Sugar’s NYT appearance last week was her last hurrah. We had to have her euthanized today. She died peacefully about an hour ago.
Her decline had been extremely rapid. Three weeks ago, even, Sugar barely looked aged and it was still possible to believe she might live another year. But the chronic nephritis, and possibly other organ failures, caught up with her. She started losing weight rapidly and her legs (already affected by arthritis) weakened. Her appetite waned, and her frequency of self-grooming diminished.
The signs were clear, but we hoped that she would bounce back – she was a very tough cat and had surprised us and our veterinarians that way before. Over the weekend she showed serious problems walking. When I saw her fall partway down the basement stairs Saturday evening because she couldn’t keep her footing, I suspected it was time. Sunday she almost couldn’t walk, and began sounding distress calls a few times an hour – stopped eating and drinking. Then I knew it was time. So did Cathy.
It’s hard to write a eulogy for a cat without descending into cliche or mawkishness. All cat people think their beloved moggies are special. But Sugar really was an outlier, if only by living to 21 and – until very recently – remaining so healthy and youthful-looking that humans we introduced her to had trouble believing her actual age.
Part of that was good genes, of course; we think Sugar was part Maine Coon, a breed which tends to be longer-lived than average. But most of it was personality. Sugar was a happy cat – friendly, alert, outgoing, and extremely sociable with humans in the way Coons often are. She retained all those qualities until she was getting so weak that she seldom had the energy to exercise them. Even then, there wasn’t anything she liked as much as snuggling up to a friendly person for a good purr and some petting.
And to Sugar every person was friendly. She had no fear of strangers at all – in fact, in her later and less active years new company would noticeably perk her up. It was usual for houseguests sleeping in our basement that Sugar would join them on the folding bed as they settled in for a night’s rest. Many are the wandering hackers who Sugar charmed; it was wonderful to see them relax, stress and weariness soothed away by her innocent affection.
She understood about children, too. I’ll never forget watching her play with my niece Rosalie, when Rosalie couldn’t have been over five and didn’t know cat etiquette yet. Sugar taught her, gently. And there were a couple of big burly contractors I recall, meeting Sugar while working on our house and instantly melting into a state of awwww – I’m convinced this got us superior service more than once.
Sugar was not especially remarkable at first sight – a rather ordinary American tabby in gray, black and white. It was her sunny disposition, grace, and good manners that made her attractive. That whole aloof-and-mysterious thing cats are supposed to do was utterly not her. She loved people, and wanted to be loved back, and pretty much always got what she wanted in that.
We were so very lucky. Many of our cat-owning friends told sad stories of destructive habits, expensive medical conditions, bites and scratches, or just cats that for no good reason were nervous and shy all their lives. Meanwhile Sugar sailed along, tail high and eyes bright, costing us almost nothing but catfood and sharing her gift for happiness with humans in ways that never failed to make us proud of her.
When we came home, you could bet your fillings that if Sugar wasn’t asleep she’d greet us at the door – sometime meowing reproachfully as if to ask “Where have you been?”, which is as close as she ever got to bad temper – ten seconds of petting would fix that right up, bringing thunderous purrs. And when we were ill or unhappy, she tried to comfort us as though we were her kittens. Her constant trust and love got us through a couple of crisis times.
When I sat at my desk programming, so my hands weren’t available, Sugar would lie against my legs and rest her furry chin just behind the toes of my right foot – always on the same spot, for some reason. When Cathy and I went to bed at night, Sugar would prowl around the edge of the bed looking for intruders, then oscillate a couple of times between sprawling over Cathy and sprawling over me until she was satisfied that we’d both had our minimum nightly requirement of purring. Then she’d randomly pick a human to sleep beside, serene in the knowledge that her day was complete.
We want to have another cat, but…Sugar was such a sweetheart that I fear we’ll make unfair comparisons. We’ll miss her a lot. We’re not as desolated as we could be, though, because we know her last several years were overtime. On the odds, she should have died six years ago, and her good health three years past an acute kidney infection was a minor miracle that visibly amazed our vets. But we knew this was coming (if not when) and have been gradually saying our goodbyes for months.
At least we know we did everything we could for her. And, if cats had any representation of such things, I’m sure Sugar would know she did right by her humans. Not just Cathy and myself, either, but everyone who knew her and found in her sweetness a respite from their cares.
Cathy’s reminiscence is here.