A couple of weeks ago I wrote that I had undergone and/or experienced a personal tragedy. The tragedy was that my cat, Lukita, died on 6 January 2012. Healthy and happy, she opened up one of the garage doors that was left unlocked but closed by some folks doing work here.
As are most cats, Lukita was curious. And the thing she was most curious about was what lay beyond those closed doors. For months she had been trying to get out of the yard and see what the outside world is like.
When I lived on the south shore of Lake Chapala in San Cristobal Zapotitlan, she had free run of the outdoors, and apparently she missed that freedom. The reason I had not let her out of the gates here in Jocotepec was that there is a fair amount of traffic on my street, as well as a fair amount of street dogs and other dangers.
She had a great abundance of space here inside the walls of the garden, but she was still too curious about the street. Whenever friends stopped by, she would try to sneak out, but I always caught her either before she got out or before she got very far. But not on the 6th of January.
That afternoon her curiosity led her into the berry fields across the street. The berry fields that use heavy duty poisons to kill the rats that come in to eat the crops.
I don’t know what exactly she got into. When my friend Antonio ran in to get me to say that Lukita was out and something was very wrong, she was already experiencing a complete melt down of her bodily systems. I won’t go into her symptoms, but even as I picked her up and began to talk to her, I knew she was a goner.
And five minutes later, before I could ever have gotten her to a vet, she was dead. She died while I was still talking to her and petting her. She literally died while I was petting her.
From the time she left the house while pouncing around on the bed while I made it until the time she died was maybe 10 minutes.
I guess that’s not really a bad way to go, but it almost destroyed me.
“But,” I know some of you say, “she was just a cat.” And, yeah, she was. But for those of you who have pets, you know how painful it is when they “pass on.” Doesn’t matter if it happens quickly or slowly, it’s very painful.
The thing that upset me the most was how fast it happened. But that’s the way death is. Sometimes everybody knows it’s coming; sometimes nobody does. It has made me reevaluate my own life.
I’m 64. I drink too much, I smoke too much, and I’ve already had one “incident” that was life threatening. But, like Lukita, I’m still curious and I want to live the “free” lifestyle.
But I guess her time was up. “They” say that a cat has nine lives, and in Lukita’s case that’s probably true. I got her when somebody dumped her off or she escaped from folks travelling through Petrified Forest National Park. At that time, the vet that I took her to guessed that she was about eight months old.
So I figured that one life had already been used up in kittenhood. Don’t all little things….dogs, cats, humans…..use up at least one life in their babyhood?
And I figured that she used another one up just fending for herself until my friend Dalton and I found her at Petrified Forest. I mean, this is a National Park that is 25 miles from the closest town and is full of animals and things that are unfriendly to a “stray” cat. Things like motorhomes and tourists and coyotes. So I figure that she spent life two on that little adventure.
Her next [third] life went when we moved to Mexico. Lukita was so terrified of riding in the pickup down here for four days that she almost “yowled” herself to death! Okay, okay, I don’t know if that’s possible, but if a baby cried for four solid days and had heart palpitations, it wouldn’t be good; right?
Not too many months after we moved here to El Chante [Chantepec], she got out the front door. She didn’t come home for about eight hours, and when she did, she was gasping and panting rapidly and drooling. I don’t know if she was just terrified or if she had actually gotten a small dose of poison. But either way, she had used up another life. That’s three.
However, she loved her new home in Mexico, even though she wasn’t really ever allowed out. She found great joy in leaving clean bedding with a few little Lukita hairs:
After about a year at that house, Lukita and I moved to the south shore of the lake. To a little pueblo called San Cristobal Zapotitlan. Lukita, who hated travelling but paid no mind to being in a new house, adapted immediately. Perhaps a little too fast.
A couple of days after we moved in, she tightrope walked her way across our back gate and got into the yard of the woman next door….the woman who owned a virtual menagerie of pets, including six dogs. And Lukita, the cute and stupid, went down into that yard!
Having finally realized that perhaps this was a place into which she was not welcome, she attempted to hurdle a five foot tall chainlink fence. Didn’t make it. It was like that scene in “The Great Escape” when Steve McQueen gets caught up in the barbed wire while trying to jump a barricade on his motorcycle. A half hour later or so, she did manage to get down, but she’d already wasted, I would guess, two more lives….one from getting away successfully from the dogs and another scaling the fence. So there were lives four and five gone in one instance!
A few months thereafter, my neighbor with the menagerie decided to move and, in what she felt was the best way to disposing of the animals that she didn’t want to take with her, she fed poison to a bunch of her cats……who promptly jumped into my yard and died. Somehow Lukita managed to avoid both the dead cats and the poison, but I figure her “good luck” cost her another life. So six down and only three to go.
I thought she might have learned her lesson about curiosity, but noooooooooooooo! About a year later, while the house next door in San Cristobal was empty, she jumped the fence again and followed the caretaker into the house. Having no idea that she was there, he locked the door after his inspection and went home.
I was frantic. Couldn’t find her. Didn’t have a clue where she went. Fortunately, my housekeeper Ernestina just happened to drop by to see me and she saw Lukita in the window of the empty house, yowling away, unheard because of the thick windows. Without my even asking, Ernestina ran to find the caretaker and asked him to unlock the door and let the cat out. He would normally not have returned until 14 days later. So…..life number seven was spent.
After a year and a half of living in San Cristobal, I moved into a fabulous house in Jocotepec “proper.” Among the other amenities, it has a swimming pool…..a very DEEP swimming pool. I can’t swim. I once jokingly told my friends that if Lukita fell into the pool, she would just have to swim because there was no way I could save her.
Lukita loved this house! She loved being outside and rolling in the grass:
But a couple of months ago, after more than a year in this house, it finally happened……she fell into the pool. She was, I’m guessing, chasing a bird. She never caught one in her life except for the poor little things that crashed into the big windows. Even then, she picked them up carefully in her mouth and brought them to me.
Now I am totally NOT saying that Lukita was the Mother Teresa of cats. She was just too dumb to know that she could eat them! I used to call her Ambulance Lukita because that really did seem to be how she handled the stunned birds. She would run into the house making weird cat noises and then drop off live, but stunned, birds, which I would then place in the back of my pickup so they could fly away…..and most of them did.
But, being a cat, she did like to stalk birds and chase them and I figure that that’s what she was doing that morning that I saw her stalking down the sidewalk by the laundry room, dripping wet. As all cats do when wet, she looked like a pissed off, drowned rat! So I toweled her off…..all the while laughing because she’s just so not smart. And there went life number eight because the birds are always around the deep end [eight feet deep] of the pool, and she would have had to swim to the shallow end to get out.
And we all know how life number nine ended.
For three of the approximately six years I had her, I kept Lukita in the house. But she so loved the outdoors and her freedom, that I just had to let her go and explore. And that freedom likely killed her. So I keep asking myself whether it was better to let her be “free” or to let her have lived a long life indoors. I still don’t know the answer. I pretty much raised her like I raised my son….with lots of freedom….but I totally don’t know if that’s the right way.
Oh, and p.s. for those of you who say “For heaven’s sake, barb, she was only a cat!”, Lukita says this. Ja ja ja ja!!