Friday, January 25, 2008

Tribute to a Diva

I had a dream last night about Tom and I moving into the first apartment we shared, the year we got married. Part of the dream was semi-incoherent flashes of a cat. I know that this is a subconscious reference to my cat Beulah. The dream stayed with me, and so today I will tell you about The Beu.

When I started my second year at law school, I lived in an apartment that was a little ways from campus, but allowed cats. Upon starting school in August, I immediately set out for the local animal shelter. I came home with Bradley (that was his slave name, selected by the people at the shelter), an adorable moppet of a kitten with fluffy brown fur and a playful personality. There was a whole litter of these brown and tawny kittehs, with Maine Coon Cat in their blood, and I fell in love on the spot. By the end of that weekend, I realized that I was going to be spending a lot of time at the library and I decided to bring home one of Bradley's siblings.

By the time I got back to the shelter, only one of Bradley's littermates was left. She had been named "Heather" (is this the silliest name for a cat?! It's a perfectly nice name for a woman, but I simply cannot countenance names like that for a cat. I mean, what's next? A cat named "Tiffany"? a hamster named "Jaden"? but I digress). Heather was the runt of the litter and was skittish. I remember vacillating between this obviously nervous cat and another kitten from a different litter, a more confident tortie. However, I guess I'm just a softie at heart and I couldn't bear to separate the littermates, so I took Heather home. In the interests of alliteration, I renamed her Beulah.

Beulah was a somewhat difficult cat to love in the beginning. She suffered from comparison to Bradley: he was a confident, friendly cat, big (almost 16 pounds when full grown) and playful. Beulah was skittish, nervous, scrawny and clingy. Bradley pushed her around and stole her food. As time went by, she developed a spraying problem. If you've ever tried to get your apartment to stop smelling like cat pee, or had to forfeit your security deposit because of feline urine stains, you will sympathize. None of the vets who examined Beulah could find a physical cause for the spraying problem, so I struggled with various behavioral modification attempts. After I moved to Philadelphia, I found help at the Behavioral Medicine Clinic of the University of Pennsylvania. That's a whole 'nother story, but suffice it to say that Beulah thrived on her new anti-anxiety medication and it basically eliminated her, um, elimination problem.

When Bradley was almost seven, he suffered from a sudden and acute case of renal failure. One day he seemed fine; the next he was laying on my bed in distress. A day later, I had to make the decision to euthanize him. I was heartbroken.

From then on, it was just Beulah and me. I wondered how she'd get along on her own. I wondered if she'd pine away from loneliness. I didn't have the heart to get a kitten to join her, and I didn't think she'd like it anyway, being that she was an anxious pee-cat (as we affectionately called her). I was worried her anxiety might get worse now that she was alone all day when I was at work.

I needn't have worried. Beulah thrived without Bradley. She quickly went from being a somewhat insecure and anxious cat to a full-fledged diva. She gained a little weight and began to enjoy her food. (One of her dirty little secrets was the time we found her sitting on the kitchen table, licking the butter from the butter dish. She'd managed to lick a deep hollow in the stick of butter before we saw her.) She became assertive, mewing with annoyance when she wanted something. She began sleeping at the top of my bed, hogging the pillow. She went from being an anxious pee-cat to being The Beu.

I can't tell you how much I came to love that cat. She was with me for over sixteen years. I had known her longer than I'd known my husband (indeed, the only non-negotiable aspect of our relationship was that the cats stayed). She was the one constant thing during those eventful, often stressful years when I went from being a kid to being an adult. She was there with me as I finished law school, when I moved to Phoenix to be a law clerk for a year, during the exhausting years when I was a young attorney in Philadelphia, then stood by me when I was a newlywed, a new mom, an old mom of new twins. She was loyal and loving, faithful and true. Tom used to say that all she needed to come into her own was to throw off the patriarchy and now that she wasn't being oppressed by her brother, she was a new cat. There was probably more than a grain of truth to this theory.

Here's what The Beu looked like in her glory.

As you can see, she loved to pose for the camera. When she slept on the pillow next to me at night, she would humor me and let me hold her pawsie. She liked to play with those feathers on a stick that they have for cats but wasn't that interested in balls or catnip. She loved to play Sheet Game, in which we would dance our fingers under the bedsheet and she would pretend to ignore it, then suddenly pounce. She would just barely sink her teeth into the sheet to let us know that she wasn't fooled, and she knew it was us. She loved to jump into a clothesbasket or a box or a wicker basket, and she loved chasing ribbons and wrapping herself up in them.

When she washed herself, we would make slurping noises at her and she would give us dirty looks, then continue washing. We often sang to her, replacing the word "you" with "Beu." (I.e., "You are the sunshine of my life" became "Beu are the sunshine of my life."). She loved "mew-mew-mew," which involved gently scratching just above her lips. (We found out that the vast majority of cats of our acquaintance loved mew-mew-mew. We decided if we ever moved into a townhouse, we would name it "Mew Mew Mews.") She would sit a certain way and look like the Sphinx (or as we called her, "Sphinxie").

Living with a diva wasn't without its challenges. Tom was allergic and valiantly underwent allergy shots. Her spraying continued to be an off-again/on-again issue over the years. At around ten years of age, she developed a strange weakness in her hind legs. She began slipping and falling, and had trouble jumping up on things or climbing steps. She had extensive tests at Penn (including a kitty-CAT scan) and the vets couldn't find an organic cause for the weakness. So we lived with it, carrying her up the stairs or lifting her onto the bed when she needed it. She developed inflammatory bowel disease, but thankfully we were able to control that with a dramatic change of diet. Then her kidneys started to give out, and for the last year or so of her life, I had to give her subcutaneous fluids to help flush out the wastes.We had to train three little kids to pet the kitty gently and to leave her alone when she wasn't in the mood. But notwithstanding all that, we loved her very much and she was always our Beu.

One day, a few months before her seventeenth birthday (Beu was a Taurus), The Beu became gravely ill. I don't think I want to rehash the details, except that she did come home from the vet and I got to hold her in my lap and pet her that night, and the next day she was gone. I'm glad she got to go at her own time, in her own home.

It's been several years and I still miss her dreadfully. For a while I would think that I saw her darting around the house or that I heard her meow. A Rosie's coworker told me that that was her ghost trying to comfort me. Now I don't think I see her around the house and in a way, that's worse. It makes me feel like I'm losing her.

I'll never forget The Beu and I'll never stop missing her. I learned so much from her (don't worry, Tom; one of the things I did NOT learn from her is that the way to enjoy one's middle age is to get rid of the man in your life). I learned that you can be the runt of the litter on the outside and a full-fledged diva on the inside. I learned that Tom was The One when I saw how he treated my cats the first Christmas we dated: when I asked him to feed my cats while I was at my parents', I came home to find that he'd brought them a can of tuna because he thought they deserved a special meal on Christmas Day. I learned that some people view pets as disposable commodities (they were generally the ones who said "If she was my cat and pissed on the floor, I'd get rid of her") and for others, they are truly family members; and that I am one of the latter. And I learned that even though family members get feeble and high-maintenance, it's important to stick with them, because once they're gone you can never get them back.

Rest in peace, Beu.


ccr in MA said...

A beautiful tribute, a beautiful cat.


Anonymous said...

Ahh..what a doll.

mindy said...

That was simply beautiful.

The things those little beings do to our hearts.

Anonymous said...

Y'know, that could have been an icky sappy, yucky, kitty wuddums post. It is a testimony to you, and to the Beu, that it was not. What a smashing tribute to a beautiful critter. We lost Theo in much the same way a year ago, and there's not a day I don't think of him.

Anonymous said...

this is your Minneapolis doppleganger - why should we be surprised - of course my felines were litter mates - with one scrawny and the other regal - and she slept with me for years and was my baby. (and came before my human ones). She died this past fall at the age of 16(!) and now her scrawny sister is left. She's put on weight and is trying to turn into the queen.
they are amazing creatures - thanks for the story!

Bob & Phyllis said...

coming out of lurkerdom::

lovely tribute.

Our old man, Socrates, also hung around after he passed several years ago. What we've found is that it seems to go through cycles. We'll catch glimpses of him a lot for several weeks, then he'll disappear for a couple, then we'll see him a lot again. For the weeks he's gone, we figure he's found a nice pretty girl-cat up on the rainbow bridge to tag along with.

The same thing is probably happening with Beulah. She hasn't left; she just got distracted by a nice boy-cat up on the Bridge. She'll be back.

Anonymous said...

thanks carol; great tug-at-the-heartstrings post.

reminds me of my dear departed sydney and kelly.

our fur kids are with us always.

Sally said...

Great post Carol. I have my 14-yr-old Tino here with me, putting up with the 11-month-old littermates Joey and Carlos. I think J and C keep T young. Even if he doesn't want to be. And isn't it amazing how much joy and comfort these guys can bring? They're great. A great story about Beulah.

Alwen said...

I guess I'm a softie, too, because people's pet stories always make me bawl.

Mel said...

Beulah was my great-grandmother's name. That is to say it was the name of one of them, as the others were named Lessie, Eunice, and Myrtle. Anyway, it is a very fine and dignified name.

Oh, and I think the correct spelling these days is Jaeydan. Or something like that.

the hanged man said...

I remember Beulah - she was a great cat.

Kudos to Tom for getting allergy shots so that he could live with her. I had a friend in DC who lived in a small basement apartment with two cats that she was very allergic to. She took Benedril when she was home and sneezed a lot because she couldn't bear to get rid of her cats.

Bridget said...

I always knew you were a special person, but now I know why. I know it especially because you didn't become one of those people who got rid of your cat once you had kids, because she became "problematic" or "inconvenient."

I think you and Tom were lucky to find each other, but even luckier that Beulah knew you belonged together.

Oh, and don't worry - you're not losing sight of her. She'll reappear when you least expect it.

God bless Beu.

Lisa said...


That was a lovely post. As a mom to two litter runts that are more than a touch neurotic, there was much in the post that rang true...I call Artemis the "Vengeful Pee-er". Think I'll mop up my tears now.

Anonymous said...

My dad swears that he still sees his cat Harmony running around the house- she died just last spring.

Animals give us unconditional love and they all have their own personalities. I remember several years back when I was trying to leave a bad relationship, I had a realization that I didn't care about all the stuff in the shared apartment. All that mattered was that I take my dog and my tank full of fish and get the heck out of dodge. And that night when I was asleep on the floor of my new apartment with nothing but my academic books, my clothes, tank of fish and beloved dog Chloe--I had left everything else in my frantic bid for escape-- I laid there and cried because my life seemed so wrecked, but Chloe sat next next me and was just simply there with me. And she has been with me ever since. And in the end that is all that matters.

Beverly said...

Just lovely. I have a tear in my eye as I'm nodding my head (especially how you knew your husband was the one - I have often said that I knew my hubs was the one when I saw how he treated my kitty).

marylee said...

Thanks for softening my heart. I've been grumpy this morning because my husband snored all the live-long night. You reminded me to remember the summer night when I caught him holding my 3-legged Blacksister up to the ceiling light so she could play with the moths. This will be a good day.

Soul Traveler said...

A beautiful story. I knowwhere you are coming from having lost my Maine Coone look alike Muffin after nearly 20 years and then her brother Bootsy six months ago. I lost both of my soul cats within a year and a half and am still in recovery. Love your site! I am originally from Philadelphia so that caught my eye as well!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Carol, for posting this. It realy touched me.

I still miss my cat who died over 20 years ago. She, too, came into her own when she became an "only cat."


Anonymous said...

What a lovely piece of writing, Carol -- and a beautiful tribute.
Living in the land of a special needs cat is both a challenge and a reward.

My third cat, Mia B., is full of neuroses. Thinking I might look into those pills.


Unknown said...

Normally, I hate cat stories. Normally, I will skim through long blog posts...even on friends' blogs.

Agreeing completely with Selma, I read every word of your post and I am glad to have gotten to know you and Tom a little better and to have read about Beulah.

Mary Ellen said...

Oh, such a gorgeous cat! That was a lovely post.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for sharing this tender story. My own "lifetime" cat was Goldberry. Beu's story made me think back to our happy days together, which I will always treasure.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
knitteakitty said...

Thank you for the beautiful tribute. I had a persian, Puffe, who was a pee-cat, too. I learned alot from her over the 17 years I had her. I still miss her prissy, fuzzy behind.

Beu could have been Beasley's sister. Beasley was my mom's, she passed in Oct. 2005, and the Beas is our senior gentleman cat. He's 18. Check him out: