her array of subtle tricks were the “tail hug,” wherein she curled the tip of her tail into the crook behind my knee; the clawless paw-tap; the head-bunt; the flop-down; the eraser-bat (she did not like pink pencil erasers for some reason); the quiet stare, which by its unwavering intensity was her equivalent of shouting; and what I termed the “lah-dee-dah”—her brazenly sauntering across my desk in front of me, usually while I stared out the window or at a sheet of paper in my typewriter. Sometimes she even went so far as to walk across the keyboard.

I should mention how she got her name. Easy: the day I brought her home, after I had observed her for hours and noticed her sweet, grateful disposition, I said to Alexas, “She’s so sweet,” to which she replied, “That’s it! Let’s call her Sweetie.” And there you have it.

 

As with all pet owners, we had our share of close calls. Like the time Alexas and I were standing at our 3rd floor apartment window, which was open and screen-less. Sweetie, spying her first bird in the tree outside, sprung for it. Miraculously, I caught her in midair. After that we never opened a window that lacked screens.

Then there was the D.C. Affair.

Sweetie had been in our lives for two or three years when Alexas’ mother invited us down to Washington, D.C. for a long weekend. I wasn’t comfortable leaving the kitty alone, we couldn’t find pet care on short notice, and I was damned if my precious girl was going to be jailed in a kennel, so we brought her along. Not that this was her first trip. She had gone to the house in Maine, to my sister’s wedding, even to Gettysburg, but something about D.C. freaked her out. (Dubya was in office at the time, so we’ll blame him.) The first day wasn’t an issue because we arrived late in the afternoon, ate dinner, and went to bed. The next morning, however, Alexas and I rose early and took a ferry down the Potomac to Mount Vernon. Sweetie, of course, stayed in the hotel room, where Alexas had set up travel-sized food stations and a litterbox.

When we returned from George Washington’s home, Sweetie was gone. We looked everywhere in the hotel room, scoured the hallways and stairwells calling her name, tracked down the manager, and cross-examined the maid (we had left a prominent DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door)—all to no avail.

Finally, about three hours later, after searching and imagining frightful things, like her being dumped down the laundry chute with the dirty linens, in my greatest Sherlock Holmes moment ever, with Alexas, my in-laws, the manager and the maid rapt before me, I strode to the hotel room window (where I was dramatically backlit), spun around and declared, “Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth!” I yanked the mattress off the bed and heaved up the boxspring. There, cowering in a hole in the fabric, was Sweetie. She meowed at me—a half-scolding, half-horrified meow that seemed to say, “Where were you? First you leave me in this little hotel room with no window perch, then you’re gone all day. I’m very upset with you, Papa!” I kissed her and put her in the carrier.

 

However my and Sweetie’s relationship as Papa and kitty became indelible much earlier than that—within a couple months of getting her.

It was Christmas Day, 2001. The family, including Alexas and me, my parents and younger sister, were spending the holiday at our vacation house in Maine. Two days earlier, a blizzard had cloaked the countryside in a foot of snow.

It’s Christmas afternoon. To give the fire a better draw, my father opens the door to the porch. After a few minutes I notice the door is open and ask, “Where’s Sweetie?” Instantly his face matches the snow outside.

“Jeezis,” he says, “she couldn’t of gotten out! I only had it open a minute or two.”

I go to the door and throw it open. Sure enough, a tottering trail of tiny footprints heads out the door, breaks through the crust on the foot-deep snow, and disappears off the porch. I glance at the outdoor thermometer: 5ºF—scary cold, and if you’re a kitten, deathly cold. It’s three o’clock, which means one, maybe two hours of decent daylight left. Desperate to find her, I run outside in my socks and a sweater.

I knew that adult feral cats were capable of surviving outside in winter, but a 12–15-week-old kitten, alone? Trudging through the snow, I feared the worst, expecting any moment to find her frozen stiff or buried in a deep pocket of snow and suffocated. Her tracks were faint, and a wind was starting to come up, blowing away the loose powder atop the crust. If I didn’t find her soon, I would lose my one and only chance.

Before the wind erased her paw prints, I followed them across our backyard, towards a small gully between our property and the next-door neighbors’. I squatted down and noticed that the snow on the opposite bank was disturbed, like something had clawed its way up. Peering over the bank, I scanned the horizon from her perspective—inches off the ground—and asked myself, “If I were a kitten—cold, disoriented and seeking warmth—where would I go?” The only shelter nearby was a low porch attached to my neighbors’ house.

My family had all gone to the front of the house and were calling the cat’s name, a tactic whose value I questioned, since Sweetie had yet to respond to her name with 100% accuracy. By now my feet were freezing, but there was no time to get my boots. The sun was low in the sky, throwing deep blue shadows across the snow. I went to the porch, dropped to my stomach and crawled partway underneath, a task complicated by my being 40 pounds overweight at the time. I managed to squeeze in about 6’ before my back ran out of clearance. A gray light filtered in from the one side where the snow hadn’t banked against the porch.

“Sweetie? Sweetie, honey, where are you?”

I listened. At first I heard only the wind, but as it subsided I made out the smallest meow. I couldn’t see anything, so I called out again, and she replied again. It was coming from somewhere against the house foundation. I didn’t have a flashlight. I would have to do this solely by ear and feel.

I kept calling to her in the dark and homing in on her cries, which, like a Geiger counter, grew stronger and faster the closer I approached. “Papa, Papa, I’m here,” she seemed to say. Claws were scratching on metal. She was leading me towards one of those metal culverts around a basement window. I groped around, praying I wasn’t about to put my hand into a skunk’s winter nest, reached into the bowl-like hollow, felt a tail, then a wet nose. I pulled her out, backed up and emerged in the half-light with her. She was shivering. I tucked her under my cashmere sweater against my T-shirt with her head sticking out of the neck hole. My father marched toward us clutching a snow shovel.

“You found her. Thank God.”

“Yeah, let’s go in.”

I spent the next hour with her by the fire, bundling her in warm towels. She was completely still, unbothered by being confined. In fact, she purred and gazed lovingly at me until her eyes became heavy. “You rescued me, Papa,” her sleepy look said. “Someday I’ll rescue you.”

 

She was, by anyone’s definition, a fraidy-cat, something for which I am probably as much to blame as her genetics. Even 9 years later, even after caring for her when we were away, several of my friends and relatives only ever saw her as a dark blur disappearing into a closet. Some doubted that we even had a cat.

The only two people Sweetie was consistently unafraid of were me and Alexas. Since she died, I have learned that in order for cats to be effectively socialized, they need to be around a variety of people and situations—two things that Sweetie did not get in her critical first months. The apartment was quiet, and, with the exception of the clacking of a typewriter or my swearing at a recent rejection, I too was quiet. This meant that whenever we had overnight guests, or if relatives, the building super or the UPS guy showed up, she went into panic mode, stopping short behind me and staring at the door as it opened. Invariably whoever was there frightened her and she would squat to the floor, elongate herself like a ferret and scurry away—a behavior that struck me as a bit off, since plain-old running was far more efficient—to one of her many hidey-holes. Her Alamo? A bookcase bottom shelf, in the hollow space behind some reference books.

Like other cats, Sweetie had her idiosyncrasies, some adorable, some exasperatingly not. For four years after 9/11, I was an adjunct English lecturer at Baruch College in Manhattan. I routinely came home with piles of papers to grade, which I spread out next to me on the bed. Sweetie would join me, and I quickly discovered that she enjoyed rolling around on certain students’ work more than others’. Studying their names, I quickly deduced the common thread: they were my stoners. When I returned the papers, for fun I sometimes called those students aside.

“Go easy on the ganja, folks,” I said, to which they incredulously replied, “What? How…how did you know?”

I never revealed my secret weapon: Super Sweetie.

Some of Sweetie’s other habits may not have been unique to her, but they were no less adorable or annoying. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that says you can’t bathe a cat, from the time Sweetie was a kitten, Alexas and I used a three-bucket system she’d seen on Martha Stewart to wash her. After we dried her in towels, Sweetie retreated to the Alamo for an hour to groom herself and pout, but when she emerged, her coat full and gleaming and redolent of baby shampoo, she strutted back and forth in front of us, basking in our praise: “Oh, Papa, look…look at the beautiful girl!”

Not so beautiful was her predilection for snacking on bugs; disgusting is what it was, but Alexas assured me that “it’s what cats do.” I probably shouldn’t complain, though; her taste for insects may be why I never saw a single cockroach in our apartments. Another habit of hers was annoyingly sneaky, yet for some reason I respected her for it. Before I would acquiesce to give her some “cheeser” or a piece of shrimp, she had to be standing on the dining table rug, not on the kitchen floor. It was still begging, but at least this way I wouldn’t trip over her. While she started out complying with the new rule, she gradually became a living slippery slope, worming her way out half an inch here, two inches there, until only the tip of her tail was on the rug.

Sweetie,” I’d say.

She’d chirrup in reply, as if to say, “Hey, I am on the rug. See my tail, Papa? See? Now how’s about some of those shrimps?”

By age three, she began to have problems keeping her food down. In other words, she puked—three or four times a day. So much that we had to buy paper towels in bulk. Eventually we had to remove all wet food from her diet. Nothing but the oatmeal of cat food: Science Diet Sensitive Stomach. Vet appointments were useless, the trauma often provoking more puking while yielding no answers as to its cause. There were stomach medications, thyroid medications and more.

When she turned five or six, the Night Crazies started.

From the time Sweetie was a kitten, Alexas and I had let her sleep with us, always without incident. I sleep on my back, with my sock-covered feet sticking out from beneath the covers, and apparently, after years of coexisting with them, Sweetie suddenly found my feet an irresistible temptation. At three o’clock in the morning, she began to pounce on them and bite them. I’m ashamed to admit that I never learned to react with saintly kindness and understanding; instead, I would yell death threats, grab the nearest magazine and chase her out of the room.

 

Why she did it, I have no idea. She might have been startled out of a deep sleep and seen my long, gaunt feet towering over her (a scary prospect if you knew my feet), or perhaps like her Papa she was having violent nightmares, waking up and lashing out at the nearest threat. Or, maybe she was just bored and biting my feet was the most fun a cat could have at 3 a.m. Whatever the reason, as she grew older this tendency became more pronounced, as did her waking up from naps disoriented and hissing.

Eventually we had to ban her from the bedroom at night, which may have stopped the biting but didn’t change her other night behavior: confused yowling, door-scratching, and growling at things outside. Several times Alexas awoke to see what was the matter and to comfort her, and she never saw what, if anything, Sweetie was reacting to outside. She appeared to be seeing things. Or not seeing them, as in the case of her begging to have food put in her dish when it was already full.

Her increased vocalizing continued during the day, too, becoming so frequent and irritating that several times I snapped at her to “Stop it!” or “What is it?”—as if she could tell me. She also became more clingy, wanting to lie on me every chance she got, and at first I welcomed her attachment. My fondest memories of Sweetie are of my writing in bed and her crawling up to lie on my stomach while I wrote with the clipboard resting on her. She seemed not only content to have to share me with my clipboard and pencil, but I think she took a little pride in her role as clipboard-holder, knowing that she was helping Papa.

Many, many times she saved me, too, hopping on the bed and walking tentatively over to lie on me. It saddens me to remember that there were a few times when I pushed her away. Sweetie could always sense when I was in a depression and would stay close to me for hours, days, weeks. Once, I was lying on my back, staring at the ceiling, seriously considering the best way to commit suicide, when Sweetie crawled on my chest purring, sat down and licked my nose. One could call it coincidence, but I know better. More than once, that little cat was an instrument for higher forces. More than once, Sweetie saved my life by giving me something tangible—herself—to love.

 

Which is why it broke my heart when the attacks started. One morning after Sweetie had been up all night growling at imaginary threats outside, Alexas mimicked for me the sounds the cat had made, and Sweetie tore across the room towards Alexas. I jumped in front of her, and the cat clawed my leg. Shouting at her, fending her off with a chair like a lion-tamer, I eventually got her to settle down. Later I learned that her behavior was known as “redirected aggression.” She had become riled up by real or imaginary threats, but being unable to attack the interloper, she took out her aggression on us instead.

In my heart I knew that my own mood swings, which are erratic and often unprovoked, had contributed to her perpetual nervousness and tension. More than one person in my life has said that being around me is tantamount to walking on eggshells, through a minefield. So I could almost understand why, after 9 years, she finally snapped and attacked me. Maybe I deserved it. Deciding that it was an anomaly, I forgave her.

 

Our final morning together began peacefully, like the attack at Pearl Harbor. I awoke at my usual time—5:00 or 5:30—made coffee, wrote, showered and dressed. It was a few minutes before 7:00 when Sweetie hissed out at the patio. The sliding door was open with the screen in place. Sweetie was pressed against the screen, staring and growling at the neighbor’s cat. She had never done this before; neither at neighboring dogs nor cats. I let her drive the animal away, said, “Okay, Sweetie, you won,” then closed the sliding door. Within seconds, she sprang at me, screaming, clawing, biting. She raked my arm, rent my T-shirt down the chest. I threw her off, and she came at me again, this time leaping at my neck. I slapped her in midair, hitting her hard in the mouth (and puncturing my hand on her fangs), knocking her against the kitchen drawers. Momentarily stunned, she poised herself for another attack. I reached for the chair and swung it between us. I shouted at her, she backed away, and I went into the bathroom.

As I cleaned and dressed my wounds, I thought about how ferocious this second attack had been, and my instinct told me something was wrong with her. A wave of nausea coursed through me: I would have to put her to sleep.

What were my other choices? Continue to live with the cat, but in constant fear of another, even worse, attack, and in fear that I would have to hit her even harder next time, when hitting her once had already made me sick? Send her to a “home” for troubled animals, if such a thing even exists? Consult an array of pet therapists? Put her through a long (and expensive) battery of tests, further traumatizing her with stays in hospital kennels, and all without any guarantee that it would restore her to her sweet self?

Observing her behavior over time, it was clear to me that she was suffering from something, or a combination of things, that caused the puking, the nervousness, the hallucinating, the yowling, and the aggression. However, as is often the case in life, the most ethical and humane option was perforce the most difficult one.

Twenty years earlier, I had taken a course on Ethical Issues in Medicine. As an argument in support of euthanasia I posited the idea that in addition to preventing her own sustained suffering, a dying patient has the right to determine how she will be remembered by others. In most cases she would not want her suffering to erode others’ good memories of her. In the case of Sweetie, I felt that she had a right to be remembered by Alexas and me for her beautiful attributes, not for making us fearful in her final days.

I told Alexas of my decision, instructing her not to try and talk me out of it. The pain that clutched my stomach was bad enough to go through once; I wasn’t going through it a second time.

I think Sweetie sensed my decision, but she wasn’t fearful about it. Almost as if to console me for having to make it, she walked over to me and gave me a sustained tail-hug. I lay a hand on her side, and we sat there for some time. Inexplicably, I had the feeling that Sweetie had been trying for quite a while to communicate to me that she was sick and was now relieved to have finally gotten through to me.

On the way to the vet with Sweetie in her carrier, I talked to Alexas about the various options, saying “the egg” instead of the cat’s name because I didn’t want to upset her. Alexas agreed that we had only one choice.

The first available appointment was at 10 o’clock. Still not certain about the decision, I drove to a church, went in and prayed. I felt like an executioner and wanted some sense that I was doing the right thing.

When I opened my eyes, I had the gut feeling, the knowing, that Sweetie was indeed suffering, that she in fact had a brain tumor. Then, at that precise moment, the church bell tolled nine times.

Nine times. Nine lives. Nine years old.

What else I could ask for in terms of confirmation?

The veterinarian spoke with us for half an hour, during which we described Sweetie’s behavior of the past several months. He concurred that there was most likely a brain tumor at work. The kindest thing we could do for her was to painlessly end her suffering. We told him to make the preparations.

When we went into the examination room, Sweetie lay stretched out on a soft quilt that was tucked in around her back to keep her warm. The doctor had administered a heavy sedative, so while she couldn’t move, he said, she could still hear us. He and the nurse departed so we could say our goodbyes.

Before going in, I had made Alexas promise that we wouldn’t break down in Sweetie’s presence. Although the cat was sedated, I knew she would still be able to sense our fear or sadness, and I was determined to make her final moments peaceful. I placed a hand on her and talked softly to her. “Papa loves you, Sweetie,” I said. “Papa loves you.” I told her how much she had meant to me, and I thanked her for nine wonderful years of companionship—years that I needed her more than I ever realized. Several times as I spoke, Sweetie’s muscles twitched; Alexas said this was her way of communicating back to me, and I think she’s right. Then I sang a song to Sweetie, a lullaby I had made up and sung to her when she was a kitten:

 

Sweetie, O Sweetie, how’d you get so swee-eet?
Sweetie, O Sweetie, how’d you get so sweet?
Bought you in a pet store,
Your friends were sound aslee-eep.
Then you jumped into my arms,
Now my life’s complete.

 

I kissed her, then Alexas kissed her, and the veterinarian returned. He gently shaved her back leg near the ankle, found a vein and injected the strong barbituate. Alexas and I stood at the side of the table, tightly holding hands and trembling, but not crying, while the vet checked for breathing and a pulse. There were neither.

We stayed with her for a few more minutes. What I most vividly remember about those final moments is how warm she still was. I pet her belly—something she almost never let me do—expecting, I think, she would suddenly come back to life. She didn’t. I kissed her head for the last time and walked out, leaving instructions with the nurse to donate Sweetie’s carrier to another family.

And then, outside in the warm and breezy summer morning, I did something unexpected, something I hadn’t done since my grandfather died, much less in public.

I steadied myself on the walkway railing, stomped my foot at the gods, and wept.


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By Chris Orcutt

Writer — The Dakota Stevens Mystery Series, Short fiction, Plays — Editor & Speechwriter for Hire — Avid Golfer, Chess Player & Awesome Wood-Splitter — Twitter: @chrisorcutt

Comments (38)

  1. Carrie September 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    I have read this with one of my cats beside me and I can’t stop crying, I just can’t stop. You are a brilliant writer and that was a beautiful story I am glad she added something to your life, she has added something to mine now as I will never forget the story of Sweetie and I will appreciate every minute with my cats. Thank you Sweetie.

  2. Natalie September 11, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    What a beautiful way to effectively immortalize your beautiful friend. I as well have been diagnosed with Bipolar II, a discovery that didn’t come to light until January 2010, mere weeks after my feline friend was also put to rest after exhibiting almost identical to your description of Sweetie. We had my darling for nearly 17 years, since a few months before I was born. Throughout 2009 and 2010 she could barely keep a thing down, and in late 2010 the Night Crazies started. I never learned what the cause was, but shortly afterward my depressions lengthened and the mania came to the forefront. Your story speaks to me in so many ways, and I want to thank you and Sweetie both for that. <3

  3. Jillian August 24, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    I’m so sorry, Chris. It’s an indescribable pain that runs deep…I know. Your tribute is beautiful. Your relationship was so precious.
    Right now, I’m picturing her sharing a sunny patch with my precious Jasmine (6/2010), stretched out, paw to paw.
    They are so happy and still loving us.

  4. ALYSSA July 7, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    F-CK. Right now that’s all I can say. Tears and f-ck….

  5. Mark burk July 3, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    And then you catch a glimpse. Sweetie was the family member we’d never met and barely knew. Only now has she come to life. Thank you my friend.

  6. Juliette June 24, 2011 at 8:17 am

    I am very sorry to hear of your loss. Sweetie sounds like she was a very special girl. I’ve lost several cats over the years and they’ve all left joyous pawprints across my heart. I foster cats and kittens and it’s wonderful to see how much they can enrich their adopters’ lives.

  7. Orcutt June 23, 2011 at 5:55 am

    Thank you all—to the thousands of people who read this story about Sweetie, and to those of you who left such encouraging and wise comments. By the way, just so no one thinks I attempted to plagiarize, the opening of this piece purposely mirrors the opening of Erich Segal’s LOVE STORY (both the novel and the movie).

    Shortly after Sweetie’s death, while working in my new writing location (being home 100% alone now is unbearable), I started thinking about how I wanted to pay tribute to her, and the opening of LOVE STORY came to me: “What can you say about a 25-year-old girl who died? / That she was beautiful. And brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach, the Beatles, and me?” I thought about how to achieve that “Buh” alliteration, so I went with “bright-eyed” and “beautiful” (she was smart, but not brilliant; sorry, Sweetie) then “Breyers blueberry yogurt.” Not a perfect match, but then again I wanted it to be its own thing.

    Anyway, process…who cares, right?

    Thank you all again. Your words of consolation and, more importantly, appreciation of my inimitable cat mean more to me than I can express.

    — Chris Orcutt

  8. That Girl June 20, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    What a sad and lovely story. :( Thank you so much for sharing so that we could get to know Sweetie too.

  9. Sue Jordan June 20, 2011 at 7:40 am

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Like most cat owners, I’ve also had to make that decision to send a beloved pet across the rainbow bridge. More than a decade later, I still grieve for the time we didn’t have together. A member of the “Socks Army,” I thank you for your tribute to Sweetie.

  10. Kat June 20, 2011 at 6:43 am

    Very beautiful tribute. You captured so much of her and your relationship, very moving. I have had to say goodbye to several elderly pets. It does NOT get any easier with each one. After losing 3, my husband said no more, I can’t stand the pain. After a few months, the void of no pet was overwhelming. We got a brother and sister set of kittens and they filled our heart. Each pet has its own place in your heart & life. None replaces the one that was lost, but does enrich your life. I hope that once you are healed you find another cat in need of a home to fill your heart. You have touched many hearts with your tribute to her.

  11. Connie Archambault June 20, 2011 at 5:39 am

    What a wonderfully written story of love. As I write my comments here my youngest cat Boomer is curled up beside me. If you write this beautifully about your dear Sweetie, you should not be getting any rejection letters. I enjoyed reading this so much even though it brought me to tears at the end. I have promised my 3 kitties when their time comes I will let them go and I will never stop loving them. I am so sorry you had to let your dear little cat go but it was the kindest thing you could do for her under the circumstances.
    For 14 years my husband and I vacationed in Maine and our two, then 3 cats and they came with us. It was the perfect family vacation.
    Maybe when your heart has had some time to heal you will find room again to share your home and love with another little cat.

  12. danielle June 20, 2011 at 5:20 am

    Hey Chris, so sorry!
    I’m with Man, this story and ‘Goodbye Ab’, are so beautifully written. I’m sending you positive healing energy, to aid you in this trying time. Sweetie is no longer plagued by any ‘illness’, and that is/was the ultimate sacrifice on your part. Miss & Love

  13. Susie O June 20, 2011 at 5:14 am

    Many years ago, I too had to have Nan and Ab’s cat put to sleep due to his illness. You certainly captured my feelings of the day with absolute honesty. It’s not so much the trials we face in life, it’s how we handle them that makes us grow as people.

  14. Wendy June 20, 2011 at 5:04 am

    What a beautiful piece. I am so sorry for your loss.

  15. Shelly June 19, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    Chris – this is so beautifully written and such a tribute to Sweetie, I was smiling through almost the entire article. When you wrote that she had started to attack my chest tightened. I went through the exact same thing with my Smudge, when he was 6. He attacked my neighbor but was fine with me. I had decided that I’d just never have company over again if that was what it took. Then, one day as I was coming out of the shower he came after me. I never imagined I’d be terrified of a cat, especially my cat. I ran to my bed, jumped in and pulled the blankets over my head. When I peaked out he was there and lunged for me. There wasn’t any decision to be made other than to let him go. My vet felt it was a brain tumor or lesions on the brain, the same thing Sweetie seems to have experienced. I’m so very sorry.

    While her life wasn’t as long as either of you would have liked I am so happy you had the love of a cat whose world revolved around you. I hold men who love cats in high regard, you fit that bill. You both are in my thoughts.

  16. Juliana June 19, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss. It sounds like Sweetie loved her Pappa just as much as you loved her. I also gave away my baby’s carrier when we lost her a few years ago, and even though we’ve recently adopted a kitten, I couldn’t see using Vispa’s belongings for Welkie. Give yourself time, but you may find as I have, that as individual as cats are, sometimes they are able to help you in the same exact ways as their predecessors did. It’s like they have insiders info. Big hugs to you and your wife, and thank you for sharing. Sweetie will live on in this piece, and now in many readers minds forever.

  17. Sherry June 19, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    The bell tolled nine times…Such a heartbreaking beautiful story. Sometimes there is nothing like a pet to make you realize how beautiful and profound love can be.

  18. Joey H. June 19, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    This was beautiful, and I am crying like a loon. I especially relate to that horrible feeling that you are the one who is causing the cat’s problems. I’m disabled by chronic illness & have similar thoughts sometimes). I hope knowing that it wasn’t you brought some small comfort, but nothing can replace the loss of a faithful, furry loved one. I wish you all the best.

  19. Wendy June 19, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    What a beautiful tribute to your Sweetie. So sorry for your loss.

  20. Tracey June 19, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    I knew I was going to cry when I clicked on the link from Twitter. Both of my cats are rescues (Cyan, 12, F was at a pet shop and was going to be taken to the SPCA to be put down because she was no longer ‘cute enough to sell’ so I paid for her and Jasper, 8, M was rescued from an abusive home. Cyan became my Mother’s cat over the years, but Jasper has become the child I haven’t had yet. He managed to wake me in the middle of the night as I was developing Bell’s Palsy – if he hadn’t woke me it would have been many times worse by the time I finally got up for work. He’s consoled by through break ups, and been my constant companion when I recovered from surgeries, and when my Gram died this winter he was my one constant source of comfort. He KNOWS when something is wrong and not every pet owner has that kind of amazing cat that you and I have had. Sweetie was a gift to your life and is very special. I’ll cuddle my cat too much tonight in her memory and have him get irritated at me, but who knows, he may let me do it since he knows I’m sitting here at my computer crying at your loss.

  21. Laura June 19, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    I cried while reading this, both for Sweetie and for my own cat, Button, who died a few months ago. She was 17, and that’s a pretty long time, but no time is ever enough when you love someone that strongly.

    I’m sorry for the loss of your beautiful girl.

  22. Marilyn June 19, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Thank you for sharing Sweetie’s story with us in such a beautiful and poignant way. I will give our 10 furry kids extra pets and brushings tonight in her memory.

  23. Sean June 19, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    Thank you for the wonderful story of Sweetie. I reminds me a lot of Dewey Readmore Books at the library in Iowa.

    My only comment was even if the bond you had with Sweetie could never be replaced – I don’t see why you wouldn’t keep the carrier for another kitty in your life – because from your story having a feline companion really seemed to make a big difference for the better in your own health.

    Btw – you’re a really good writer, too.

  24. Jack June 19, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    When I finally realized my Clark Kent was sick, I put him in his carrier to take him to the vet. He never liked his carrier (except when leaving the vet’s office), but this time, he put his paw through the carrier door and laid it on my hand, as if to say, “It’s okay daddy; I’m ready.” After trying for two weeks to get him on the mend, it was time. A year and half later, I stopped crying every day for my Clarkness.

    Thank you for your beautiful story.

  25. Sue June 19, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    What a beautiful, sad story. Thank you for sharing it with all of us. I have had several cats (and dogs) over the years and this is the hardest part of loving them. RIP Sweetie.

  26. Emily June 19, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    What a beauty. Sorry for your loss. Love the candid Sweetie pics!

  27. Jenna June 19, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    Sweetie was a beautiful and amazing kitty. It seems the two of you bonded in a wonderful way, truly knowing each other, truly feeling what the other felt. It is so sad she became sick. You are so strong to do that. You did right by her. Papa took care of his Sweetie.

  28. grandefille June 19, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Bless you, sir, for sharing your life with this little cat and for making one of the most difficult, yet most kind, decisions any pet parent must make.

    Bless you, too, for sharing your story. May you be comforted, and may you be at peace.

  29. Madeleine June 19, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    What a sweet, sad, awesome story. Thank you for sharing. I’m crying over all the cats that I have had in my life and have passed through. Cats really are the most amazing creatures and the way you talk about Sweetie she was such an important part of your life. RIP little Sweetie.

  30. Barbara June 19, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    Beautiful. You made me cry, but in a good way.

  31. Randi June 19, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    This is remarkably similar to my story, except that I had three cats. I adored all of them, but I had a special bond with Glenn; he was the first one to come live with me, and the youngest when I got him. I too had bouts with depression, but with his boundless unconditional love, Glenn helped me get through. Like Sweetie, he didn’t care for most visitors, though in his case I think it was less lack of socialization than being just a one-person cat. We nearly lost him at age 14, when he was diagnosed with diabetes and then developed ketoacidosis while we were waiting for the rest of his lab tests to come back so we could start him on insulin. The vet said he probably wouldn’t make it through the weekend, but he did. Then the vet said he probably wouldn’t gain back the weight he’d lost, but six months later he weighed more than before he got sick. (Glenn was one of those rare cats whose weight wasn’t a factor in his illness; he never weighed much more than ten pounds.) Three years later however he started having seizures. At first he was just meowing his most agitated meow and wouldn’t stop. The next morning it happened again, but this time he started having convulsions. I brought him to the vet and got him on anti-seizure medication, but they couldn’t be sure if it would help. After two weeks on medication, the seizures finally became less frequent (every 3-4 hours instead of 2-3) but seemed more severe when he had them. Then a few days later they started coming 30-45 minutes apart all night long. I couldn’t put him through that any more, so we brought him to the vet the following morning. It was seventeen years to the day since he had come to live with us. Our second cat, Allessandro, had left us unexpectedly the year before, possibly due to an agressive cancer – he was fine in the morning, terribly sick that night, and gone the next morning despite the best care from the most advanced animal hospital in the area. They never even got a chance to do the ultrasound we’d brought him there for. Our third cat, Riverbed, followed the year after Glenn, with kidney disease. The house has been catless for a few years now, having had to take part of a wall down to do plumbing repairs and not being able to have it fixed because the new pipe sticks out past the wall, making the kitchen unsafe for small, exploratory creatures. I still miss them every day; my life is infinitely richer for having known them. Each had their own personality and quirks – Allessandro never meowed but squeaked and cooed, Glenn loved ice cream but let you know that sherbet was NOT the same thing, Riverbed was a haughty little Bastet statue most of the time but always knew if someone was upset and would sit in their lap quietly for hours. Reading your story reminded me so much of them that I ache for them even more than usual tonight, but in a good way. Sometimes the best thing we can do for them is the thing we least want to do, but you were blessed to have this little spirit in your life and I’m sure some part of her will stay with you always.

  32. Meg June 19, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss…what a lovely tribute you have written to your sweet girl.

  33. Angela June 19, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    I feel your pain. A few months ago I had to put my seventeen year old Kitty to sleep. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever had to do. All you can really do is take care of yourself and know that you did right by your Sweetie.

  34. vaedri June 19, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    I’m so sorry for your loss. You gave Sweetie a wonderful home.

  35. Liz June 19, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    How beautifully written, and how sad……

  36. Mandy June 19, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Chris……I have never cried so much when I read something in my life (aside from Goodbye Ab). I am so sad for you both and think of you often! I wanted to send you a card but was afraid of you having to relive the pain. Just think, Sweetie and Mr. B are together playing :o) Chris, that was an unbelievable, descriptive, well written, tear jerker story…..I am so stuffed up from crying! You are so talented and Sweetie was so lucky to have a caring Papa like you! Love ya……Mandy (ps: what a beautiful cat…..I never did really see her :o)

  37. Jennifer June 19, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    I’m so sorry for your loss. You clearly loved her as much as anyone can ever love another. I think she knew that and clearly felt the same way. Thank you for sharing. I hope you don’t feel like giving up now that she is gone.

  38. Dawn June 19, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    I’ve had to do what you’ve done. It’s not easy but it is noble. We are doing for our companions what they are unable to do for themselves. You were a good papa.