Friday, August 26, 2011

Rest in Peace, Brownie-Girl!

Our loving and lovable cat Brownie passed away overnight.  She was my first pet. She showed up as a stray at my parents' house in 1995. She hung around the neighborhood, and would keep my mom company when she went outside for a cigarrette. She was extremely friendly and immediately won over my mom (who is admittedly not much of a pet person). If you reached down to pet her, she would rise up onto her hind legs and thrust her head up toward your hand. We dubbed this her "cute thing" and it endeared her to everyone she met. She returned day after day, even in the spring snow. She was thin and hungry and obviously homeless.

Craig had purchased our home in 1993. He was in the process of renovating it, and wasn't living there full time yet. Craig and I had known each other less than a year when Brownie appeared.  He had owned cats for all of his life at his parents' house, and intended to get some of his own for the new house. He was immediately interested in her, and told us that he would definitely take her in. So my mom started to feed her and a couple days later Craig came out to get her and drove her the hour from my folks' house to here. She cried the whole way (she never liked car rides), but was immediately comfortable when she arrived at the house.

Our ex-sister-in-law came up with the name, commenting that her fur coloring looked like a multi-layered brownie. The name stuck. Craig took her to the vet, who estimated that she was probably about a year old at that time. We never knew what had happened to her to cause her to be a stray. She had an acute fear of plastic bags and human feet. We wonder if she was ever put into a bag or kicked before or during her abandonment. The fears lasted a long time, but she did eventually got used to both household plastic bags and feet. She never got used to the sound of the vacuum, though.When Craig and his dad were doing construction on the house, she would keep them company, making herself comfortable anywhere in the house, including the kitchen cabinets.

Brownie moves in to the unfinished kitchen cabinets
She liked the yard and the woods and would spend a lot of time outside. We would whistle to her at bedtime and she would come in for the night.  Not too long after she took up residence, she disappeared for a few days. Craig and I made flyers and he posted them around the neighborhood.  He actually came across her in a yard in the next neighborhood up from ours. The person said that she has been around for several days. We assume that she had gotten lost and wound up in a parallel neighborhood.

Brownie napping in the bay window
In 1996, we brought home a new black half-Siamese kitten. Brownie had been relatively playful and youthful at first, but once Blackie came into the house,  she immediately turned more maternal. Blackie's type A personality kind of overwhelmed Brownie's more laid-back nature. Blackie was able to lay claim to certain areas of our house that Brownie would no longer enter.

We officially moved into the house in 1998, by which time the cats had lived there for several years. We wondered what went through their minds when all of a sudden, we were in the house around the clock too.
We never fed them human food because we didn't want to get them in the habit of begging. And they didn't beg. But Brownie was always aware of what we were eating, especially when it involved tuna fish. There were several times where we found her sitting on the countertop licking the electric can opener after we had used it to open a tuna can. Our friend Gary dubbed that behavior as "kitty mischief." It always resulted in some serious cleaning of the can opener. Another time she climbed right into an empty SmartFood bag and licked the cheese off of the bag's inner surface. And she loved SeasonAll. If we spilled some on to the deck while grilling chicken, she would go into a drooling trance, trying to rub the stuff all over her body.

Brownie attempts to stow away in our luggage
Brownie always seemed to know when we were getting ready to go on a trip. She would become extra loving and clingy in the days leading up to our departure. Sometimes she would even lay on or in our luggage. Though we couldn't take her with us, we did carry a photo of the cats with us when we traveled. It helped to break the ice when we visited the Maasai in Kenya and when we visited Antonio and his family in Ecuador. Brownie had gained weight over the years and a photo of her lying on her back on the rug with paws up in the air, fat and happy, made people smile.  When we would return from trips, Blackie would hold a grudge for a while, but Brownie always acted friendly and was happy to see us.

Every year, Brownie immediately laid claim to the Christmas tree as soon as it came into the house. She held court underneath the branches among the presents. She loved people and was always very sociable. She loved it when we had company and would always greet our guests. She even had patience for little kids who would come to visit.
Brownie holding court beneath the Christmas tree

We lost Blackie in 2007. We assume she fell victim to the food chain of the forest. She certainly hunted plenty herself,  so it is an appropriate way for her to go.  We missed her very much and Brownie appeared to as well. But in the absence of a younger cat she started to behave more like she did when she was young herself. She  reclaimed the rooms which had been solely Blackie's territory, including our bedroom.

She would stick close to us when we were home. She said goodbye to us as we left for work in the morning, and she would be waiting at the door for us when we got home in the evening. We thought that her days alone were probably lonely, but by this point in time she was growing old, and we thought that bringing a new cat into the house might cause her undue stress.  After Blackie disappeared, Brownie went through an extended period where she did not go outside very much. Maybe she sensed what had happened to Blackie and the danger that is inherent in the woods.

el gato gordo

As her age and weight increased, she had trouble climbing up onto the couch. So we bought her a little plastic stepstool, which she used faithfully. She was unable to do her "cute thing" any longer, so we invented a new one:  I would lay her on her back and massage the shoulder joints of her front legs. She sure seemed to enjoy it. We got into a routine of giving her "tasty treats" every morning before work. She loved to play with her toys, including Crunchy Frog and Crunchy Rat.

For the past few months, her health has been waning. She has pretty much stopped eating, and has become very frail. Her routine changed, and she wanted to spend entire days (and sometimes overnight) outside lounging on the back deck or stairs. She started to breathe heavily and cough and wheeze. She seemed to be going downhill fast, and we were worried. Then she rallied for a while, catching two mice...something she hadn't done since her young days. But, realistically, she was around 18 years old, and cats don't live forever. We were worried about how to know when it was "the right time" to take her into the vet. She still hated car rides so much that we wondered if she'd even survive the trip.

But that wasn't necessary. She passed away sometime overnight. When she came inside last night she was breathing heavily. We said goodnight to her and while in bed I heard her cough a bit. I woke up this morning and she was not in her usual morning spot. This concerned me, and I walked to the back door and saw her lying there in her most comfortable position, having departed this life. Nature did its job, and we didn't need to intervene.

We miss you, Brownie; thanks for being such a wonderful companion for the first 17 years of our relationship.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

More Pictures from Guatemala, July 2011

Eddy channeling James Dean
Paulina and Eddy
Steph with Aracely

Olga, Isidro, Allison Margarita, Eddy, Estela, Loren, Aracely, Paulina