Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Coco's Story

Today I want to tell you the story of a beautiful person called Coco. She was a person, but her form was that of a cat.

It was a gorgeous sunny day in December 1996 when I first met Coco. While out shopping, I wandered into the local pet store (I know, I know, but back in those days I didn't know about puppy mills and the like). I desperately wanted a baby, but I knew my relationship with Peter (my then boyfriend with whom I was living at the time) wasn't in the right place for that, so I had told him that I really wanted a pet, a dog specifically. Where we were living really wasn't a great space for a dog, not even a little one, and I wasn't fond of yap-yap dogs. No if I wanted a dog I wanted it to be medium to large sized. So I was day-dreaming really when I wandered into that pet store. I really didn't think I was going to buy any species of those cute little furry things…

I walked over to the perspex cages where they kept the cute little balls of fur, and sadly there were no puppies, and I was just looking at the gorgeous little kittens all sleeping soundly when one of them awakened… She looked up with her groggy little eyes and mewed at me. Just a little, and it was so sweet. I talked to her for a moment or two and then browsed around at the birds and the fish and was lost in day-dream land, wondering how I could ever find just the right pet for us. I walked back past the kittens and the little groggy one was now fully awake. She saw me passing and let out the loudest meow I have ever heard from such a small body. I thought "aren't you cute?" and stopped. We had a little chat, and she was insistent that I take her home… Now you must understand, I had grave reservations about this. She was after all, a cat. At this point in my life, cats weren't pets. They were something of an aloof creature with whom I had spent a great deal of time on my farm up until the age of 7, but they were feral cats, wild creatures…. nothing like you'd call a pet.  No I wasn't fond of cats, in fact I used to like to tell very nasty jokes about them. The idea of taking a cat home to be my pet was unthinkable… or … was it?

hmm… maybe if I just held her, goodness knows she's not shutting up… and her insistence that I be the one to take her home was clear as her eyes were firmly planted on me, as she shouted her continuing Meows.

So I asked the shop assistant if I could hold this kitten - and was it a boy or a girl? A girl… a Chocolate Point Siamese and she has breeding papers should I want them. What are the papers for? "In case you want to show her…" I didn't want to show her, none of that mattered to me, and I held her in my hands and cuddled her close and she licked me and nudged me and then looked at me and said "Take. Me. Home. You. Are Mine! Make me yours!!" BAM! That came from nowhere… Of course she didn't say that outloud, but her meowing and the look in her eyes and her body language told me completely what she was thinking… communication between species is not rocket science you know, it just takes some empathy, and I have that in bucket loads.

So I buy this kitten, with NO idea of what I need, I pull out my credit card and pile a ton of purchases on it, including the cutest little bell collar I ever saw, kitty litter and tray some food, and toys…

Then I make the phone call, "hey, darling, how would you feel about a cat as a pet?"  his reply was along the lines of "yeh that might be ok" so I tell him "Oh good, because I just bought one". He laughs. I'm impulsive sometimes, and he knows this about me.

I take this beautiful girl home and I have no idea how to care for her, Peter was at golf, and I had bought prawns for dinner… So "the kitten" had prawns with us for dinner. It was to be a favourite meal of hers for the rest of her life. She was a super easy, no fuss Cat you could feed her anything and she would eat enough for two cats!!

This precocious animal had to have a name and I had just finished reading a biography about Coco Chanel. "the kitten" seemed to have some real "spunk" about her that I really liked, she was soft and loving in her quiet moments a real cuddle muffin, always snuggling into you for cuddles, but she was cheeky, energetic, naughty and tenacious for most of the time, and these qualities made me think of Coco. It was also fitting that she was a Chocolate Point Siamese and the play on words appealed to me. She looked like she had had her ears and nose feet and tip of her tail dipped in Cocoa. Peter thought she was "ugly" for a kitten, but all I saw was the beauty of her character. So we named her Coco, and she seemed to like that. Unlike most cats she came when I called her.

So the people in my life at the time thought I was mad, but I bathed her every Saturday, she got used to it, and I in the long term she would cope with baths all of her life - she just hated being dried off.

Coco was ever the escape artist. We wanted her to be an inside cat, but she kept getting out, and we couldn't work out how… and often the garage door was up when one of us got home. We would blame each other - have you cottoned on yet? Well if not, let me tell you… We waited in hiding one day and watched her. The funniest thing I ever did see. Coco  would make her way into the garage (it was where her litter tray was). She would jump into the car, through the open window, and walk on top of the remote control until she heard the garage door, then woosh - out she ran to try and kill the rats living in our neighbour's shed.  He wasn't the nicest of men and said he didn't care if she was killed or harmed he wasn't going to look for a cat if it was missing and by the way he was going to be using poison to kill the rats, so if she ate any of the rats then she would be poisoned too (remember this cat would eat almost anything). So we knew we had to keep the windows closed on the car from now on.

Days, months and years went by, 2 years in fact, and I felt the desire for another animal. I have always been maternal and let's face it at this point I was 29 and my body clock had been ticking for as long as I could remember. So I brought home Sabrina - in a similar fashion to Coco, she had demanded I take her home with me. Have you ever had that happen? Really, I cannot tell you just how hard it is to deny such a little thing having such a strong will.

When I brought Sabrina home, Coco was not happy with me. Not one bit. Not at all. For a whole year she didn't speak to me. Sabrina would snuggle up to me in bed and Coco wouldn't even cuddle up to Peter, she slept at the bottom of the bed, absolutely fuming - you could feel her energy - she was not happy.

When I was pregnant with Matthew we moved house and we kept "the girls" inside for a couple of weeks and all went well.

Coco and Sabrina would sit at the front glass windows and the very noisy Grey Australian Minor Birds would come and perch right on the other side of the windows and taunt the cats. It was always funny to watch how clever the birds were and how frustrated my poor cats were. One day I was out gardening, and Coco and Sabrina were out enjoying the late winter Sun with me, but they moved into an area that  and the minor birds decided that they didn't want these birds in their territory. So down they swooped chasing the cats away, it was very funny until I saw one of them hit Coco on the head so hard I heard the impact. To the very last day Coco was missing a tuft of skin and had a scar on her face from that bird. She was smart cat, although she loved to make all the noises and movements, she never chased another bird after that.

One day while I was heavily pregnant with Matthew, I heard a cat fight on the front steps (which are Sabrina was cornered by the large red-furred male cat, and he was interested in her in a manner that the male species often is when the mood strikes them. Sabrina had been desexed very young and never seemed fully developed. As I pregnantly waddled and opened the door to go shoo the beast away Coco bolted in front of me and jumped straight down 4 steps landed squarely between the two cats and chased the Big Red Male down the stairs, across the neighbours yard, and across the road. She wasn't having any of him around. She came back so proud of herself - we cuddled most of the afternoon.

Not too long before Matthew was born, Coco decided to stay out all night. She had not ever done this before, and I was terrified for her safety. I cannot tell you what kinds of mischief she must have got up to, but she came home very tired, and we slept all the next day, her and I. I was to learn over the next few years that she was going to do this sometimes, so I learned to make sure they both were closed indoors before 6pm as the road we live on is notorious for people speeding after going around all the turns that lead up to the straight stretch of road right in front of our house.

Towards the end of 1999, I gave birth to Matthew. It was a really tough delivery, and it's a miracle I am here today, but that story is for another day. It is relevant however, because when I brought Matthew home Coco had an amazing change of mind about me. Suddenly I think she though "you are just going to keep doing this aren't you, bringing home things, creatures that I don't want". When Matthew would cry in his cradle, she would sit underneath it and stare at me as if to say "Well, what are you doing, get over here and see to this poor creature". I often had long conversations with her about what motherhood was about. You see, at that point Peter was working hard at the shop, and I was at home full time, in a place where I really didn't know anyone, my family lived 1000km away, as were my best friends. I knew my husband, I knew his friends, but I hadn't made any of my own as yet. Due to complications post delivery, I had lost a lot of blood, and was isolated and Post Natal Depression set in. I had Coco and Matthew, Sabrina, well she wasn't too fond of this new addition and had taken to not talking to me, much the same way that Coco had done previously.

As Matthew grew, Coco kept a close eye on him, she was so patient and good with him. He was a caring little boy, and curious, so he would want to try and catch her and pat her, how he loved her. When he learned to crawl he would chase her around the house - she would walk away from him and then wait for him to get close then move again. I was often entertained by this. Sometimes she would allow him to get up close or he would lure her in by playing with her stick that had the string attached… he would crawl over to her and lift himself up on his knees and land his whole body on hers. The first time he did this I was horrified, I though Coco was hurt and justifiably would want to maul him to death, I rushed over, but she just lay there, and clawed the carpet and pulled herself from underneath him. She was fine, and he was too! She was young enough that if she wanted to, she could always escape him if she wanted to, and often did, but she seemed to understand his age, and would just as often let him "slam dunk crash wallop" her as I called it. He patted her very nicely and learned with her how to be gentle with another creature. As he got older she would "bite" him without piercing his skin to let him know when he had gone too far. I never had to intervene. Not once, not ever.

Between having Matthew and having Alyssa, I had 2 miscarriages. Coco, seemed to know about both of them, before I did. She became fretful and would be around me all day. I wasn't well, and the emotional blow out - well she was just there, my constant companion, with Sabrina nearby her.

When I was hurt emotionally, I enjoyed watching movies, and often laid on my side with my knees drawn up on the couch. Coco's favourite position was alway between my knees and the couch, so she had her own little fortress made by my legs and bottom. If I moved from that position she wasn't very happy with me.

Coco had a way of knowing if you liked cats or not. I could tell instantly upon you sitting down on our lounge just how comfortable you were with cats. If you loved them, she would take her time to check you out, and if she were inclined you'd get cuddles. The more you didn't like them, the sooner she would be on your lap and refusing to move. Such  funny, spiteful behaviour used to amuse me no end, and I would happily move her, though with some guest I actually had to put her outside as they would be made so uncomfortable about her insistence to stay on them.

One day we had an electrician doing work at the house, and he was about to leave, I was looking for Coco as I hadn't seen her for quite some time… as he was just taking off in the car he found her there. She was funny, and easy to feed, we think the car was lovely and warm, or she was after his tuna sandwiches, either way, just a funny story - she would end up in cars going places all the time!!

Much later, only a few years ago now, we had a visitor cat come and stay with us, her name was Ed. She was a character, and didn't really get along with our two. She was much younger. Consequently, some bad habits were formed by our two girls and thus began the beginning of their demise. There were at this point about 16 and 14 - so quite an old age for cats anyway. Their toiling habits changed and for the next few years it was always a battle to know just where you might find a surprise in the middle of the night - Yew - but it's the price you pay for having old cats with years of love attached to them.

When our marriage failed, Coco and Sabrina often slept with one of the kids. I think she would choose which one needed her most. I couldn't fact sleeping with her, it just hurt all a bit too much to be reminded of having her, Sabrina, and us in the bed together. Coco seemed to know this, and didn't put up a fuss, or hassle me, she gave me the space I needed and just went and looked after the kids showering them in the love that they needed, and keeping them awake all night demanding to be let out to the toilet of course, but this was something that had become "par for the course" by this stage.

Then Easter 2016 the kids and I went up to Queensland to visit with my family. It was also my father's 80th birthday party, so I asked Peter to take the cats. He did, and they stayed with him and his family until we received a message to say she really wasn't doing well, and it might be a good idea to go visit her. Then I received another message from my sister-in-law Nia saying the same thing… It must be time. So I packed up the kids and took them over to visit with Coco. She must have heard my car pull up because she was out of the lounge room and more than halfway across the kitchen nearly at the back door to greet us as we walked up to the back door. She looked at me and meowed. I picked her up and my heart caught in my throat. I could just tell, that my girl had come to me to say goodbye. I believe she had been holding on for us to visit her.

I had a cuddle, and passed her to Alyssa, and then Matthew. Once she had her fill of cuddles she wanted to go onto the grass, then she wobble-walked like a drunk over to a shady spot in the garden and lay down.

I made an appointment to take her to the vet the next day at noon. I couldn't see her in pain like this anymore. I think she knew it too.

My mother-in-law Elly stayed up most of the night, trying to make Coco feel safe and comfortable, and not alone. I will always be grateful to her for that. In the end we all need someone to sit with us through the hard times, and Coco was having difficulty breathing but made it through the dark hours.

Peter tells me that the next morning he said a lovely farewell to her. Then at some point after he left for work and my niece Elly (Jr) awoke. Elly (Jr) discovered Coco's body.  Coco had given me yet another gift. I no long had to take her to the vet and be strong for her. Coco always seemed to know what was right for each one of us and gave to us the gift of giving it to us.

I collected my precious girl, and brought her home. I spent time with her grieving and preparing her for burial. It was a cathartic time and all the most awful feelings of loss, sadness, anger, despair, washed over me, but at the bottom of all those feelings was this overwhelming Love. Coco was always Love, and I will always be grateful for what she taught me in that moment. That underneath all the pain and anguish of life, remains love.