Picking up a bag of dog food for Shadow was on the list of errands that chilly Christmas Eve day in 1998. My eight year-old daughter Laurie and her friend Dana chattered in the back seat as I carefully navigated the busy streets filled with last minute shoppers, and pulled in to one of the last spots in the crowded Petco parking lot.
A blast of warm air scented with eau de gerbil greeted us as we entered the store. I told the girls they could go explore while I found what I needed. Lugging the 25-pound bag of Iams to the checkout counter, I was interrupted by squeals from the girls and I followed the sound to locate them.
“Mom, come look!” Laurie said excitedly.
In a corner of the store sat a woman with a litter of kittens for adoption. Six little bundles of preciousness. Of course I had to take a look. Just a look.
One in particular–a puffball of black fur with jade eyes and a funny crook in the tip of her tail–stared at us through the wire-meshed cage and meowed softly. She was small enough to fit into Laurie’s hand.
As we oohed and aahed over her adorableness, we took turns holding her. She nestled in my arms and purred as I stroked her head. Don’t do this, I warned myself. We already have a dog. We don’t need another pet. And yet …
“Laurie, call Dad and ask him if we can get a kitten,” I said, handing her my cellphone.
I held the kitten in my arms as I walked slowly, bouncing rhythmically, the way you do with colicky newborns. I listened to Laurie’s end of the phone conversation with my husband.
“But it’s so cute … yes I will take care of it … Emily’s not that allergic … yes I do take care of Shadow … I know I can’t get everything I want …”
Laurie put her hand over the mouthpiece and whispered, “He said no. Absolutely not. He said he hates cats.”
I couldn’t possibly separate from this little creature that was now fast asleep in my arms. Would it be so terrible to overrule my husband? I didn’t think he would leave me because I brought home a cat.
“Tell Dad we’ll just try it out and see how it goes,” I said. “We can always bring her back if it doesn’t work out.”
I knew it would work out. And that’s how we got Zoë.
What will I remember about her? She liked to fetch her catnip toys when we threw them. At the sound of a can opener being used, she would race into the kitchen expecting a morsel of tuna. She liked to look outside and chatter at the birds, twitching that funny tail of hers. She liked to cuddle with me when I watched TV. When Laurie came home for a weekend visit, Zoë waited for her on her bed.
The vet always said what a good cat she was. During her last days when her kidneys were failing he tried everything to help her, but there was nothing that could be done.
My husband and I held her in her final moments. She was with us for 14 1/2 years, but it wasn’t enough. I stroked her head one last time. She was too sick to purr, but I think she knew we were there, cradling her with love.