Two weeks ago today I was spending the last precious hours with Stella before she died. Today I cleaned up the cat box and litter genie, which I’d been putting off — and not just because it’s an odious task. Bit by bit I’m packing up and storing cat toys, bowls, and so on. Evidence of her existence is disappearing. It may be strange, but I haven’t vacuumed yet; there are little dust balls of fur on floor corners. These tasks reinforce the permanence and irreversibility of the situation.
But rather than dwell on sadness, I want to take time to remember traits we loved about Stella.
In 1999 I decided to adopt two cats, so they’d keep each other company. I wanted an all-black cat. I went to the home of a couple who fostered 30 cats in their home. In one room were 10 cats, and as I sat on the floor the only black cat came right up to me and meowed. I reached out to touch her and she shoved her head into my hand, rubbing and purring. Then she climbed onto me. That was it. I also selected another cat, a beautiful gray and white cat since they were familiar to each other. This other cat, Zoe, was a special needs cat; she’d been psychologically traumatized as a teeny kitten and was skittish. But she was gorgeous, and I knew no one else would want her. So they came home with me. Five months later I also adopted an 8-week old cat whom I named Sophie. (A friend rescued a pregnant cat and Sophie was the prettiest of the bunch.) Here they are in Austin in a pile of cuddle.
When I brought Sophie home, Stella adopted her. I assume Stella had given birth (she wasn’t spayed when I got her), because she carried Sophie around in her mouth. Sophie kneaded Stella’s belly and would suckle her for many minutes, and Stella — to my surprise — allowed it. She’d groom Sophie too. Sophie was petite — never weighed more than seven pounds — so this went on for a couple of years. At some point Stella got tired of her belly being occupied and started batting Sophie away.
Once Stella was spayed, she gained a lot of weight. At one point she weighed 21 pounds, and we dubbed her as Large and In Charge. She had a personality the size of Texas and the friendliness to match. We tried to regulate her food intake and give her diet cat food, but she stayed big until about two years ago. Her size never stopped her from enjoying life.
When we moved to California, we found a new home for Zoe. Poor Zoe was fragile; a sneeze would send her racing off the couch and out of the room. She spent the majority of her life hiding in the box spring of the bed in the guest room. We knew she would not survive the transition across country. So we took Stella and Sophie with us. We got them harnesses in order to use leashes when they weren’t in the carriers. They loathed them. Here’s a photo of them during a trial run before the move. You can tell how thrilled they aren’t.
We all survived. Sure, we had to figure out a way to bathe Stella in El Paso after she peed on herself in the carrier. And we had to dig Sophie out from under a seat because we made the mistake of letting them out of their carriers while we stopped for a bite to eat. I wanted them to have some stretching room, which was a mistake. And Stella bitched at us the entire trip. Seriously, all 1,700 miles. The thing about Stella is that she was highly opinionated and expressive. I swore there was some Siamese in her. I wish I’d taken videos of our conversations. And if she was asleep or just sitting quietly with her cat thoughts and you said her name from across the room, she’d burst into purrs. I would meow and make other cat-talk noises, and she’d respond. We had many long conversations, although I haven’t a clue what they were about.
Stella had the special distinction of being at our wedding. We had an intimate wedding at home, and she took her place by the altar. You can’t see her face since she was looking to the side, but that distinctive black furry lump is her. Sophie, however, hid. Stella was always up for action.
Stella loved her toys. She would take Beanie Babies (especially Claire’s) and carry them around the house like kittens and cuddle them. Other times they were prey, and she’d deliver them to my feet. One neighbor who did cat sitting bought Stella a mouse toy that she loved for years. She would walk around the house carrying it by the pompom in her mouth, all the while yowling and chirruping in her throat. And sometimes she walked around the house talking urgently, and Hub and I would joke, “What’s wrong, Stella? What’s that? Little Timmy fell down the well?”
Stella adored being brushed and would even let me love her belly. She had complete trust and confidence in me. In turn, she would clean us. If permitted, Stella would lick your hand, arm, or neck until your next layer of epidermis was exposed. She took care of me just as she did Sophie. But I have a photo of her with Sophie.
She also had a taste for chlorine. If I had used Chlorox, she’d lick me for hours, and sometimes nibble. It had an effect similar to catnip.
Stella was adaptable. She tolerated trips to the vet with only vocal protests. The vet techs would often comment on how patient and accepting she was during exams, blood draws, shots, and so on. Stella also barfed a lot. She’d eat too much too fast. And as she got older, her hyperthyroidism would make her sick. She had a habit of meowing in a particular way — pitch and volume — that we knew would be followed by puking. So we’d be able to scoop her off furniture and carpets if we moved fast enough. That made clean up much easier.
If there was a sunspot, you’d find her in it.
But she and Sophie also made use of artificial light in the colder months. Getting work done at my home desk was a challenge.
She had a penchant for Wheat Thins. She also loved soft cat treats. If I called the word “treats” in a high pitch in a way that sounded like a question, she’d come lumbering from where she was, talking excitedly. She also loved the outdoors and attempted to sneak out at every chance.
During my pregnancy, Sophie died of heart failure. It was sudden and tragic. She and Stella were quite a pair, and I was devastated. I have always relished this photo I took of them:
Stella was a high-contact cat, at least with me. She’d come up and rub her head against mine and try to lick my hair. When I was pregnant we napped together on the sofa every day. When we brought Claire home and Stella was displaced from her doted-upon status, she accepted it with grace.
She was never aggressive to Claire. In fact, she attempted to groom Claire as she did everyone else. As you can tell from Claire’s expression, it was a weird sensation.
She also enjoyed her kitty television.
Stella, oh Stella, you were quite a cat.
We love you.