Tara the Cat 1998-2011

I hope you all will excuse me if I indulge in a remembrance of my little cat Tara who passed away yesterday. She was 13 years old. That’s the equivalent of 68 human years.

I got Tara when was she was 6 months old. We had an infestation of mice in my apartment building at the time. I had always heard that if you have a cat, mice won’t come around. That sounded good to me, ‘cause I hate those meeces to pieces. I named her after Tara the bodhisattva of peace and protection. She did a pretty good job of protecting me from the mice. Nary a one set foot inside our apartment after she arrived.

She was very sweet, gentle cat. But you know cats are strange creatures. The love you share with them is definitely on their terms. Tara had a way of looking at me sometimes that seemed to suggest she was in possession of some profound wisdom and I was merely some fool she tolerated. Then there were those other times, like just before lights out when she’d hop up on the bed and want to lick my face. It was her way of saying, hey, you’re not so bad after all.

My step-mother, Hazel, sent me a nice note describing a rose and two blue and white iris she put in a vase the other day and how beautiful they were to admire, but then yesterday morning “each flower seemed to say ‘thank you for appreciating my beauty while it lasted but it’s time for me to fade away.’”

Flowers, animals, people, planets, stars – they come into existence, they get old, sick, and then they fade away. “Sabbe sankhara anicca,”  the Buddha said. All things are impermanent.

While I understand that intellectually, right now, emotionally, it’s a different story. I miss Tara. I grieve at her passing. And I can’t help but wonder if I was a good bodhisattva for her. She had been losing weight for some time – in spite of how she would have done nothing but eat all day long if I had let her – and that concerned me. Yet, I knew that some cats lose weight as they get older. Sometimes, she’d throw up at night. I chalked that up to eating too much to fast. Which she did and then at some ungodly early hour of the morning she’d be pawing at me wanting to be fed again.

About two weeks ago, I had a strong feeling that things weren’t right. I considered taking her to the vet, but held off. Perhaps I was overreacting. I thought I’d change her diet and make one last attempt to fatten her up. I shouldn’t have waited. All day Sunday, she was lethargic and when she did get up and walk, she could not lift her head as she normally would. I knew I couldn’t delay a visit to the vet any longer. I took Tara to the animal hospital first thing yesterday morning. They decided to keep her. They hydrated her, gave her tests, medicine. But, it was too late.  She died overnight.

It turned out she had hyperthyroidism, a common problem in older cats that affects their kidneys and liver. I have no idea how much pain she was in or even if she was in pain, except for that last day. Then, it was obvious she was feeling pretty bad. Maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference if I had acted sooner. Perhaps prolonging her life would have only prolonged her suffering. That’s the hardest part. The unknowing. However, like Tara’s death itself, what is unknown must be accepted because chances are it will remain unknown. Speculation around maybes and ifs are the same as the metaphysical speculations the Buddha advised against. It does not bring us closer to truth or to an end to suffering.

I think it’s better, as my step-mother suggested, to think of Tara as a beautiful flower, and to have some appreciation for the time I had to admire her beauty, and to remember all the things she taught me.

This poem by e.e. cummings says the rest of it:

why did you go
little fourpaws?
you forgot to shut
your big eyes.

where did you go?
like little kittens
are all the leaves
which open in the rain.

little kittens who
are called spring,
is what we stroke
maybe asleep?

do you know? or maybe did
something go away
ever so quietly
when we weren’t looking.

She had the cutest face . . .

Goodbye

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10 thoughts on “Tara the Cat 1998-2011

  1. David, I am so sorry for your loss. I will light a candle for Tara.

    My wife taught me years ago that cats are dharma masters in their own way. Quality of the dharma however varies from cat to cat. But in any case they are not “just pets,” and no one should downplay the grief one experiences at the loss of a “pet,” as people so often do.

  2. Dear David, I am so sorry for your loss. It is amazing how much love we can share with animals. Interestingly enough, my dog turned 13 yesterday and she was so sick at the end of last week (liver and kidney too) we thought we were going to have to put her down. As it turns out, she rallied, but I don’t know for how long…in the meantime I grieved a lot, made vet trips for IV therapy and tests, witnessed others decide to euthanize their dog at the hospital, watched watched this, and feel far more prepared for her time when it comes. It’s never easy. Love is love. My thoughts are with you. With metta, Katherine

    1. Thanks so much, Katerine. That’s a great video: “He taught me to love. I didn’t teach him to love.” Our animals can be such great teachers for us.

      I had a sense Monday that I would not bring Tara back home. I was prepared for the possibility that I might have to put her to sleep to end her suffering. I just thought she had more of a fighting chance.

      I hope your dog continues to rally. May you both be happy and free from suffering.

  3. I’m sorry to hear Tara is gone. Blessings to you.

    My family lost a cat over the winter that was almost the same age, and looked almost exactly like Tara. I have been through several cat passings, but it’s still never easy.

    Take care.

    1. Thanks, Nathan. I sat next to a woman in the waiting room who had a cat that looked a lot like Tara, too. I guess these grey calico’s are pretty common.

  4. David – I will not only “indulge” you – I will THANK you for sharing such a beautiful story of love and friendship. I always had dogs growing up, but about 4 years ago, I adopted my first kitten (Mookie – calico) – with a second one joining us about 6 months later (Tabitha – grey tabby). They are the loves of my life and have helped me through some very difficult places. My thoughts are with you and with Tara.

    1. Thanks, Susan. I appreciate that very much. We had dogs growing up, too. Once we had a cat. I don’t remember too much about him, except his name was Tom, my mom thought he was possessed by some demon spirit, and he was always getting into fights. But since I’ve been an adult I have preferred cats for some reason. They seem more sophisticated, refined, or something. I think 2 cats is the way to go. I wish I had done that with Tara. She was never lonely but she was bored occasionally, especially those nights after she’d slept all day and was itching to play while I was itching to hit the hay. Enjoy your time with Mookie and Tabitha. It’s wonderful they could help you.

  5. Sorry to hear David. It is very tough to loose a pet, a being that is absoultelly a member of our family, teaching us lessons our whole life. Especially cats. 🙂

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