A letter to a dear friend

September 23, 2016

Bella editor Tyla Harrington's cat Geisha, who died last week, pictured with the first issue of Bella magazine.

That was until I interviewed animal behaviourist and dog trainer of the year Kathleen Kemp on Tuesday night, who features in the October magazine.

I had so much to write about my Siberian husky Alta and how much I could benefit from Kathleen’s guidance.

But then Geisha, my family cat, died the next day and I realised, somewhere along the line, I had missed the point.

I loved that cat but Kathleen had pointed out it was not my right, as a human, to put any pet through any pain just because I wanted to keep it for myself.

Pets are not here just for us. Hell, we would have kept Geisha forever if we had a choice, but we had to put her quality of life above our needs.

So that’s what my family decided to do. We put our cat down and then I wrote her a letter.

To Geisha

I remember when we first got you.

Among a sea of Siamese cross Burmese kittens we knew you were the one. You were sitting on the couch sleeping. You looked peaceful and quiet compared to the other meowing kittens. You looked like you belonged with us so mum and I chose you and we took you home.

Dad wasn’t impressed.

He told us we couldn’t get another cat after the tears we’d lost when we said goodbye to our 18-year-old ginger cat.

But we ignored him, like all mothers and daughters do.

I was about 13 when we got you. You reminded me of a meerkat. Probably because you managed to stand on your two legs just long enough for me to notice.

I remember thinking I’d never seen something as cute as you.

And I remember thinking I never would.

That night – the first night we had you – you scratched my doona to hop under the covers and I let you climb under the sheets. You became my cuddle buddy that night.

And so the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months and you started to become part of the family.

Dad warmed to you. He even started giving you pats. You’d managed to win him over like I knew you would.

Then you started to find your confidence – and your paws.

And before I knew it you were old enough to ignore the affection of strangers. You never liked guests, maybe even hated them.

With a knock on the door you’d run to the other side of the house. Out of sight until they were gone.

I think it was you who decided you’d be an indoor cat. You didn’t like the outdoors much. There seemed to be too much going on for your paws to ponder.

You’d been de-sexed (remember you tried to bite out your stiches even though vet Rose Parsons told you not to?) so maybe that kept you inside.

Until that one night when you decided to escape while the door was open.

My mum – who was also your mum now – was beside herself.

Her cat, who would wait for her at the door to come home, meowing to her (I swear you were saying mum) as she stepped into the door, was gone.

So we got out our torches (mum, dad and me) and we searched up and down the street for hours calling out for you. Even knocked on doors to find you.

We were supposed to be at a birthday party but we cancelled. We had to find you.

It was getting quite late in the night, nearing midnight, when we heard you calling from the bushes. Mum picked you up crying with joy and we took you home.

That was the first and last time we lost you.

You still ventured outdoors every now and then but almost always under our supervision. You see, we didn’t want to lose you again. And I don’t think you wanted to be lost either.

Eventually we moved house.

The new stairs were a nuisance for you but in a matter of days you were gliding up and down them like it was nothing new.

Then came the next dilemma – a new family member.

This time a dog. A Siberian husky named Alta.

You see I considered myself mostly a dog person until I met you.

You were disgusted when I carried her in. Couldn’t believe your eyes, I thought. You stood your ground not moving a cat muscle. It made me chuckle a little, I’m sorry.

But eventually you overcame that too.

You’d let her sniff you and you started to talk to her. Although it was mostly through the window when you knew she couldn’t get in. And it might have been mostly to tease her.

Still you two became sisters.

I don’t think you’d ever admit it but I think you loved her like the rest of us do.

Do you remember that time you decided to go for a swim?

You’d snuck outside and must have squeezed through the pool fence.

I’m not sure what happened but I think you tried to tell mum you’d slipped and fallen in the pool.

Horrible thing it was.

You ran up to mum’s balcony screaming with your meows to let you in.

Mum was shocked and worried. She didn’t know you were outside (someone had left the door open again) and she scooped you up in her arms, drying you with a towel.

I laughed a little. I’m sorry but you looked funny – like you had a skinny beard.

I don’t think you liked swimming because you never fell in the pool again.

So the years kept passing and so did your birthdays. You were getting older but you didn’t look it. You were still a kitten to me.

There was laughter, fun and singing – you hated us singing.

What about all those chats we had?

You’d stare at me, couldn’t believe what I had just said. You were good at keeping secrets too – you never told a soul.

Of course there were sad times too and lots of tears. Tears that my cuddle buddy was there to catch. Thank you for that.

And so my kitten eventually grew into a cat.

Every morning and every night you’d say goodbye and then greet mum at the door.

Meowing and following her wherever she walked.

You’d do the same to me too sometimes but you were mum’s cat.

What about when she’d pack her suitcase to go away? You’d sit there furious that she could contemplate walking out the door, and appalled when she did.

Bless you, my sweet cat.

The years kept passing and so your age kept climbing.

But I didn’t notice you were getting old until the very end.

It had all gone too quickly you see.

When did you stop running up the stairs?

When did you stop chasing mice and insects?

When did you all of a sudden become an elderly cat?

That last week was tough. Mum thought there was something off. You weren’t greeting her at the door and you were hiding from us.

What was wrong with my poor old cat?

Mum and dad took you to Rose, who said it didn’t look good, so we took you back to find out more but the news kept getting worse.

She said you wouldn’t live if we put you under anaesthetic and whatever else we tried might be damaging to your quality of life.

We didn’t want that – mum, dad and me. Not for you.

You were our kitten who had grown into a cat.

It was just that it all went too quickly – we weren’t ready to say goodbye just yet.

I didn’t have time to tell you that I needed you today, tomorrow and the day after that.

But it wasn’t about me or what I wanted.

We had to make sure you were pain free. We wanted you to leave the world like you came into it – happy.

And so we had to say goodbye.

I kept a smile on my face and remembered all the fun times we had.

We had to make sure you knew we were happy. This wasn’t about us. It was about you so we told you we loved you and gave you so many pats.

You’d given us a life we couldn’t have imagined, couldn’t have dreamt.

But then you were gone – wrapped in a white blanket with your pink collar on top.

“No more cats,” dad said.

And I must say my little friend, I nodded in defeat.

I couldn’t say goodbye again – please not again.

But then I remembered the good times and all the fun we had.

You’d given me nine years of memories I will never forget.

So I might not have told him (not just yet) but I will get another cat one day. Not today, not even for a while.

But a long time from now – I think I can manage that.

Just on the off-chance I meet someone like you.

And that, I promise, is all I would like to do.

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