Death of a Pet is Like Losing a Family member
Harley loved his dog pals - but hated me!
The death of a much-loved pet can be as traumatic and distressing as losing a member of your family.
Indeed, this is what a pet is, particularly one such as a dog or a cat, who is likely to have been around for many years.
Harley the cat never even particularly liked me.
My partner had brought him up from being a six-week-old kitten and they had a very special bond. Harley would speak to him all the time, answer back if chastised and then run off like a naughty child, only to reappear during the night and curl up silently on the bed, a cute bundle of silky black fur. They understood each other totally.
Harley was also good pals with Bracken the dog, as they had grown up together as puppy and kitten. Later on, when we rescued two more dogs, Blue the collie and Buster the Rottweiler cross, Harley got on fine with them too.
But he could take or leave anyone else and really wasn't the least bit interested if you tried to stroke or talk to him. Apart from my partner, human beings on the whole held no great interest for Harley. He was quite happy to do his own thing.
Harley would bite my ankles!
Harley was about three when we first met and he took an instant dislike to me. As time went by, my only purpose in his life was to prepare his breakfast and dinner - and boy, did I know about it if I didn't get up soon enough and head for the kitchen!
Many a time, my ankles were scratched and nipped as he ran along behind me down the hall first thing on a morning, tapping me with outstretched claws as if to say, "Get a move on, I'm hungry!"
At dinnertime, he would sit on top of the old refrigerator - where we fed him so that the dogs didn't pinch his meal - meowing angrily and patting my arm and hand as I opened the tin of cat food.
A look of contempt would vaguely pass across his face if I tried to stroke him - or engage in any kind of games - and he would hit me, strut off to clean his paws and then sit on top of the clothes dryer for a nap, as if I wasn't there.
Yet I loved him dearly and even though he was never "my" cat, I always worried about him if he went outside and stayed away too long.
My partner would say, quite rightly, "Oh, he'll come back when he's ready."
But many a time, I would anxiously sit at the window looking for him, or stand
calling his name at the back door - and even, on occasion, would go tramping round the alleyways near our house searching for him.
I never found him, of course - although I expect many a time he was sitting in the bushes laughing at me - and he would always make his own way home when he was good and ready.
Barely-alive birds and mice were brought home regularly
A few times, Harley brought a bird back - quite often still alive and able to escape with our help - and on one occasion, he proudly brought back his greatest trophy, a baby mouse, which sadly was scuttling around the hall with two broken back legs. We rushed it to the vet's, quite frantic, but it was too badly injured to survive.
Harley merely looked at me with his usual disinterested gaze, eyes half closed.
"What's all the fuss about?" he appeared to be saying. Of course, capturing small animals is a "cat thing" and he simply couldn't understand why we were so upset when we saw the latest pile of feathers in the kitchen as another bird fled for its life.
When I arrived home from work each day, at 5.30pm, Harley would always be sitting in the window, either in the front bedroom, looking out, or sometimes downstairs next to the open window, enjoying the fresh air. But in all honestly, he was more of a house cat and his trips outdoors became increasingly rare, except to sun himself on the patio for a while in summer.
Vacation almost cancelled after Harley went into hiding!
When we went on holiday, he would sit on the suitcase, as if to say, "You're not going anywhere without me."
He wasn't really bothered whether I went away - he knew his temporary meal supplier would be my mum - but boy, did he moan at my partner every time he disappeared with a suitcase. And on arriving home a week later, we knew there would be no sign of Harley, who would be sulking in a cupboard upstairs for some time until he condescended to come out and say hello.
On one occasion, we were on the verge of cancelling a vacation to Disneyland Paris because Harley went missing for seven hours. We were out looking for him in the dark.
Then, just one hour before we were due to set off for the airport, we noticed his food had been half eaten and his litter tray used while we were at the late night supermarket.
The ensuing house search revealed Harley snuggled up between the table and radiator upstairs, completely hidden and well aware we had been looking for him all evening.
It was just a ploy because he'd seen the suitcase and didn't want my partner to go.
He really was a character on his own - a one-off, unique little being who could never be replaced.
Shock and panic when I found Harley's body
It was ironic - and wrong somehow - that on the day he died, I was the one who found him. My partner had gone to play soccer and I was preparing dinner when I realised Harley had not come down for his meal.
I went upstairs, thinking he was probably dozing in one of his favorite spots - on top of the wardrobe in the spare room.
But to my horror, the poor little soul had died, presumably in his sleep, at just nine years old.
I will never get over the shock and panic I felt when I found his tiny, lifeless body. He was never a big cat, but he seemed even smaller as he lay there so silent and still.
I cuddled him, as he was still warm, and I kept saying, over and over again, nonsensically, "Oh, Harley, what have you done?"
I was in deep shock.
Vet thought Harley had suffered a heart attack
I wrapped him in his blanket and drove like a bat out of hell to the vet's. I was trying to convince myself he'd had a stroke or a heart attack, but that he would miraculously come round - even though I knew I was kidding myself and that he had gone.
The vet was very kind and even gave me a hug, but there was nothing anyone could do. She thought it was a sudden heart attack and that he would not have suffered.
Subsequently, I learned of a congenital heart defect, which can cause an enlarged heart which gradually worsens over time and can cause sudden death. I wonder now if this was what had happened to Harley, since he had seemed in good health prior to his death.
My partner was, understandably, heartbroken when I told him the tragic news.
When we buried little Harley in our back garden - which is like a pet cemetery - there were many prayers, tears and even a hymn.
The fact that Harley was only nine years old made it doubly difficult to understand why he had gone. And how I miss having that angry bundle of fur chasing me down the hall every morning. I'd do anything to feel those sharp little claws scratching at my ankles again.
Be kind to every living creature - before it's too late
I now find I have become much more protective over our other rescued animals - to the point of paranoia with the cats, particularly if they have gone wandering outside and are missing longer than usual.
The death of a pet makes you realise no one knows what is around the corner. That morning, I had fed Harley and gone off to work without a second thought - not knowing that it would be the very last time I would see him alive.
Please, readers, always be kind to every living creature - particularly those you love - because you may not realise how precious they really are. And then, suddenly, it's too late and they're gone.