Sunday, June 25, 2006

Farewell Portia

Yesterday was a sad day. Finally, reluctantly, I took our old cat Portia to the vet for the last time. We’ve been talking about when would be the right time for so long. Her poor little nose was being eaten away with cancer, she sneezed and sniffed all day. She could barely walk, falling amost every step. She was at least 18. But still she ate heartily, as always. Still she purred.

There have been tears, but I know it was the right thing to do. The end was peaceful. I want to share some of the highs and lows of her life.

She came into our lives as a ragged 18 month old in about 1990. She was escaping from a house of druggies two doors down, had already had one litter, and another was on the way. A little grey tabby with delicate features, a white collar of fur and beige eyeliner. Surely some Siamese in there, from her triangular head, slanted eyes, and very vocal ways. I was home briefly, preparing to go to Utah where my husband was. The housesitter ( a cat person), my daughter (a soon-to-be cat person) and I (a dog person) were sitting outside in the courtyard when she appeared. She was welcomed, and I found myself combing out her matted fur with a flea comb. She seemed very pleased about that.

On our return from the sojourn in Utah, Portia had been named, and de-sexed, the impending litter dealt with. She was ensconced. Julie was delighted, and the two of them bonded. Portia would turn to liquid in Julie’s arms, they would sleep together, Portia upside down and flowing off the bed in delight.

She was a great hunter. One of her triumphs was the night I came home to find her tossing a HUGE male rat over her shoulder (outside, thank God). The rat was dead, Portia looked smug. I waited till Julie got home, we quivered and shook and carried on until I managed to prod the rat corpse onto newspaper, into a plastic bag, and into the bin. She was a birder, and often the back yard was filled with feathers. She and a series of currawongs had a working relationship. Portia would catch the mice and eat the heads, the currawong would perch patiently on the back of a garden chair, retrieving the bodies when she was done.

During our renovations all those years ago Portia loved to explore. She went underneath the house exploring and we were worried she would be immured, but she was always OK. One day she was gone for a while, and when she returned from under the house she was veiled, like Miss Havisham, in grey cobwebs.

Things weren’t always rosy for her, of course. The worst times, twice, was when she was tortured. We don’t know who did it. The first time she came home late with razor slashes down her tummy. Not too bad, not enough for the vet, but bad enough. The next time was far worse, and occasioned a trip to the vet and lots of treatment. After the vet visit she disappeared for what seemed like forever. Finally, late at night, I suddenly heard her bell far in the distance. She tottered home, we burst into tears. We thought she was dead. She recovered, to live another day.

She was the most affectionate cat, and never got as much attention as she wanted. The vets never heard her heart beat – even on a steel table she enjoyed the attention and purred loudly.

Early in her life she must have damaged her tail, and later in life it started to deteriorate. We took her to the vet, who attempted to judge where the tail’s feeling started and stopped by using scissors. This attempt failed when the scissoring reached up behind her ears and she was still purring. The tail was shortened and this was highly successful.

She loved being bonked on the head – a large knitting needle, the flea comb, a biro, she loved it.

Julie left home, Portia stayed. She outlived Benny, the Previous Pug, and filled that gap single handedly for a year before we got Jonty. The two of them got on, but there was some jostling for the best bed in the sunbeams. The two of them were ace lobbyists. I think their dinnertime is 4 pm. They think it is lunchtime, and by 3 pm the chorus rises in intensity.

We thought she would live forever, but in recent months was getting frailer and frailer. She still liked her afters (snacks of leftovers after dinner) so we introduced room service for her.

When is the right time to say goodbye? Even at the vet I asked whether I should/could just take her home again. No, said the vet. This is the time. Her body is breaking down, life is a struggle for her.

So there have been tears today for an elderly cat, from this dog-person. She will be missed.


  1. Oh Katie... you have made me tear up. What a brave little cat. I'm going to give Riley a hug.

  2. This is the same way that our tabby 'Spindle' went - nose and skin cancer. They're just not suited to the Australian climate.
    Still, 18 yrs is a good life for a cat - rest in peace, Portia.

  3. Thanks for your comments, knitters are so supportive.

  4. I know I'm late on posting a comment to this story..but just having gone through were right, it was the right time for her to go. And at least she had a comfy, loving home where people bonked her on the head with flea combs.