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The last four days have been the hardest in all of my 27 years. Yesterday, I lost my baby Grumpy, my first pet and one of two cats that inspired this blog.  She was just four years old.

Grumpy was the love of my life; I was hers as much as she was mine and she was wherever I was – sitting on my lap as I worked from home, helping me type on my laptop, following me to the bathroom and even keeping me company in the shower, just because. She was a big part of my working from home day and the house is so quiet without her chirps. I am in a world of pain. N says it’s going to get worse before it gets better. That’s a rather scary thought.

I feel very cheated that she only had four short years with us, but I have to remind myself that it was a stroke of luck that we ended up with the cats that we did – between them, they could convert even the staunchest of cat haters.

i see trouble

One morning back in 2008, my sister Tania and I woke up and decided to drive an hour and a half to go to help out at an animal shelter. Mostly, we just wanted to cuddle kittens. We were shocked to find that it was very much an ad hoc shelter, it ran out of a small shoplot –  there were makeshift pens out the back, no quarantine system in place and there was a one week old kitten bawling it’s lungs out in an open basket in the tea room.

We bottle fed the little week-old kitten, poop scooped for a while, then took our time hanging out with the cats and kittens. They were all beautiful, but with two foster kittens already in our tenth floor apartment, we really didn’t need, or have room, for any more. We were about to walk out the door and I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but on the way to the door we filled out some foster carer paperwork and took six dirty, scruffy kittens home for some TLC. At risk of sounding like cat ladies, we were only going to take four, but there were six in the one pen and we weren’t about to play the ‘you choose’ game. Four… six… it didn’t really matter – they were only tiny anyway.

The kittens of course, took the one and a half hour drive back as an opportunity to pee and poop the whole way home. At 9pm that night in a small apartment in Melbourne I had exactly eight foster kittens, one thrilled sister and one rather pissed off boyfriend.

Tania and I bathed and weighed the new recruits. At about 430g each, they appeared to be about 5-6 weeks old. That’s alright, we reckoned, about six weeks of chaos until we took them back to the shelter to be desexed and rehomed. We could manage eight kittens for six weeks.

Three weeks later, our parents arrived to stay with us. Needless to say, they were not at all impressed at our kitten count. I conceded that four adults and eight kittens was probably more than a reasonable person would have in an apartment. But they’re only temporary, we pleaded. When they’re big enough, we’ll give them back. It wasn’t long before the little monsters won the parents over. Mum would fall asleep on the couch with a pile of kittens on her tummy. One of the kittens, the little runty one, made it abundantly clear every time she wanted to be fed. She was the smallest by a good margin and just didn’t seem to be growing as fast as the others. I took to bottle feeding her a milk supplement so she could catch up to her siblings. On account of her constant chattering, I named her Grumpy. It was a terrible name for a ridiculously cute kitten, but we knew that whatever name we chose, it was likely that the new owner would change it when they adopted them.

Baby Grumpy

As it turned out, when the kittens were big enough to return, the shelter came under investigation. We had six kittens and nowhere for them to go. No rescue group would take them on for rehoming – it was the end of kitten season and there were kittens everywhere. I had no idea how we were going to find all of them homes, but I was secretly glad that we could hold on to them for a bit longer. With her scruffy coat and constantly confused expression, Grumpy was turning into the most adorable kitten I had ever seen. She followed me around the apartment, chirping and chattering to herself as she went.

As the weeks passed, Grumpy became my little shadow. If I called her name, she’d come running – whether she was asleep, in the litter, or playing with her favourite toy, she always came when I called. Tania’s friend came over one evening and berated us for naming such an adorable little fluffball Grumpy. She needed a name that would suit her, he said. And so he named her Tess. She had been Grumpy for months now, and there was no changing her name but we did tell vets that her name was Tess – just so they didn’t really think she was a grumpy cat, and so we didn’t seem like bad pet owners.

I don’t think I was ready to be a pet owner back then, so I’m not sure what made us keep her. Maybe it was because we just couldn’t let her go. I wasn’t working then and could barely afford the vaccinations, let alone desexing, but with some scrimping and saving and driving to a vet far away, it was all done.

grumps basket

Grumpy was a giant spirit in a little runt’s body. She’d wrestle with her siblings, and when no one wanted to play anymore, she taught herself to fetch. At first it was her little toy ball, but if she’d lost them all under the couch then she’d just fetch anything she could carry – a pen, a ring, anything that would fit in her mouth. We always joked that she was part dog because her favourite thing to do with new people (and even strange dogs) was to offer a submissive belly roll. She’d flop right over on her back so that you could rub her belly. She especially liked doing it in the dirt piles in the courtyard. She could catch bugs like none of the other cats could, clapping her paws together and getting the bug. We very rarely had to use bug spray.

Baby Grumps had no bad habits – she only scratched the scratching post, she didn’t insist on sleeping on our heads and she never tried to eat out of my cereal bowl unless I offered it to her. She was so well-behaved that we called her our little angel.

We returned home from Christmas holidays on Sunday, and by Thursday evening, we knew we had to let her go. Her last four days with us are the worst in my living memory. I would tell you about them but I’d prefer to celebrate her life, rather than dwell on her death. Suffice it to say that it was the worst heartache I’d ever known – letting down someone that means the most to you in the world. She had always been there for me, and by some random bad luck, I’d gone away on holiday when I should have been by her side. I should never have left our babies. I have never felt so helpless as I did then. There was nothing I wanted more in all the world other than for her to get better, but with the growth under her tongue (which was likely a deadly form of oral cancer – squamous cell carcinoma) combined with FIV which meant that her body was struggling to regenerate red and white bloods cells to fight the cancer – we had no treatment options.

I must have had ten vets tell me that it’s almost impossible for kittens to get FIV from their mother. I believe that good things happen to people who do good things. I’d spent the last five years in rescue – fostering, volunteering and helping out wherever I could. How on earth did the first two kittens we chose to adopt both have FIV? Would I have realised earlier had I been home with her? Would the end result have been any different? I have a billion questions and no answers.

All I know is that our little Grumps was meant to be ours. She was spoilt rotten – bacon, roast chicken, even creme brulee (all of which she turned her nose up at, because she, like me, was a food snob.) She spent her last day sitting in the sun, looking out on the world, with us and her brother by her side. They say you just know, and we did – we were never going to be ready to let her go. I was not sure, how could I be, but the vet showed me the pads of her feet, they were almost white. All I know is that I didn’t want her to suffer until the end because of my selfishness.

Our baby Grumpy was our little angel in life and she remains our little angel in spirit.