Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mama Suly--In Memorium

Yesterday I had to put Mama Suly to sleep. After almost two years of dealing with cancer, and 17 years of a wonderful life, this little Siamese gave me the look that I had been waiting for and it was time to go to the vet for the last time. She had a seizure and was writhing on the floor so in a moment my whole Monday plans changed. Meetings, emails, chores—all that seemed irrelevant on 9/13/10 as I walked up the street with Suly wrapped in a towel in my arms.
I had been rehearsing this day over and over in my head so I was prepared. Still it was hard and the tears streamed down my face as I got closer to the vet. People on the street either thought I was crazy or knew what I was going to do. A very personal moment played out in public. My neighbor works at the vet and when she saw me with the towel held in my arms, she knew why I was there. She went into action and got me into a room and a doctor there in a matter of moments so Suly didn’t have to suffer long. No one wants to have to put their animal to sleep but I knew this was the time to do it. This was a rite of passage that I had played out in my head over and over these past few years. It was done out of love and Suly knew that.
17 years ago this little creature came into my life when I was living with Artem on Mosfilmovskaya Street in the Lenin Hills section of Moscow. I came home one night to find my cat Bancroft chasing around this small, white and brown fuzzy kitten. Someone had given it to Artem, “Tom has a cat, and you need one too,” was the rationale. So while walking on the Arbat, the pedestrian street filled with art, souvenir and pet sellers downtown, Angelina (the giver of the kitten) decided to pick up a little gift for Artem. This is how animals come in to people’s lives in Russia, as unplanned gifts. I can just imagine how some of my American friends would react if I showed up with a kitten as a gift and not a bottle of wine or flowers.
The old ladies who sold their kittens on the Arbat by the big “Zoomagazin” (Russian for pet store) had little marketing tricks to make their wares more sellable. With the fuzzball Persians and Siberians, they used to brush all their fur forward to make them look fuzzier. With white and crème colored cats (as in Suly’s case) they would bleach their fur to make them look whiter and cleaner. So Suly came into our lives a little bleached, white and pristine.
Bancroft wasn’t too hapy at first to be sharing the 2 bedroom apartment with this little cat and let her know it. After a day or two though, he had accepted that she wasn’t leaving and let her snuggle with him and was more cordial. That was spring of 1993. In a year, Bancroft would die and she was the only one in the house but not for long. Felix came onto the scene one Sunday afternoon at the “Ptichy Rynok” (Russian for pet market) in Arpil of 94. She was happy for the company and treated him like her own, snuggling with him, washing him, and sometimes giving him a whack to know who is boss.
By summer of 94, I took a job in Ekaterinburg and Artem went to Berlin for awhile. The relationship ended and I took the cats with me to the Urals. My job in Ekaterinburg had me traveling a lot and during those trips, Felix and SUly were getting it on and thus in July of 95, Suly gave birth to two little black kittens. How a Siamese and a tabby had black kittens is a bit of a mystery but I credited genes of a grandfather that skipped a generation. So there they were, the little family of four on Ulitsa Bolshakova in the Parkovy rayon of Ekaterinburg. Lulu and Eddy were the names of the offspring and one was given away to an American teaching in town and I kept Lulu to make my duo a trio. There it was, my trio of cats no more to be added, just a little family of mom, dad and the baby. In 1997, they made the big move from the Urals to New York City, an event so noteworthy that the local TV and newspaper came to cover the story. There was suspicion that I was stealing away Russia’s pedigree animals but when anyone saw them, journalists or local vets, they would ask, “Why are you taking these animals to America?” Apparently they didn’t find them worthy enough of a trip abroad. One lady vet sheepishly asked if she could be one of my cats and go with me.
Suly almost didn’t make the trip for the day before I was to leave, little Miss Siamese got out of the apartment as I was taking stuff down to a waiting car. I went out for about 30 mins and came home to hear her meowing somewhere ein the hallway. She was hiding behind the trash chute, scared yet happy to see me. Thank God none of my neighbors took her, that would have been so upsetting for me. August 4th, 1997, we all flew off to the US, me upgraded to business class and my three fellow travelers in a giant cage down below. Felix and Lulu were so nervous about the trip and Suly furtively liked both of them to calm them down. I’m sure by mid-flight, they were all snuggled together in a pile, Suly keeping them at peace.
Upon arrival in New York, I was homeless, but had friends I could stay with. The only problem was no place for my cats, so they had to spend 3 weeks at the Paws Inn, a pet hotel in midtown Manhattan. I would visit them every day so they knew I hadn’t abandoned them. I did go awayf or 2 weeks, which worried them enough to make Suly’s brown face get flecked with white hairs from worry. By the end of 3 weeks Suly, Felix and Lulu had had enough of life in a big cage and were happy to be moving into an apartment in Brooklyn.
That apartment changed into a house after 6 years and in Russian style, the cats went in to the house from the front door on their own. This is so they sense whether the house is good or not. It seemed to pass their test and they set up residence on the second floor. Suly loved running up and down the stairs, going into the basement to explore and lay out on the patio in the morning sun. One of my favorite things she would do was race down the stairs and bound out the back, racing toward the big, white bench at the back of the yard. There she would meow loud enough to wake the dead and roll around on the bench, basking in the warm sun. That was one of her spots she loved to sleep on, as were there many more inside and out. They would change from time to time over the years. At night, when I would go to bed, Suly would come up and paw at the covers until I lifted them up, and she went under to snuggle between my legs or at my side. A loud purr would emanate from under the comforter as she happily settled in for her night’s sleep.
Over the years, you don’t always realize the love you have for your animals. They can be annoying, as Suly could be at times—overly needy, in your way, on the table drinking the milk out of the creamer, under fott so you step on her all the time. The one thing she did that would piss me off royally was to clumsily step on the saucer of my tea cup and send the tea spilling all over my desk or table. One time, in the Moscow days on New Year’s Eve, Artem and friends were preparing salads for a big dinner party. Amid all the fracas in our little kitchen, she managed to sneak into the fridge and start eating one of the fish salads. When someone opened the fridge, there she was smothered in mayonnaise, happily chewing on some fish. Despite the annoyances, you forgive your little animals for they are innocent and love you unconditionally looking over your flaws as well. In my life, love of another person, as we all want it, has not shone on me greatly but I don’t bemoan that. I have had the unconditional love of three cats, who warmly have greeted me when I come home for the past 17 years. Now we are down to two and the love still goes on. I take care of them and they reward me by showing their affection and love. Sounds a little strange but it makes sense to me (and I’m sure a lot of other people in this world).
When Suly got ill with cancer, at first I didn’t know what to do. I followed the vet’s advice and made her comfortable as possible since her diagnosed life was about 3 months. Then I found Dr. Wen on Long Island. He was the famed vet who used Chinese herbs and accupuncture to cure dogs and cats of the life-threatening illnesses. Driving the 1.5 hour drive every month or so, with Suly asleep on my lap or in the seat next to me, I felt love in my heart. I was doing something for someone who has been with me for so long. It was the right thing to do really after so many years of loyalty. Some would give up and put her down, I decided to give Dr. Wen’s herbs a try and they worked for almost two years.
Yesterday afternoon, I made another drive out to Long Island, this time with Suly wrapped in a towel in the back seat, on her way to be cremated at the Regency Pet Cemetery. They were very caring about the whole process. Chuckie, the man operating the crematorium snipped some fur as a memento for me before she went into the oven. I gave her stiff little body one last snuggle and kiss and in she went to be turned into ash. As Pete and I waited for her ashes, we walked through the small little cemetery full of tombstones of beloved dogs, cats, horses and even a donkey. $238.89 for cremating a cat was a drop compared to the amount of money people spend on their pets’ graves. Ornate tombstones with pictures of dogs or cats, flowers, statues—it’s incredible. Like I said, a pet’s love is a mighty force. I found the tombstones with the religious symbols on them the most interesting, as if to say “Muffin was a good Jewish dog”, like Mufifn went to temple all the time. Most of the pets had Italian or Jewish last names so I guess we can make a genralization about ethnic groups and post-mortem pet worship. If you ever need a new drag name (first pet’s name + mother’s maiden name is the standard rule), or are stuck for names of characters in your next novel, take a stroll through a pet cemetery. My favorite was Dolly Sokolinski, Pete like Guinevere Cardavallo. There are many more out there for you to enjoy. Unfortunately I didn’t take my camera to get them all.

Today I have to learn a new way of feeding my pets, buy smaller cans of cat food, and get used to not having Suly walking around my feet. She is still in her little tin, wrapped up with green tissue in a nice little gift bag from Regency. There will be time to deal with her yet. Maybe a little sprinkle in my rose garden, a little sprinkle in Russia when I go next, and the rest mixed up with the other two when they go. A cat era has come to a close and today I want only the quiet of my house and Felix and Lulu sleeping peacefully at my feet.

No comments: