Heartache knows no species. Lessons taught never forgotten. Memories of pure love.
Little Tiger. That was her name. That was what my daughter Chasity called her from the day her dad brought her to her almost nine years ago. She was tiny enough to sit in the palm of your hand. I was sure she hadn't been completely weaned. And she had not been house trained. We really had a hard time training her. It almost seemed hopeless. But she grew to love us and allowed us to train her after three months of constant effort and hopeless doubts.
She fit right into our family of two, and made a perfect third member. My daughter's dad and I were separated over a year and a half at the time she joined our family. Our two sons who were older were living with my mother who died the following year.
I always thought (silently, of course) that her dad gave her the kitten because he felt guilty for leaving us (at least for leaving her) in such hardship and struggle, never helping us, not because he didn't want to but because he couldn't. He was an alcoholic and alcohol had claimed complete ownership of his life. A few months before he gave our eleven year old daughter Little Tiger he narrowly escaped death from a bullet by his own hand (an accident?) and a "hatchet job" brain surgery by a disappearing doctor. Maybe this was his way of trying to make it up to her. I only know Little Tiger was a gift of love and even years later, after her dad had given her a laptop and a bicycle (which was stolen from her) I still said Little Tiger was the best gift he ever gave her.
All the other things were just that - things. Little Tiger was a living being. She was not a pet. She was family. She was a little striped American Shorthair and she was special. She had a unique personality all her own; tempermental at times, loving always, sweet, stubborn. It is so difficult to describe her because she was so unique.
I believe many times angels are sent to us in the form of living beings that we love or "pets". I have known many. Only a very few will I briefly describe. There was my Cruncher who was my best friend for years, who saw me through so much heartache. He was so much more than a dog. He was my guardian angel. And he remained so, all three-quarters pit and one-quarter boxer of him, until his death of old age in 1999. His father was a full pit who belonged to a friend of my husband. His mother was Heidi, a pit and boxer mix who was so gentle although she had been starved and abused before we got her. My mother's dog was one of his first off-spring with a Siberian Husky we called Cricket. His name was Chico. Both our son's puppies were from the next two litters; Rough Stuff and Chance; all beautiful, all special; all died young.
Then there was Justice, the horse her dad had bought for our daughter as a tiny colt. He said he wanted them to grow up together. Riding her was the child's favorite hobby. She died in 2000, devastating my little girl.
Another important mention would be my oldest son's cat, Pudge, solid black and very furry with quite a personality. He was a few weeks younger than Little Tiger. He kept my mother company a lot of the time when no one else was with her. She used to tell me how, when my son was gone, Pudge would watch and wait for him. She said he worried with her until he saw him coming. He died in 2003, almost a year after my mother. My son never got over either loss.
Our little family of three struggled through with almost no income, no transportation (although we lived isolated in the Appalachian mountains), home schooling for my daughter (no school bus ever ran where we lived or even close) and much persecution; my daughter, Little Tiger and I.
In 2003, after Little Tiger had been with us for two years, my middle son moved back in with us. It's a long story; but my sons were no better off than we were. Our little family then became four. Little Tiger loved us all; but I was so thankful that her deepest bond was with my daughter, her master. She always saw her as belonging to her instead of the other way around. I used to laugh about that. But I guess it was natural that she saw me more as her mother, too. When she felt ill or was sad or thought my daughter wasn't paying her enough attention, she always came to me and made herself at home in my lap. She became like a fourth child to me. There was no way of not bonding with her. We all really loved that little girl.
They grew up together; my daughter and her Little Tiger. Then in 2006, she left home. My daughter had just turned sixteen. Maybe Little Tiger felt she wasn't getting enough attention. It seemed we would never see her again. We all missed her so much.
A couple of days after she disappeared, my husband (who was living in a small town a few miles away) called and I mentioned that Little Tiger was gone. He was worried about her, too. So was my other son Travis (the one who lived alone) although he had much more to worry about. We all hoped she would be okay for she wasn't used to being on her own.
A few weeks later, I was outside one day and I heard cats growling at each other. There were several cats my oldest son (who still lived near us) had brought home maybe attempting to replace Pudge. But he had always loved animals and was picking up strays all the time. (He did the same with human strays; but that's another story.) And Little Tiger did not like the cats that lived outside. (They were at our house as much or more than at home because I fed them). I thought I heard her growl; but I couldn't believe it. It had been so long. But, sure enough, when I looked, it was Little Tiger under the car (we finally managed to get a car the last of 2004). I told my son, Tyler (the middle one who lived with us) and he got her and brought her to his sister. Everyone was so happy to have her back. For a short time, my daughter and I were worried that she might be pregnant. (My daughter didn't want her to have kittens because of the multiplying problems her oldest brother had and she was truly afraid if Little Tiger had kittens, she would not be able to give any up). But she wasn't pregnant and we were a family again.
The other cats would eat almost any kind of cat food (or scraps), probably because they were always hungry. But Little Tiger liked her Meow Mix. So I always tried to get it. Once in awhile I could get by with a small bag of 9 Lives or Purina, Little Friskies or Whiskas. But Meow Mix seemed to be the only thing that didn't make her sick. (She had always had stomach problems.)
Then Christmas Eve 2007, my husband died. So Little Tiger became even more special to us all because she had been a gift from him. She was there for our daughter through that horrible loss. She could and did comfort her in ways her brothers and I couldn't. There was comfort in the fact that he had quit drinking for over a year, moved back close to us, and helped our children what he could. Still, we only have one dad and one mom. And it was a devastating loss for my children as it was for me in 2000 when I lost my dad and one month later my grandma (the last grandparent living and Daddy's mother) and in 2002 when I lost my mother and her only surviving sibling within two months). But through it all, Little Tiger was there to love and lift our spirits with her antics.
We didn't always call her Little Tiger. Most of the time, we called her Tiger. But the Little part of her name was always there.
We moved in 2009, taking Little Tiger with us. We had more choices if we hadn't had her (many places don't accept pets or animals); but we would never think of leaving her behind or giving her away. For the first two and one half months, she was so happy with her new home, as we were. Then just before Christmas, my daughter noticed a small hard knot inside the left side of her tummy. I should have had it seen about then; but my mind wasn't working properly because we were robbed several times while we were moving. My son's trailer and the little house my mother had built for both sons were both burned by arson. And the two cats we raised outside were killed by the thieves/arsonists; one's back broken; the other died in the house fire. I won't go into detail about our problems; but the stress was unbearable. Add to that the stress of my lost health and worry about all my children, especially the one left behind. But she kept going, not seeming to pay any attention to it and she still had the run of the place and seemed quite content.
Within the matter of days, the little hard knot had come to the outside and was the size of a golf ball, red and horrible looking. Under the advice of a veterinarian and my oldest son (who knew quite a bit about animals as well) we did everything possible for her. She stopped eating; but she continued as usual except for that. We gave her antibiotics, pedialyte, and used antibiotic cream on the growth. Half of it dried up and dropped off. I really believe she could have beat it if her strength hadn't been gone. But we knew it was cancer. In pain and without nourishment except for a few sips of water and what liquids we gave her by syringe, she made it over another month; two from the time my daughter first noticed the knot. The last two days, she could no longer drink water at all. Her only water was what we gave her with a syringe. But it was a losing battle.
She kept looking for a way to get away from us. That's when we knew she had accepted her fate. I talked to her (as did my daughter and her brother) and told her we needed to take care of her and please not to take that away from us. I think she understood because although she didn't stop trying to leave, she wasn't as intent as before.
She taught me in the almost nine years she was with us how very precious life is and that nothing compares to any time we might have with a loved one, nomatter the species, and I am thankful for every moment we had with her. She would sit and watch me write, keeping me company when I was lonely, even after she got so sick. She would cuddle up to my daughter or me at night (sometimes taking turns; but my door was always open for her).
On Monday night she was so weak she could no longer walk. But somehow she got in bed with me. The next morning, she awoke me. That night she somehow got in bed with my daughter. The next morning, I awoke at five in the morning, looked for her and couldn't find her. I asked my daughter. She couldn't find her either. Finally, she found her. Somehow, she had crawled all the way into the living room from the little bed we had made for her near my daughter. She was still barely alive. We had to leave for a little while to get some groceries. But my son stayed with her. A few minutes after we got back, she made a last effort to get away from us and she struggled to the very last. Finally, with my heart breaking, I told her; "We love you. Go in peace." And she was gone. Wednesday, February 3,2010.
It was a bitter loss. We all cried. We all hurt. And we all felt a huge part of our hearts gone. How is it fair that such a little thing can take such a big piece of our hearts?
I could not throw her in a dumpster. I called my son and asked about burying her next to Pudge. We took her home today. It was her last car ride. She loved car rides. She was so curious about everything. But she would sit in my daughter's lap content and look around her. It was easy to tell how much she enjoyed it. But this time it was different. This time she made the journey in a box.
How I wished for a miracle! How I prayed she could beat it. But I knew it was love that kept her here the last weeks of her life at least; her love for us and our love for her. She was such a little trooper. But in the end, we had no choice but to love her enough to let her go, even though a piece of our hearts went with her.
Our home feels so empty since she's gone. Nothing is the same. None of us want another cat or any other pet, at least for awhile. There is nothing that could replace our Little Tiger, just as there is no one who could replace any one of our lost loved ones.
I truly believe she was a little angel sent to us, especially my daughter, to make life more bearable. She took more of my heart and my son's heart than any other could have. She took more of my daughter's heart than her horse did. But she gave us so much more than any other could have. My daughter is devastated. I know she will heal. But she will never forget her Little Tiger.
You were a strong little girl, Little Tiger. Your strength was in your love and your being there. You proved that it is not the size of the one who loves but the size of the love that counts. You brought us such joy in your time with us. You taught us more about love than anyone could imagine. You were a true blessing to us. And we are all thankful to have known you. Our lives were and are so much richer because of you.
We love you, Little Tiger. We know you love us. And you will always live in our hearts. I hope we will see you again. But for now, rest in peace, Little Tiger.