Mom hugging Mitry first thing in the morning.
Can you tell I hadn’t had my coffee yet?

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”    Gandhi.

The best picture frame in the house sits hidden on a shelf, protected from the light of a mirrored dresser by a cover of clothing intended for work. The dusty gold-tone frame contains 4 pictures, faded from years of neglect. Those same pictures had rested face down on the same shelf for years, but they weren’t forgotten. The waterfall of guilt they elicited, followed by a gusher of tears was more than I could bear.

I write this blog as my friend Vickie wrestles with the same dilemma I faced in 2001. How excruciating does life have to be before you know it’s time to let go?

It is 2013, yet I still don’t know if taking Mitry to the vet for the final time was best for me or for Mitry. Did he want to die at home as his beloved human held him in her arms? When he screamed at the pain as the vet stuck the IV into his leg, was it because he was fighting to stay alive? Why did he look at me with those what-the-hell-are-you-thinking eyes just after the IV was in? Couldn’t the vet give him something for pain first? Couldn’t I see that Mitry wanted more time with me? Was I so insensitive to the best cat in the world that I still didn’t understand how much the words Gandhi reflected Mitry’s life?

I met the best cat in the world because of a bet. I wanted a kitten. My 3rd husband didn’t want pets. So–I bet him that English was a Germanic language, not Romantic. If I won, I could get a cat. I have to admit, it wasn’t a fair bet. You don’t spend decades listening to a sister who teaches business grammar without picking up a few tidbits of knowledge along the way.

I traveled to the local Humane Society hoping to find the perfect feline, disappointed that no little orange kittens available for adoption. The windowless meeting room for humans and possible pets contained 4 white walls and a chair. I can’t remember the number of cats paraded through it, most more interested in playing with toys than exploring the human.

Then, just as I was about to give up, there was Mitry.

He was placed on the floor, the door closed, and he sat to inspect the human in front of him. There had been playful cats, shy cats, and cats more interested in treats but none who stopped to consider why he had been imprisoned in a room with some strange woman.

Ever have those moments in life when the one action you choose ends up to be the right one? I don’t have those happen often, either. But that day, in that room, I gently slapped my thighs as if to day, “Come on up.”

Most cats would yawn, curl up and sleep–or look for a toy or a treat more interesting than a lump of depressed flesh slouching down into a chair. Mitry jumped on my lap, his purr so loud and so strong there was no question. This was the kitty I waited my entire life to meet. But…but he was 1 1/2 years old? I was told he was a crusty alley cat not easy to capture and I was the first person he seemed to like. That last piece of information clinched the deal.

Taking him home from the shelter a few days after he was neutered, his laid-back attitude became contagious. He would purr on my lap, turning an anxious moment into a therapy session as I stroked his white fur with black spots.

I split from husband number 3, moving to a city 2 hours away to a new job. Mitry’s first trip to the vet with 2 teenage children uncovered a condition I was told would have been apparent to any veterinarian. Mitry had a birth defect of the heart, one destined to take his life within the next 3 years. A tidal wave over my head wouldn’t have been as devastating, and my children cried as hard as I did at the news. It was 1991. Mitry wasn’t yet 3 years old at the time and…and I was going to lose him so soon?

The vet said he had to stay indoors. Mitry was not supposed to be in the sun or to get excited. There was no point in trying to baby a cat who refused to be confined, an escape artist who loved to sunbathe. A year after moving to our new city, we purchased a house on a cul-de-sac that looked like the round bulb at the end of a mercury thermometer.

Every neighborhood has an alpha cat, and the one running this neighborhood was going to show the new cat on the block who was king. The bully started at the other end of the bulb, screeching at or threatening any cat daring to inhabit the same sidewalk. Mitry sat in front of our home, watching the bully make his way around the sidewalk. Two doors down, the neighbor’s cat ran away after a 2-second fight, but Mitry continued to lay claim to his sidewalk.

Should I pick up my cat and retreat into the house? I was still debating this when bully cat raced toward Mitry. You would think a heated fight was about to take place, ending with a rather expensive vet bill. Mitry simply swatted the bully’s face with one paw…I kid you not–ONE paw. A swat to the nose, a swat to the eyes…and Mitry never moved from his position. The bully screeched, running away from Mitry as fast as possible. The best cat in the world looked back (just as in the picture at left) as if to say, “You okay, child?” That was the moment I was convinced that if any cat was going to die of old age, it would be Mitry.


A year after this incident, Mitry was missing. The neighbor in back of our home found him panting in his garage, asking my kids if they knew anyone missing a white cat with black spots. No one knew how long Mitry had been in that garage, how he managed to drag himself into it, or why he was shot in the rear by a BB gun. We were more interested in rushing him to the vet who X-rayed the area. The bullet couldn’t be removed, but the body would form a protective barrier around it. The vet said there was nothing we could do but wait.

By that time, I met the man who would be my 4th husband, who moved in with me. We were the talk of the neighborhood, the woman with a husband in another city and a boyfriend at home, but Mitry took it all in stride. The next year, it was painfully apparent that I would be losing my job.

We moved to Texas with my boyfriend and my 2 children who were now 12 and 14. We were in the same city with my sister, living in an apartment where neighbors complained about Mitry laying just outside the apartment to sunbathe. The reason was simple. They didn’t like it when their yappy dogs got a swat across the face after disturbing Mitry while he slept.

I was concerned he would disappear, a casualty of an apartment complex intolerant of cats. But a life in Texas was not meant to be. My mother passed away in 1993 and I moved into the house. I announced to my family. after the last box was unloaded. that the only place I was ever going to move to after this would be Forest Lawn (the name of a cemetery).

It had been almost 5 years since Mitry became part of the family, his heart condition confirmed by the vet destined to care for my menageries to this day. The best cat in the world loved the acres of land, chasing butterflies around the yard. He would leap up at a yellow wing just out of reach, cavorting around the yard in an attempt to catch a cricket, laying in the sun back-to-back with a dog or another cat.


Once, when husband number 4 was about to hit me, Mitry jumped on him, howling like a Native American going into battle. Never in my entire life had I witnessed a cat attacking one human to defend another. And never would I witness such devotion from a cat again.

Mitry was with me through the end of my 4th marriage and 3 years into the 5th and final one. It was my current husband, the one I have been with for so many years now, who told me that Mitry didn’t like his nickname, Twit. I’d never noticed the “look,” the one Mitry would get when he was trying to say, “Stupid human!” Once my husband pointed it out, the look never escaped me again.

It was 2001, a year after my first retinal detachment surgery, when Mitry began having problems breathing. The prognosis was congestive heart failure. The vet suggested I do the humane thing and euthanize. But…he had been playing, purring, never complaining once? How could I take the life of a cat who was fighting so hard to continue living?

It was the weeks of administering oxygen, the labored breathing, the cries of pain that finally convinced me to take one last trip to the vet with him. The moment the vet put the needle in his arm, Mitry’s instinct was to bite me. His teeth touched my hand, but even then he had the presence of mind not to harm the human he loved. Should I have given him the dignity to die naturally in my loving arms, not fighting the fluids depriving him of life as the human he trusted firmly held him in place?

Before that day I wondered why a woman would wail at a funeral, considering it to be the act of an histrionic vying for attention. I took Mitry’s body home, sat with the lifeless lump of flesh on my lap, then held him in my arms as a grief so intense swept over my body it grew into a life of its own. Wailing is such an inadequate word to describe the sensation of a fist hitting your larynx as a demolition ball hits your torso. It is not a cry for attention any more than screaming when your legs are crushed by a steam roller.

To this day, the pictures of Mitry never fail to elicit a waterfall of guilt followed by a gusher of tears. And to this day, I wrestle with my decision. I may never know if the choices I made at the end of his life were the right ones. All I know for certain is that the day I adopted Mitry, was without a doubt, the best choice of my life.