elegy for oreo

June 16, 2009

fair warning: this is going to be sad and maudlin, and perhaps even tear-jerking. which makes for a short run of downer posts, sorry about that.

so most of you know that i had to put my cat to sleep just before christmas. i still think of her frequently, today being one of those times, so i wanted to write something up. a eulogy, if you will. beware, it’s quite long.

update: not as long as it was, cuz i edited it a bit.

in 1995, when we first got oreo, we’d already had one cat, smokey, for a couple of years. our second cat, daisy, had recently died (a very, very sad story for another day). we were all very upset about the loss, and we talked about whether we wanted to get another cat, a new playmate for smokey. and we went down to the shelter and looked around, but we didn’t really connect with any of the cats. so we decided to just wait for a while and maybe come back later and see what happened.

that summer, in july i think, my brothers and i were at home while our mom was at work when this little boy came to our door. he was maybe 7 or 8 and he was carrying this little tiny black and white kitten. he said that some kid had given her to him, but that his mom wouldn’t let him keep her. this kitten was maybe 6 weeks old, she definitely should not have been away from her mother yet, and we were concerned, the brothers and i. so we took her. we figured that even if our mom wouldn’t let us keep her, she would at least make sure the kitten got a good home (in the years to come, our home would become a stray cat waystation).

so mom gets home and we explain the situation and we beg and plead and it doesn’t really take that much because my mom is a total soft touch when it comes to animals. the kitten is ours. we engage in a lengthy argument about what to call her, deciding on whiskers. we would change this to oreo two days later, having decided that whiskers didn’t really suit her.

(side note: none of our animals ever got cool names. this is because when naming time came, i would argue for something literary, based on whatever i was reading at the time; my mom would argue for either “petunia” or “betsy,” her two default names (most of our cars over the years were called betsy); and my brothers would come up with the most generic names ever, but since there were two of them, they always won.)

she was old enough to have teeth, but she couldn’t really eat crunchy food yet, so for a couple of weeks we fed her canned cat food mashed up with KMR (kitten milk replacement; it’s like enfamil for cats). she was so tiny she would end up standing in the saucer to finish it. when she walked around in the living room, she would get stuck to the shag carpeting (the place hadn’t been redecorated since the mid-197os) because she couldn’t retract her claws yet and no matter how much my older brother begged, mom wouldn’t let him sleep with oreo in his bed, afraid he’d roll over and crush her.

oreo with my younger brother, summer/fall 1995

oreo with my younger brother, summer/fall 1995

a month after that, we found another stray running in the street. we were originally going to find a home for her (mom having declared three cats too many for our tiny place), but she got along so well with oreo – they were about the same age – that mom relented. we named her mocha, although mostly we call her moo or mooey (long story). she and smokey still live with my mom.

unlike our other animals, oreo was never partial to my mom. in fact, she only grudging tolerated mom’s affection, and only if there were no other options. she slept on mom’s bed, but only if it was unoccuppied by both humans and other cats.  instead, she was mostly partial to my older brother, but he rarely had time for her and then he moved out, so she turned her affections to me.

my remaining years of high school, oreo was emphatically my cat. she slept in my room (she had her own blanket in between my futon and the wall) and i used to let her eat bits of crust off my morning pop tarts. i had a habit of studying with a huge glass of ice water nearby (an effort to keep me focused during calculus homework) and i would usually have to chase her out of it. oreo liked her water fresh and cold and preferably running – we’d frequently have to push her out of the way when we were brushing our teeth. but in absence of running water, my water glass was an excellent target. my mom still cracks up when she thinks of the night oreo sneezed in my full water glass.

she was never very fond of other people. never afraid of people, but very stand-offish. she liked me, my younger brother, our mom’s boyfriend, and about 3 other people. you could never predict who she’d like. she’d flat ignore every person who came through the house for months, and then someone would come in and she wouldn’t leave him (always a man) alone. she’d be in his lap, rubbing on him, drooling (oh yeah, she drooled when she was happy). it was weird and hilarious to watch.

anyway, after a couple years i graduated and went off to college. when i would come home for breaks, oreo would be cool to me for a day or two, and then at some point she’d come stand on my lap and demand, loudly, that i pet her, kneading my legs and butting her head on my chin. all would be forgiven and i would be back in her good graces.

after i graduated from college, my mom told me that if i could ever find a place where i could have a cat, oreo would be mine for the taking. as she got older, she became more and more anti-social. my younger brother was never home, so she just had my mom, for the most part, which she wasn’t thrilled about. my mom got a 4th cat, scooter, who bullied and antagonized oreo. my mom thought oreo would be much happier as an only cat.

unfortunately, cat-friendly apartments were hard to come by and then i ended up with a roommate with a cat of his own, one who i adore fiercely but who would not have been a good match for oreo. so i didn’t have a chance to have her with me until the summer of 2006 when i moved back to oakland from davis. when i decided i was going to live alone, sans roommates, i specifically looked for a place that would allow pets so i could go get my kitty.

oreo duffle 2

 i brought her up to oakland and she settled in, eventually. it was a month before she would stay anywhere but the bedroom for more than 5 minutes, and that was only because her food and water were in the kitchen. and for the next couple of years we had a nice routine. she was needy and demanding and neurotic–i had to have someone come in and check on her even if i was only going out of town for two days–and she had some terrible habits i couldn’t break her of, but she was also sweet and lovable. she slept with me, on the foot of the bed in the summer or on the extra pillow (with flannel pillow case) in the winter. she liked to go out on the little landing outside my front door, but she never strayed farther. she liked catnip (but only on the carpeting, never on the hardwood) and chasing after the laser pointer light. she was very fond of turkey and sushi but didn’t care for deli roast beef. she could not be bothered to hunt, not even spiders. she loved to be brushed, and she shed an insane amount.

my grandfather died the first week of december. i was very upset, obviously. i spent a couple of nights sitting at home drinking wine, crying, and petting my cat. she was very tolerant of this, even when i got her fur wet. in an attempt to be normal and cheerful, since i usually love christmas, i brought up the decorations from the basement storage space. IMG_0816she tried to get in the boxes and play with the lights, just like always. she stared at me as i went through the motions of decorating a tree and putting up the lights. i took pictures of her “helping” to send to my mom.

i went to wisconsin for a week for the funeral. by the time i was sitting in the milwaukee airport waiting for my flight home, i was a total wreck. i was exhausted and emotional and upset and i hate air travel on top of it all. i got through the day by just focusing on how it was friday; when i got home that night i was going to closet myself in my apartment, where everything was safe and normal. i was going to do nothing at all over the weekend but watch tv and pet my cat and not think about how awful i felt.

when i finally made it home, i picked up my house keys from the friend who had been watching oreo for me. he mentioned that she hadn’t been eating much, but i didn’t worry too much. i figured she’d just been stressed; i’d never left her for more than 3 days before that. but over the weekend i noticed that she still wasn’t eating, and that she was drooling and that, furthermore, her drool smelled bad. like, really bad. i looked at her mouth and one of her teeth looked bad, so i assumed that’s why she wasn’t eating. i gave her some canned food, but she still didn’t eat much. i was concerned, but i decided to just watch her and see what happened. i didn’t want to haul her to the vet on a sunday if it wasn’t necessary.

monday morning she was weak and droopy looking and then i noticed that she seemed to be limping. i called the vet and managed to get an appointment right away. it was a new vet, since our old cat clinic had closed. oreo was due for her shots in january, so i was planning on finding a vet then and i hadn’t thought much of it otherwise. anyway, i took her in and the vet looked at her mouth and said there was an abcessed tooth that needed to come out, but since that’s a procedure that requires anesthetic and oreo was 13, she would need to have some blood tests done to make sure she was healthy enough to undergo the procedure. the vet gave me some antibiotics to give oreo for the time being. she also mentioned that oreo was quite noticably dehydrated (noticable to the vet anyway, not to me, but this worried me because that cat loved water and drank a lot). i was also shocked when the vet told me her weight was under 10 pounds; oreo had previously weighed 12, and she hadn’t lost any weight that i could see (even my mom, who hadn’t seen her in 3 years, said that she couldn’t tell from the most recent pictures i had sent her). so the clinic staff took some blood and gave oreo some subcutaneous fluids and sent her home with the promise to call me when they had the results.

the call came while i was coming home on bart, so i had to hear the rest of it on voicemail. based on the lab work, the vet told me that oreo’s kidney’s were only functioning at 25%. she would require hospitalization and regular injections of fluids to survive.

i fell all to pieces. i’m not a big cryer, but i called my mom and sobbed into the phone so hard that it took me 10 minutes to even give her a clue of what was wrong. after we talked it over, i called my friend shaggy, who came over and sat with me while i cried some more. oreo came and sat on our laps, even though she wasn’t really ever a lap cat.

the next morning i called the vet and we talked about options. there was no cure for what was wrong with oreo; she was old and her body just wasn’t working anymore. i would have to give her subcutaneous fluids every day for the rest of her life. i couldn’t do it. i thought about and i wanted so badly to keep her with me, but i knew that that was no life for either one of us. she’d hated me holding her down to give her antibiotics for the past day; how was she going to take having fluids once or twice a day? and it wouldn’t make her any better, it would just prolong her current state. so i made the decision to put her down.

once i’d made the decision, i couldn’t stand the thought of waiting, of looking at her and seeing her in pain and knowing that she would be gone soon. so i made the appointment for later that morning and i spent the next couple of hours sitting with her, petting her and crying. she was very quiet.

i took her to the vet. they were very kind to me, let me have a few moments alone with her. for the first time ever, she wasn’t freaked out by being at the vet. she just laid there quietly. i kept my hand on her throughout the procedure. i saw the moment she stopped being my cat and just became a thing.

i cried for a while more, and then i pulled it together and went to work. my boss would have let me off, i’m sure, but i honestly couldn’t face going home. when i did later that evening, my apartment felt so alien. my place is warm and homey, stuffed with books and furniture and art. it was christmas and i should have been happy, turning on the lights and making fudge. and instead i was walking into a silent, empty place, carrying a silent, empty cat carrier. i packed up all her things that night; i couldn’t stand to look at them, knowing that she wasn’t coming back.

it took days before i stopped tearing up at odd moments. weeks before i could sleep normally again. i never realized how attuned i was to her presence, to the noises she made and the ones she didn’t. i would wake up in the night having heard a noise and i’d roll over in the bed to see if she was awake too (my gauge for whether i should be worried about something totally based on whether it was enough to wake the cat) only to realize i was alone. i kept thinking i saw her from the corner of my eye. at my friend’s house, i kept calling his cat oreo without thinking. even now, 6 months later, i still occasionally think she’s there.

she was my baby, my friend, and now she’s gone. along with the sadness, there’s an element of guilt that i can’t escape, can’t rationalize away. coming so soon after my grandfather’s death, her death gave me a chance to think about how different the grief feels. our relationships with animals are simple and direct. we love them and they love us. animals don’t hurt us, don’t betray us. but at the same time, an animal isn’t like a person, it can’t tell you that it’s had a good life and it’s time to let go. it’s up to the human to decide when enough is enough, when quality is more important than quantity. you have to look down at this animal who relies on you for everything, and you have to make the decision. i know that i made the right decision, but it doesn’t feel that way, even now.

oreo was a good cat, and i miss her.


oreo painting by my friend jen

oreo painting by my friend jen


  1. Aw. Stop making me cry.

  2. (Um, that wasn’t sympathetic enough. Thanks for sharing).

    • in retaliation for that lack of sympathy, i’ll tell you that the period in your comment should be inside the parentheses.

  3. (I so knew that.)

  4. […] loved to be brushed.” Learn more about Kim and Oreo’s life together in her blog post, Elegy for Cleo. Warning: It is […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: