Those of us who’ve had the great privilege of having pets in our families understand the joy these creatures give us. I have been incredibly fortunate over my life to have cared for myriad animals that delighted me—even when they misbehaved—and which comforted me when I was sad.
The problem, of course, is that their lifespans are so much shorter than ours, which necessitates tough decisions for those of us who love them. I should be used to that special room at the vet by now, but it never gets easier.
I just said goodbye to my dear cat Westin, one of the most endearing animals I’ve ever met. Westin’s life was difficult. He was deaf and had severe allergies that necessitated monthly shots and daily medication. Whenever I was asked if I’d like a receipt from the vet, I always said I didn’t want to know the price of his medical care. I’m pretty sure Westin cost more than the 50 or so animals I’ve tended to over the years put together. But he was such a joy, that I always smiled when I handed over my credit card.
The vet made it clear that Westin would not live a normal kitty lifespan as eventually the medications would take their toll. Westin was eight and he died peacefully surrounded by those who loved him.
In his honor, I thought I’d share the story I wrote about the day we brought Westin home.
A cat, a boy, a bond
There was nothing extraordinary about the cat that stared at me from the pages of my local newspaper. He was black. Gold eyes. His name was Westin. He’d been at the Humane Society way too long. His $20 price tag a clear indication that if he did not find a home soon, well…
I called my son Troy to come look at the picture. I told him about Westin. “Should we go get him?” I asked. His eyes lit up.
Within the hour we bounded through the door at the shelter, waving the newspaper article. “We’re here for Westin.” We grinned at the receptionist. A woman standing nearby frowned. I pointed at the picture again, wondering at her odd reaction.
“The story did not tell you everything,” she said, leading us toward a glassed-in enclosure, a place called the Campus for Compassion, where hard-to-adopt animals are placed for one last push to find them a forever home.
My son and I glimpsed Westin briefly through a large window as the woman ushered us through a doorway, around a corner, and through another door. We somehow missed the sign that would have tipped us off that Westin was no ordinary kitty. The woman escorted us into the tidy room scattered with cat toys and shelves ascending one wall, where Westin quickly displayed his climbing skills. I sat on a small couch. Westin stared at me, then bounded into my lap.
“You get acquainted. I’ll get Westin’s records.” She left, closing the door behind her.
A short time later, a young volunteer appeared, bearing a thick folder.
“Where did he come from?” I asked as Westin head-butted my hand for the rub.
“He was one of thirty cats found abandoned in a hotel room,” she said. “We named them all after hotels.”
The thought that there were kitties nearby named Radisson, Hilton, Sheraton, and Howard Johnson made me want to laugh. Perhaps she read my mind.
“They’re all gone. They’ve been adopted. Westin is the only one left.”
I stared at the cat, now happily ensconced in my son’s lap. “Why?”
“Westin is sick.”
Troy and and I simultaneously stared at the cat, who appeared quite healthy and happy.
“When he came to us, he had lost a lot of his hair. We almost put him down. The vets here did a lot of testing and, well, Westin is deaf and has horrible allergies. He’s on daily medication and will be for the rest of his life. He has to be fed special food that’s about $60 a bag. I’ll leave you two to think about it,” she said, a hint of sadness in her voice. “He’s been here a long time.”
“It’s a lot of money,” I said when my son and I were alone. “And a lot of responsibility.” We already had four cats and a cattle dog.
When the volunteer came back, I asked if anyone else had ever wanted to adopt Westin.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “Until they found out about his problems.”
The boy with the blue eyes stroked Westin’s head. “He’s just like me, Mom. No one wanted me either.”
I stared at the ground. Troy is my third son. All of my boys spent time in the foster care system, before entering my life when they were teenagers, having been shuttled between group facilities and foster homes too many times to count, clearly understanding that there didn’t seem to be any families that wanted them.
Of course, we took Westin home. I can’t say it hasn’t been a struggle. Westin suffered a ruptured ear drum and only wants to eat food that he’s allergic to. Still, he gets along fine with the other animals and is under the watchful eye of our vet. We are hoping that, someday, he can go without the daily doses of medication and the special expensive food. In the meantime, Troy takes care of Westin. They seem to have an understanding.
Today, I’m sad, which I know from experience is to be expected. There’s a small hole in my heart that hurts. But I know eventually that space will fill in. Joy will take its place. Joy that I had the pleasure of knowing Westin. And perhaps a small piece of rainbow will lodge in my heart, color and light left behind from the moment Westin mounted the storied Rainbow Bridge.
Five years ago, Westin was featured on the Arizona Humane Society’s Pets on Parade.
You can watch the video here.
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