Cross-posted from

This is inspired by and dedicated to my cat Wendy. She’s one of four we have, all adult females, even though one is named William. We’re a gender non-conforming household.

I adopted Wendy, now approximately age ten, at a pet store on 49th Street. They have an adoption service in the back of the store, and one chilly winter evening I was there to look at cats. I’d been single a long time and had started to think I’d be staying that way, possibly for the rest of my life, and maybe it was time for some feline companionship. I walked into the store and there was this spunky white cat with gray patches walking around the front room. Not in a cage, not confined in the back, just walking around taking the measure of everyone and everything in the place. I knelt down and she walked up to me, clearly thinking I was there to rescue her from the boredom of life in a pet store. A week later she was living in my one-bedroom apartment in Astoria, Queens.

Fast forward several years. Wendy had been joined by Jessica shortly after I got her, since I didn’t want her being alone all day while I was working. Then I met my partner Frank five years ago, and in very short order we all moved into Manhattan (a return for me, having lived in Chelsea (surprise!) for six years before the Queens move) with Frank and his three cats, one of whom was a very skinny but grand old dame who has since passed on. I happen to think that if heaven exists it is reserved for animals – no humans allowed. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Wendy was always what you’d call a big-boned gal. Of course, when those big guys and gals lose weight we discover there is no such thing: their bones are the same size as everyone else’s and it wasn’t the bones making them tip the scales. Our cat sitter (we spend our weekends in New Jersey and travel quite a bit) told me Wendy was losing weight. I hate hearing these things and have the bad habit of ignoring them for a while. I finally took her to the vet. Blood tests: fine. X-ray: nothing wrong. Ultrasound: looks like a small mass and enlarged lymph nodes. The vet tells me it’s probably lymphoma, common among cats. Surgery would be traumatic and ill-advised. Prednisone is well tolerated with cats and dogs so let’s go that route and hope for the best.

In all likelihood Wendy will only be sauntering around our apartment for a few more months. Which brings me to the title of this blog post: animals have much to teach us. If you disagree, fine, I’ll say they have much to teach me. Wendy is a supremely self-confident cat. Not arrogant, just very sure of herself. She is unafraid of anyone at any time. She has never been skittish, and appears to take life as it happens, in stride, with a degree of acceptance all the serenity prayers ever uttered have not provided me. When she decides to lie down in a doorway, that is where she will stay until she feels like moving and it is up to the people coming in and out of the room to step over her.

And she is my friend. She has no use for Facebook, but if she did I know she would never un-friend me. I have not always been the nicest human companion, nor the most patient, but she has been with me nonetheless. She has never threatened to withhold her friendship. She has never stopped meowing to me. She has never told me to lose weight or stop smoking (I have done the latter) or delivered an ultimatum. Animals are not in the business of treating humans the way we treat each other. Their love is the one true example of unconditional love we have. And – the hard part – they trust us completely. The day is coming when I will have to “put her to sleep” knowing as we travel to the vet for this final goodbye that she trusts me. It would never enter her cat-head that I would be taking her off to kill her. That’s how it feels, I know, I’ve been through this enough times. It does not feel like I’m sparing her or putting an end to her suffering. It feels like I’m killing her, and that takes a while to get over. These wonderful creatures who allow us into their lives never put us out. It’s a standard I can at best aspire to, but never be sure I’ve achieved.

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