Over the past few months, I spent little time on the Internet, partly because I was working on a new manuscript, but mainly due to the fact that our little cat, Minx, at nineteen years of age, was ailing and had gone blind. Being caregiver to a blind, elderly cat proved quite challenging, particularly as we were moving back and forth between a town home and a cottage, but every moment spent with her was treasured for she was a truly remarkable pet.
We first acquired Minx in October of 1998, when Max, our feisty husky was the solitary household pet, and a challenging one to boot. Hugh had stored bats of fiberglass insulation along the fence that surrounded our carport, and one day we noticed that we had a regular visitor—a little grey Manx cat who was sleeping there at night. We soon realized she was a stray and we remembered that there had been notices about a missing cat of that description during the summer, so if it were the same cat, she had been fending for herself for several months. We also noticed that the newcomer had a lot of spirit, for in spite of Max’s growls and yowls of protest, she persistently returned, often glowering at him from the top of the fence but refusing to give up the territory she had claimed.
We put up notices and notified the SPCA, but no one came forward to claim the cat. Finally, we ignored the baleful looks from Max and made the decision to adopt the newcomer. It was hard to resist her plaintive meows, which we interpreted to mean, “Please let me in!” Thus, we acquired another pet. Our younger daughter, Katie, chose the name, Minx the Manx, and claimed the new arrival as her very own.
Given Max’s temperament, it was a good job that Katie wanted the cat. We had a three-storey house with Katie’s bedroom on the bottom floor and our bedroom on the top floor, so the geography made it possible. Minx slept downstairs with Kate, Max slept upstairs with us, and the main floor was the mutual territory where close supervision was necessary to ensure it didn’t become a battle zone. But no matter how careful we were, Max launched the occasional attack and Minx staunchly defended herself. When we pulled Max away and reprimanded him, inevitably we saw that he had a claw in his nose.
Because of this incompatibility, and because Minx was used to fending for herself, there was no question of her becoming an indoor cat. Each morning she would eat her breakfast, then go out to patrol the block, make her rounds and return to nap in Katie’s room. There were many old houses in the area, and every year a couple of them would be demolished. Whenever this happened, Minx would disappear for the day; she was a cat with a mission, for the sites would abound with dispossessed mice from the old buildings. We used to refer to her as the neighbourhood policeman.
The ongoing feud between Minx and Max was trying at times, but it inspired another series of puppet shows. Hugh made a grey Manx puppet, I wrote some new scripts, one of which included a theme song for Minx, and the dog-and-cat rivalry was transferred to the stage. Rehearsals could sometimes be tricky, for Max liked to hang out under the theatre as we worked, but occasionally, Minx would amble into the area, hop onto the stage to join the puppets, or go hide in the stacks of revolves in the scene shop, and we would have to call a halt while we restored order out of the chaos that ensued. It was also interesting to note that, after Max had died, whenever Minx came to check out the puppets, it was always the Max, the Ho Hum Husky puppet that she whacked on the nose.
At some point in their lifetime, Minx and Max seemed to declare a truce. They didn’t like each other, but they left each other alone. Each Christmas Day, they looked a little mulish, but they accepted that we all inhabited the same room for present-opening, albeit, in their case, at opposite ends of the room. And occasionally, we even caught a glimpse of collaboration, like the time a big moggy came through the fence and chased Minx across our garden. Max happened to be outside, and as Minx streaked the length of the yard and whizzed out the front gate, Max bounded between her and the visitor and treed the intruder, mid garden. It was almost as if he and Minx had planned it, so who knows what really went on between those two sets of furry pointed ears.
Minx had a wonderful life. In those early years, she roamed free in the daytime and enjoyed domesticity in the evenings and at night. She hung out with whichever family member was at home, cuddling up with Katie when it was TV time, sometimes gardening with Hugh and often lazily joining me at the computer desk.
She not only learned to dominate Max throughout his lifetime, but after he was gone, she kept Sheamus, our neighbour’s dog in line when he came for doggy-daycare. Sheamus, like Max, believed cats were to be chased and cornered, so he, too, learned the lesson that assaults on Minx ended up with claws sticking out of his nose and reprimands from his babysitter.
Minx definitely knew how to protect her domain. When the girls were older and had dogs of their own, the visiting pets were often given an admonitory swat in passing, even if they were paying no attention to our little Manx. Neighbourhood cats were also given short shrift, and when Hugh came home with a bear rug, Minx promptly sat on it with an expression that said, “And I could take care of this too.”
Yes, Minx was queen of the house, and after Katie left home, she became queen of a cottage and a motorhome as well! At the age of fourteen, Minx became a travelling cat. Until then, she had never ridden in a car unless she was caged and off to the vet, but now, she became adept at touring in Arvy, visiting our country cottage and walking on a leash when we were in unfamiliar territory. Everything that came her way she took calmly in her stride.
Well, not quite everything. Unlike Max and Sheamus, who would lope into the music room and settle down happily for the ‘concert’ when I did my singing practice, Minx would march in, scowl disapproval, and demand to be let out of the house. But in spite of her disdain for my operatic renditions, Minx and I became truly bonded in those final years, and the purrs and the cuddles she shared with me and Hugh are very sadly missed.
Minx was a strong healthy cat for most of her life, but early this year, she started to develop health problems. In spite of these, she continued to perform all her usual daily routines. She would have us in convulsions by the way she sang to Teddy Mouse and her other toys as she carried them around the house.
The blindness began while we were at the cottage, and we didn’t realize that she could not see, since she had nailed her routes down so accurately that she navigated the area with ease. However, we did notice that she was not racing about at high speed or leaping the way she used to. We put it down to her age, but, of course, it was because she could not see.
Once we returned to town, we realized that she was blind, for in the changed environment, she began to bump into things. But true to character, she plodded about, using railings, carpets and furniture to figure out her routes and locations. If we saw her approaching a wall, we would say, “Bump!” and she quickly learned to recognize the word and detour when she heard it. She also used her front paws, tapping ahead with them like a blind man with a stick. In Arvy, she would still clamber up onto the top bunk, and at home or at the cottage, she continued to go for walks and carry out all her usual daily activities. To help keep her safe, we put chicken wire on railings and blocked off hazards, but her determination to keep going was truly awesome and inspiring.
We felt great sorrow at her blindness when we saw her paws and nose twitching in her sleep, for we realized that she was probably dreaming in colour, with everything as it used to be, and yet would wake up to darkness—the complete reverse of what was normal. Still, in spite of her handicaps, Minx forged on. However, towards the end of September, we noticed that her breathing had become labored. We took her to the vet, hoping that medication would provide a solution, but an X-ray revealed that her lungs were full of cancer. We were told there was no treatment and that the kind thing would be to put her out of her distress.
We were torn. Minx seemed to have a strong determination to live, so we were reluctant to have her put to sleep. We made a tentative appointment to come back the next morning at 10:30 am, and then brought her home so that we could monitor her and assess the situation. This also allowed Katie to come out and spend the afternoon with us. As the day wore on, we continued to be torn, for other than the difference in her breathing, Minx was not exhibiting obvious signs of distress. But that night, Hugh and I took turns keeping an eye on her, and then we realized that we had to act on the vet’s advice, for every time Minx lay down to sleep, she would soon be up again, sitting in a sphinx position. She couldn’t breathe comfortably when at rest. Sadly, we accepted that we had to keep the appointment.
Minx, bless her, made it easier for us. Her last day was amazing. Given the state of her lungs, she must have known she was dying and that time was short, but this, too, she took in her stride. In spite of very little rest in the night, she used her litter box, marched down the stairs to the kitchen, ate her breakfast, went out onto the deck, and then came down to the garden with us. It was a lovely sunny day and she took her time, leisurely making the rounds of her garden, and then found a warm patch where she basked, sphinx like, in the sun. After that, she came inside with us and sat on the ottoman in the TV room, her favourite spot for the afternoon and evening. Then, having packed her full day into three hours and worn herself out, she curled up on her blanket as if to say, “Okay, I’m done,” and went to sleep. She remained asleep when we carried the blanket out to the car, drove to the vet and carried it into the surgery. She awoke briefly, in true Minx fashion, to tell the vet what she thought of him when he gave her the first sedative, and then curled up and went back to sleep. She was so quiet and peaceful that one would swear she had already gone when he put her into the final sleep. Minx was in control of her destiny right to the end.
Of course we’ve all cried buckets since that day, and only now feel able to write about our beloved pet, but reminiscing with kind friends has helped, along with some lovely cards from the vet that came with a beautiful story about the rainbow bridge. This, so the story tells, is the spot where the animals romp and play, and are very happy, except for the fact that they are missing someone who is very special to them. But every so often, one of them perks up, quivers with excitement, and runs from the group. This is because they have seen a newcomer approaching, and they have recognized it as their special person who will now cross the rainbow bridge beside them.
As all people know who have lost beloved pets, we see Minx everywhere around the house, but our memories of her are happy ones. When I went to pick up the urn with her ashes, I noticed that there were three little bags all in a row. Naturally, Minx Elwood was at the head of the line, and it’s nice to know she had company en route to the rainbow bridge. Whimsically, we now like to visualize her bossing Max around and resuming her role as neighbourhood policeman in Dog and Cat Heaven, but wherever she is, we hope she knows how privileged we feel to have enjoyed so many years with such a remarkable cat. Rest in peace, little Minx. You live on in our hearts.[box]Minx not only lives on in our hearts. She lives on in our marionette shows and as Councillor Beary’s cat in my mystery books. Truly an inspirational feline personality, our little Minx the Manx.[/box]