Click above to hear the audio link of this story.
The farmhouse stood surrounded by a sea of deep snow. Snow deep, so deep —four feet deep snow. We had just broken a thirty year record. What a winter, and although it was February, we wouldn’t be digging out anytime soon.
“There’s a cat on the fence post.” “What cat? You are kidding. Really?”
“If you don’t get out there soon and get it, the dogs will.”
He was kidding, but I pulled on my snow boots and trudged across the driveway to the end of the fence line at the back of the pasture. A raggedy dark brown creature mounded the flat topped wooden fence post. She looked frightening; she was starving. I stood and looked at her for several minutes before braving to pick her up, and when I lifted her, she began to purr. She was a bundle of sticks- skeleton sticks. I put her down in the barn apartment with a litter box and some canned food. Only an eighth of a cup. She ate eagerly. Better to not over do it. Purr. Purr, and then she got into the litter box and used it. She’d seen a litter box before.
Where did she come from; how did she survive in the middle of this terrible winter across four feet of snow with the nearest farmhouse a mile away? And none of our neighbors claimed her, though two said they had lost a tortoiseshell cat recently. They came and looked at her and shook their heads. By then she was living in the guest bathroom in our farmhouse.
[Conditions at Mule Springs Farm when Brindle arrived in February 2017]
The vet said, “this cat has been exposed for a very long time; it’s really a miracle she survived the predators and the deep snow.” She needs rest, food, and recovery.
So she rested and began to regain weight. But, my hopes of finding a good home for her were crushed, when I learned that she was sick. The extreme starvation had caused severe damage to her kidneys and liver.
Brindle would court Death but not marry him for another year and a half.
Meanwhile she’d rule here— inspiring four big dogs and two cats to respect her space and her one remaining sharp tooth. Brindle would often sit in the middle of a room, so that all the other animals would have to weave around her. If they got too close- swoosh went the paw. But, she wasn’t stand offish with people. She invited people to pick her up, carry her around, and pet her.
She made so many visits to the vet to have blood drawn, have her ears cleaned, to have various procedures, including an ultrasound and treatments for infected toes; and she bore all with composure. One of the vets believed Brindle liked it there. It was “one of her favorite places.” And, indeed she enjoyed every bit of attention and did not show any signs of stress no matter what they did to her.
We built a large window box for Brindle, and she’d spend hours outside watching the birds and all the farm activities. I could see her throughout my day as I zoomed back and forth in my Ranger. As time passed she transformed from being one of the ugliest cats I had ever seen to one of the most exotic and handsome of cats. Her coat was stripped brown and black, and as she gained weight her eyes went from sunken and haunted to expressive and clear. She was a female, and I had never really liked female cats, but she worked her way into my heart because she had such style.
A month ago I noticed Brindle seemed to be getting weaker and appeared to be losing weight again. She had lost and gained weight and even crashed to the extent I thought she might die several times in the past year. But, every time she’d come back from the precipice and recover. I took her in to see the vet again, and this time the blood work showed off the charts kidney values indicating stage four kidney failure —terminal. Right there the vet recommended euthanasia, because it wasn’t possible, based on the kidney values, for Brindle to rally this time. Suddenly I noticed Brindle was shaking. Her small body quivered in my arms as I told the vet “no, I’m going to take her home.”
As I later explained to my husband, “I brought her home, because for the first time she seemed anxious and afraid.” Why was she shaking? I wasn’t going to end her life on that note.
Some deaths need to be experienced instead of cut short, and I felt this was one of them. Brindle and I went onto hospice. She kept alert and participated in each day as much as she could. For two weeks she rode along with me in my arms, and we walked down to the ponds, and we rested amongst the autumn leaves as they fell from the old gothic elm. She wore her red harness and she lay out in the sun in the yard on every good warm day. Sometimes the dogs lay or sat beside her. She no longer shunned anything. She stayed in my office the rest of the time, and the door was open so the cats visited her all day long. Sometimes they slept on the bed with her, and on some days they spent more time in there with Brindle than they did in the rest of the house.
She patiently accepted the fluid injections we gave her daily. The first week she continued to eat, but by week two she was eating little. When she could not get easily in and out of the litter box, she wished to just hang out in the litter box so she could urinate where she was supposed to. I kept her and her surroundings clean. Sometimes I prompted her to eat a little or to drink water by squirting water inside her mouth.
She did lose weight, but not as quickly or as much as I feared. She never seemed uncomfortable or in pain. She was elegant. In the sunny afternoons I’d lie her close up to the gothic elm, and she’d sit there literally basking for hours.
The final day she lay over on her side; it was the first time she had laid her head down, other than when enjoying the sun, in fourteen days. We knew she was leaving. That day we did not give her fluids as we could tell her legs were growing cool, and she would no longer swallow any water. Each time I went in to to stroke her body and check on her she would lift her head up, eyes open, and acknowledge me. It was stunning to see her still responding – still telling me — here I am. I placed her on a small fleece liner in the big litter box where she could stretch out and be safe from falling off the big bed where she had been living.
This is where she was when I left her around ten o’clock that night. The next morning I expected Brindle’s spirit departed. No longer an “I am.” The body appeared just to be sleeping. Nothing ugly or frightening or even terribly sad. If there ever was one though—Brindle’s was an inspiring life and death process. Inspiring in the beginning of her time with us, inspiring in the middle, and in the end.
In Memory of Brindle Our Mysterious Snowdrift Waif February 2017 – November 2018.