Animals aren’t just companions to me — they’re inspiration. Since launching my writing career, I’ve made it my tradition to include one of my real-life feline rescues as fictional “characters” in my books. Check out my feature in today’s USA TODAY HEA blog, duly shared with my rescue tabby cat, Daisy (“Forget belly rubs, Hope Tarr’s kitties get book cameos,” Sunday, October 11, 2015). To read more about Daisy and my other feline muses, check out my Best Friends page here!
Our beautiful black-and-white Maine Coon, Jane (aka “Molly Jane”) passed over The Rainbow Bridge on Saturday, May 3rd at 9:22 am.
Like all my cats past and present, Jane started out as a throwaway–a stray. Our paths crossed (literally) a few days after 9-11. I was living in the Fredericksburg Virginia Historic District, sitting on my front porch with my ex, both of us trying to make sense of the terrorist atrocities that had just taken place. It was a beautiful autumn night, clear and starry skied. The American flag we’d raised in patriotic solidarity with our neighbors stirred in a silken, still warm Southern breeze. Gazing out onto Caroline Street, I spotted a scrawny black-and-white tuxedo cat I’d never before seen strolling down the sidewalk. I didn’t think much of it. Owing to the warmish climate and nearby river, the area was thick with strays and ferals. Suddenly the cat changed course, darted up our front steps, and vaulted onto my ex’s lap, purring and kneading and drooling and headbutting us in turn. Collarless, flea-infested, and rail thin, this animal wasn’t anyone’s pet, at least not anymore, but he certainly wasn’t close to feral.
The trouble was, we already had two indoor cats, both with special needs, and upsetting the proverbial applecart with a new addition didn’t seem smart. Bowing to “reason” I got up and went inside though closing the door on my newest “neighbor” felt the farthest thing from right.
When I didn’t see the cat for the rest of the week, I told myself I should feel relieved. What I felt was disappointed, as though maybe just maybe I’d missed out on the start of something wonderful.
Thursday, my monthly book club night, rolled around. I can’t say what the book was. What I can say with certainty was that we never once discussed it. Still mired in trying to make sense of the grim news reports and mounting death tolls coming from Washington, New York, and Pennsylvania didn’t leave spirit or room for much else, least of all literary musings.
Walking home afterward with a few neighbors, I glanced across the street–and saw the little black-and-white cat standing on the sidewalk in front of my house. I didn’t call out or make any gesture–sleepy Southern towns are notorious for attracting speeders and Fredericksburg is no exception. It turned out, I didn’t have to. I felt rather than saw the exact moment when the cat spotted me, with a joy so single-minded that it left no room for taking note of the fast coming car. He bolted across Caroline Street toward us, a flash of white paws and underbelly that sent my heart and stomach sinking. The car whizzed past, and the cat landed safely at my feet. Oblivious to how close he’d come to being creamed, he looked up at me with what I can only describe as adoration. This time there was no second guessing myself. I scooped him into my arms, tucked him tightly against my chest, and crossed the street to home.
The next morning I took “Jake” to be vetted, vaccinated, and fixed in preparation for finding an adoptive home. Only the bright light of day showed “Jake” to be testicle-free, one hundred percent female. The amused vet confirmed that the scheduled neuter would in fact be a spay and, by the way, what name should she put down on “Jake’s” chart?
I shrugged and thought for all of thirty seconds. Since I wasn’t keeping the cat, any name I chose would likely be only temporary. Jacqueline, the closest feminine version of my original pick, felt far too formal for a cat who was the feline equivalent of a party girl. It also brought to mind the bully who’d brutalized me in middle school.
“Put down Jane,” I finally said and made arrangements to board her along with posting an adoption notice in the vet’s waiting room.
Subsequent visits to check on Jane aka “Molly Jane” (the “Molly” now added in deference to the rambunctious, drooling, black-and-white Border Collie from my childhood of whom Jane reminded me mightily) confirmed what I’d sensed on first sight: this cat was a keeper. Though I’d considered myself full up in the pet department, I couldn’t stop thinking of how Fate, and Jane, had contrived to cross our paths, not once but twice now. The situation, though not ideal, had all the makings of a meant-to-be. And in light of 9-11, could any of us really afford to pass up, if not a miracle, then certainly a second chance at living Happily Ever After?
From the start, Jane showed herself to be a character. She didn’t meow–she brayed. She had a huge personality and an equally huge capacity for giving and receiving love. When she was in a room, you knew it. She was a purr bucket and a fierce drooler–and she wasn’t overly particular about where that drool landed. Clothes, carpets, human faces–all were fair game. Sometimes she became so excited, her nose ran. Whether you were a stranger or a familiar friend, once you walked through the door she was on you, stropping your legs, leaping onto your lap, stubbornly lavishing affection whether it was wanted or not.
She aged with great beauty and grace, seamlessly evolving from a spastic youngster into a wise elder “auntie.” Even for a cat, cleanly creatures by nature, Jane was a meticulous groomer. Until the last month of her life, her coat including four white paws, was kept pristine.
She was one of the most compassionate creatures, quadraped or biped, I have ever known. If ever one of the other cats seemed hurt or in anyway distressed, she would get up and go to them, sometimes receiving a scratch or hiss in “gratitude.” Regardless, she never reciprocated with anything less than patience and unconditional love.
Above all, she loved us, her People. When I moved us to Manhattan and Raj came into our lives, she was the first of my cats to greet him. One of us stretching out on the couch or floor was her cue to climb up on our chest, purring and drooling and kneading away with an unbridled joy that was sometimes inconvenient–but almost always contagious.
And she was tough, a true trooper. In the thirteen years I was blessed to have her, she lived through multiple moves, including one inter-state drive from Virginia to New York, several dental surgeries, fierce seasonal allergies (despite being an indoor cat), a partial thyroidectomy that saved her life and returned her T4 level to a consistent normal, and, most recently, a palliative excision of a ruptured mammary mass.
Jane wasn’t just my cat. She was, and will always be, so very much more than a “pet.” Among her many roles–fur child, confidante, friend–was that of muse. She served as the inspiration for feline characters in several of my novels, notably the hero’s cat “Dinah” in Vanquished.
But all Happily Ever After stories end eventually and ours is no exception. Last October, Jane was diagnosed with metastatic mammary cancer. The shocking news came just one month after an annual veterinary exam (with full blood work) had led to the pronouncement that she was in excellent health. A followup consultation with a veterinary oncologist and surgeon, including a CT-Scan, showed that the cancer had spread to both lungs, and that there would be no point in pursuing chemotherapy. (Radiation was completely out of the question).
Told we could anticipate having her with us for another three to six months (at best) and mere weeks (at worst), we brought her home. Raj and I took a tearful look at Jane, as yet asymptomatic and playing with her toys, and then another long look at each other.
“From here on she sleeps with us,” he said, swallowing hard, and despite my previous injunction against cats in the bedroom, I didn’t protest or hesitate.
I nodded. “Yes, she does.”
Overnight our bedroom became her personal suite, her Chamber of Healing as we took to calling it. The cat blanket I initially placed on the bed to contain any shedding soon went by the wayside. Human furniture was rearranged to accommodate her food and water bowls in case she got hungry or thirsty in the middle of the night. Though both Raj and I are more nocturnal by nature, her scratching on the bed’s taffeta dust ruffle (noisy stuff, taffeta) trained us to get up at 6am to open the door so that she could go out to use the shared litter box. Even in this, she showed compassion and wisdom, alternating sides so that she never woke the same person two nights in a row.
Despite the dire diagnosis, we weren’t ready to give up on Jane and neither was she. She loved her feline and human family far too much to simply let the cancer have its way. Having conquered the bedroom, aka The Final Frontier, there was that much more to live for–and we were determined to help her continue for as long as she chose to stay.
With the oversight of our regular vet and the weekly care of a holistic vet, both wonderful practitioners and compassionate people, we maintained Jane on a regimen of Chinese herbs,weekly in-home acupuncture treatments, and Reiki. Taking oral herbs twice daily via a pill shooter wasn’t exactly her favorite thing, but she was enormously good about it. After her Saturday acupuncture session, she liked to lounge on the bed listening to music with Raj–she was particularly partial to slow jazz. Sundays were about reading the paper and of course more napping. Though she by far preferred the bed, there was a particular spot on the bedroom’s Persian carpet where the sun hit for a few hours a day and when it did, she could usually be found stretched out soaking it up.
Up until a few weeks ago, she remained a happy girl, moving more slowly, to be sure, and coughing occasionally, but still enjoying a high-quality of life. There were rough patches–and rallying victories. But when she stopped eating as of last Thursday–even her beloved Cheez-Its couldn’t elicit more than a halfhearted sniff–we acknowledged the wrenching reality.
Our brave, beautiful girl wasn’t going to bounce back this time–and it wasn’t fair to expect her to.
Fittingly she spent her last night in our bed albeit lying at the foot. Breathing heavily by then, she needed her space. On what was to be her final morning, I lay on the floor beside her, stroking her and thanking her for being such an awesome cat all these years. I told her how very much I loved her and that I was ready to let her go. She didn’t have to fight any longer. Then I got up and called the vet to schedule an in-home euthanasia for Monday.
But true to character, Jane had other ideas. Within a half hour or so of my phone call, she was gone. She passed away naturally in “her” bedroom, outstripping the upper bound of the experts’ predicted survival time by nearly a full month.
I feel so blessed to have had Jane, to have set my so-called practicality aside and taken a chance on love no matter how messy and inconvenient. As for Raj, she is the first animal who has ever worn his name on her collar’s ID tag. She will live on always in our memories–and in our hearts.
For now, there is too much room in the bed. After seven months of twisting our bodies into various pretzel-like configurations to accommodate her, it feels foreign to suddenly stretch out full-length. With her water, food bowls, and cat bed gone, I can now open the bi-fold doors of the bedroom closet all the way without having to shift a single item. Once I toss the quilt in the washer, I can go back to using the bed to fold laundry free of fur. Alas, all these “conveniences” are paltry, pitiful consolation for losing one of the best cats, and best friends, I’ve ever known.
Our household is quiet now, silent and still. There is no more braying or persistent purring or 6am wake up calls via the scratching of taffeta dusters. Jane’s loss is staggering; we are grieving her greatly. But if, in the midst of our sorrow, sharing her story helps even one pet owner avert tragedy, then I am happy to have done so.
Feline mammary cancer is more common than we care to think and often deadly. It is also frequently preventable — by spaying your cat before five months, the age when most females experience their first heat cycle.
Cats such as Jane who are spayed after estrus, or who remain unaltered, account for more than 80% of feline mammary cancer cases. In addition to annual veterinary exams, they should be checked regularly by their owners–monthly at minimum but weekly is better. I found Jane’s tumor by chance as I was grooming her. By then, it was too late. While some cats dislike having their bellies touched, in many cases if you have established a good, trusting relationship with your cat, you can incorporate a regular exam–which takes all of one minute, maybe two–into your existing grooming or affection rituals.
I have been a board member of Marian’s Dream: Philanthropy for Animal Advocates since 2008. For more information on the benefits of early age sterilization both for feline health and prevention of unwanted litters, visit our FAQ page here.
Please enjoy this commemorative video short of Jane by her papa, Raj Moorjani.