Friday, October 8, 2021

At 14, Ryan is showing her age


I thought I would revisit the story below as it tells how I came to love my Ryan. I wrote it a little more than a year after moving to Arkansas. It was such a happy day, and one I will always remember.

This story was first published in a paper where I worked in November 2007, a few months after the birth of Ryan and her sisters. NOTE: After reading it again, it was all I could do not to edit it, but I refrained because that isn’t my point.

This happy day has been on my mind lately because Ryan is nearing the end of her life. Admittedly, I’m having a hard time dealing with the news that her life is limited.

Ryan is the best cat I’ve ever known and is my most reliable companion. The two of us have been inseparable. She is my soul mate. She sleeps with me and we hold hands. Ryan helps me quilt. She sits on my lap when I read, sew, or watch TV. I’ve posted many pictures of Ryan on Facebook and in my blogs many times, so she may already be familiar to you.

There is no distinctive diagnosis, but the vet suspects Lymphoma. I received this news more than a month ago, as Ryan has started showing signs of decline. She has lost almost half of her weight and clearly doesn’t feel like being as cuddly as she once was. The last few days, she has gained a little weight, though not nearly as much as her normal 7 lbs. I will continue to monitor her condition and do whatever is in my power to make her happy and comfortable and to share our lives together as long as we can.

I will not let her suffer. I will know when it is time, but that time isn’t here quite yet. Except for her rather extreme weight loss, she still seems to find joy in living, evidenced by her interest in teasing her mom, playing with her sisters, and poking her nose into an open window to smell the breezes wafting into the house.  She does all the things a healthy cat does; eat drink, and the elimination of both, though not always in the litter box.

The last month has been a roller coaster ride, and there seems to be more of the monotonous slow climb than the exciting twists and turns and fast free-fall, but I feel I owe Ryan the best I have since that is what she has always given to me.

The following is the story I wrote when the girls were born. It was such a happy day.

 Crazy about cats or just plain crazy?

When I was a youngster living in Chicago, there was a lady down the street who we kids in the neighborhood mockingly called Crazy Annie.

I sometimes think about her, wishing I could remember more about her. It makes me laugh because I think I have become her.

My memories of Annie are vague, because my family moved out of that neighborhood when I was 6 yrs. old.

I remember that Annie used to reward my brother and me for picking seeds for her from her Four O’clock plants. All I remember is that she gave us pennies for them. I don’t recall any other details, about how many we had to pick, or even what kind of container we used. It must have been a jar, because there was no such thing as plastic bags back then.

I recall that the inside of Annie’s house was dark – blinds were always drawn. There was a kind of red glow in her living room from the sunshine behind the curtains. I remember being a little scared. Thinking back, she was the quintessential old spinster who had lots of cats running around.

For most of my adult life, I’ve had a cat and sometimes two. But after a stray we named Timi wandered onto our property last fall, my husband John and I now have six.

Timi, who was obviously young, was a calico with muted colors. She seemingly appeared out of nowhere once night. Apparently she chose us. It was almost like she was stalking us. She knew which room we occupied because she peered into the window at us, pacing back and forth on the brick ledge just outside the glass, always meowing. When we were outside, she followed us and was always affectionate. She showed up in the morning at whatever door we opened to let out our dog Sam. It was almost as if she knew. And Timi was very vocal about her desire to become friends.

We put food out for her, because it wasn’t long before she won our hearts. She was never far away from the house. Finally, it started getting colder outside, so we let her into the house. She even made friends with our resident cat, Emily, a 10-year old long-haired gray cat with an attitude.

In the spring, we noticed a change in Timi. She became restless, and wanted to go outside. While we debated about what to do, Timi made the decision for us. We woke one morning to find the screen broken out of a back porch window. Timi was gone.

But she soon reappeared. Only this time, she wasn’t exactly alone. It soon became apparent that Timi was pregnant. She was always very affectionate, especially toward John. But he wasn’t as quick to embrace the idea of little kittens as I was. I couldn’t wait. Timi must have sensed that too, so during her pregnancy, it was my lap she wanted to claim. I was more than happy to oblige. I can’t resist baby animals, but I am most fond of kittens.

I read all I could on the Internet about the feline birthing process. Timi was a very young cat and I hoped her instincts would guide her. But if not, I was ready to help. I sensed when she was very close to giving birth. I was afraid she might want to have her kittens in private, which is customary for cats. But, she actually came to get me when the time had come. I was at my computer when she jumped onto the window screen. She climbed frantically.

It was July 11 and I played midwife to Timi’s five kittens that were born in a newspaper lined box next to the swing on the front porch. John wanted no part of this process, but was just inside the house. He was like a nervous grandpa.

I was in awe as Timi knew exactly what to do. I gingerly moved the first kitten to another box, while Timi gave birth to the next one. This went on until there were five in the litter. I put them back into the box with their other. I decided then and there that I couldn’t part with any of them.

Since John and I had difficulty agreeing on the names for our own two children, I figured it would be really difficult to come up with five more names. So, we decided to name them after NASCAR drivers.

The first born was Ryan, named for Ryan Newman, our favorite drivers. The others were Kenny (Kenny Wallace); Junior (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.); Kasey (Kasey Kahn); and Rusty (Rusty Wallace).

The birth went well taking about three hours. Timi did great. She was very attentive and caring – showing signs of being an excellent mother.

We were not without issues however, as Junior was born with a deformed right front paw. I decided we had to love her the most. And, she is smaller than the others. Rusty was the runt of the litter, and lived only 11 days. She was probably the prettiest kitten, as she was marked much like her mother with lots of colors. The others are all variations of gray and white.

They are just over three months old now. They are healthy and active – oh are they active! They have all, along with their mother, been spayed.

We guessed that Ryan was the only male in the bunch, but were surprised to learn that she too was a female. All of our NASCAR-named kittens are girls! Too late now, they know their names.

It has been an absolute joy to experience the development of these little critters. Kittens seem to develop on an accelerated schedule, with visible changes almost daily.

Each has a personality all her own. Ryan has stayed true to her early beginnings, as the sweet, cuddly one. Kasey is the scaredy-cat, who jumps at unfamiliar sound, though jumps first and with all four feet. She seems to be taking on the characteristic of alpha cat, or top dog, which to me, is just another word for trouble maker. Junior is the tough one, a fierce competitor with her siblings. She’s not afraid of anything, even though she has a disability. Early on, she worked hard at keeping up with the others, doing what they did, even if it wasn’t always graceful. Kenny is the mellow one, who goes along with whatever the others do, but never does it first.

There is no better illustration of family bonding and dependency than to watch these siblings interact with their mother and each other. Timi, who started this as a youngster herself, has grown into a mature and protective mother, using her instincts to teach her all she needed to know. Now that her kittens are bigger, she has begun to play with them. She no longer acts solely as their defender. Yet, she remains protective.

Emily isn’t fond of any of them. She remembers when she was the only object of our affection. She must share that now and isn’t happy about it. Lots of hissing and growling goes on. That challenge remains, but these kittens will likely win her over. She is already curious about them.

For now, the kittens will remain inside cats. Though Timi has ventured back outside, she comes in at night. After all, we rescued her from the wild. She is friends with raccoons, runs with the deer, and is a good mouse and snake hunter. We no longer leave food outside because there have been black bear cubs in the area and we’d rather not attract them. Our only hope is that Timi stays close to home and doesn’t get into trouble.

We are comforted to know that she won’t have more kittens, despite the affection we have for these. It just isn’t responsible to allow her to be outside without having first been spayed.

Because Timi was a stray, our local humane society helped with the cost of spaying. We will support them in the future any way we can. Had we not given Timi a home, she might be having a second litter. And since her four kittens are females, they would likely have had kittens of their own as well, had we not intervened. And on and on it goes. It is hard to imagine that so many unwanted cats are born each year. It is even harder to imagine how many of them have to be killed because there is no one to take them all in.

As I look around the house, a cat in nearly every view, I think back to my younger days, and of Annie, the neighbor with lots of cats.

This was a woman who was kind to young children. She paid us pennies to collect seeds from her perennials that would probably have re-seeded themselves anyway. Her action taught us that work paid rewards and that we should be diligent in our endeavors. I remember carefully picking only the ripe, plump, black seeds and leaving the rest for another time.

Annie befriended us. She brought us into her home. Those were days of innocence when neighbors were not to be feared. And she let us pet her cats. In doing so, she showed us she trusted us. They were obviously very important to her. That first feeling of silky fur between my fingers must have made an impression.

I’ve thought of Annie from time to time, wondering whatever became of her. I never even knew her last name. Sadly, there was much I didn’t know about her. I think if I knew her now, I would like her. There is one thing I know for sure. Annie wasn’t crazy.


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