In 2005, I was newly divorced and alone in an apartment. I felt like I was in solitary confinement. New curtains and throw pillows could not make this place feel like home. After 18 years of marriage, two kids, and four dogs, I had grown used to a ruckus, not this stifling stillness. While boredom and curiosity had me delving into the online dating world, that wasn't something I was ready to plunge into. Loneliness seemed to drip from the poorly painted walls. I needed a companion. I wanted a buddy to curl up on the couch with and watch TV without expecting more than affection in return. I needed a cat.
The "mousers" that had lived in our garage were the only cats I ever owned. Though who really owns a feral , stray cat? When winter winds were replaced by warm Spring breezes, they would wander off, as country cats are prone to do. Actually, I had always referred to myself as a "dog person," but uninvited solitude will make one do strange things, and for me letting a cat share my quarters was strange indeed. The apartment complex rules required that cats be declawed--a form of torture in my opinion--so I would have to find one that had previously had the procedure done. I asked around, checked the billboard at the grocery store, and scanned the classifieds, finally finding an ad for a black and white cat, declawed, free to good home.
Socks, as he was called because of his four white paws, lived under my couch the first few days. For all of his nine years he had lived in the same home and hadn't wanted to leave it. I knew how he felt. No amount of coaxing or cajoling could convince him to come out. Finally, hunger got the best of him and he slithered from beneath the couch, low to the ground, ears flattened to his head. A couple nights later as I sat watching the news and eating a chicken pot pie, Socks jumped up on the couch beside me. He bumped my hand. I put my dinner aside, gently stroking his smooth black fur. I had my buddy.
I had only had Socks a month when Christmas came. I had plans to fly to Michigan to visit my family. My niece was highly allergic to cat dander so I couldn't bring Socks. I hated leaving him alone. I had grown accustomed to him waking me in the morning, pulling the covers from my face and gently pawing my cheek, or licking my hand with his warm, rough tongue. But I arranged for a cat loving friend to check in on him every other day and felt secure that my buddy would be ok. The night before my flight I awoke with a start. Socks stood in my doorway his glaring green eyes wide as saucers, yowling as only an animal in severe pain will do. I tried to sooth him as best as I could until morning and was at the vet's when the doors opened.
Barry Stewart had been my animal's doctor for years. He compassionately took care of my 15-year-old poodle, who eventually passed away from Canine Cushing's disease. He had sympathetically watched me cry like a baby. I knew he could help Socks. My flight left later that day and he convinced me to leave Socks with him, promising to call as soon as he had a diagnosis. Reluctantly I agreed, placing my distressed pet into his arms. I called my friend before I left and he promised to check in on him as well.
Later that night I got a call at my parent's house. Socks had bladder stones, or uroliths. They could be small as a grain of sand or as large as pea gravel, Dr. Stewart said. But, as Socks couldn't pass urine, he thought how ever many there were, they were big. First, he said he would try to extract urine by gently compressing his abdomen several times a day. He hoped the stone would become dislodged and he would pass it. Again, he promised to call with any new reports. I tried to be cheerful, after all it was the holidays, but I couldn't help but worry and kept my cell phone close at hand.
The next morning--Christmas Eve morning-- as I sat drinking coffee with my mother, my phone rang. I answered it on the first ring. Dr. Stewart hadn't been able to express much urine. Next, he suggested inserting a tube into the urethra, first sedating Socks. The other alternative was surgery, which would cost about eight-hundred dollars. I didn't have that kind of money! I told him to try the tube. At dinner, the turkey and dressing, which everyone raved over, was tasteless to me. I couldn't eat, I couldn't rest, until I knew my pet was ok. The call came later that night. It hadn't worked. He suggested I take the night to decide whether or not to do the surgery. He would keep Socks sedated and comfortable. My parents thought it was crazy to spend that kind of money on a cat, especially on my low income. I knew in a practical sense they were probably right, but I just couldn't euthanize my cat! I cried as I called my friend and told him about the situation. He said not to worry, that he would call the Dr. and call me back. I wasn't sure what he thought he could do that I couldn't.
The Dr. called me before my friend could call back. He said my friend had offered to pay for the surgery. I couldn't believe it. I cried again, this time out of relief and gratitude. Christmas day would be a celebration after all. Dr. Stewart called while we were having dessert, with the good news. Socks had pulled through fine and he had removed three large stones. I would need to keep him on a special diet, but he thought he would recover just fine.
The next week I brought Socks home. Yes, it was now not just an apartment but a home. And I was now a "cat person."