Do you believe in Angels? I do. And here’s one by the name of Winston……….
For as long as Ive had a presence on the internet, writing about life with severe asthma and walking marathons, my side kick, Winston the cat, has always been there somewhere in the background. I even have a dedicated blog category and a trademark for his likeness. Well, last week we had to do the unthinkable and say goodbye to him. He was the love our lives.
In trying to come to terms of what he meant to me (us), I wanted the world to know a little about him and why I believe he’s an angel. No matter what I write, the words don’t seem to capture the immense joy he brought to our lives, so I’ve a added lots of images.
Grieving his loss has been extremely difficult as well. Because of my stupid lungs, I have to continually suppress my emotions and cant even cry for more than a few seconds at a time or I get very short of breath and start gasping for air. Just another cruel side effect of chronic lung disease that most people probably aren’t aware of. But this blog post is not about me, nor my asthma, this is about a creature I absolutely adored. He made life with lung disease bearable. Maybe because he had major health conditions himself.
If you’re a dog, cat or animal lover of any kind like I am, Im sure you’ve heard the expression “pets choose their human companions, not the other way around”. I always thought that someone came up with that line as a way to ease the pain for someone mourning the loss of a beloved pet. That is, until Winston walked into our lives 13 years ago and stole our hearts. And when I say he walked into our lives, I mean he literally walked through the open front door of our house and plopped himself down on our kitchen floor, as if to say….this is where I want to live the rest of my life and you are going to be my new family!
He came to us that first evening severely matted and smelling pretty potent. But even with all that, his flat little face was beaming with happiness. Even reeking of poop, you could tell there was something special about this funny looking kitty. He was endlessly curious about the objects in our kitchen and obviously adored people, because we couldn’t get him to leave.
Noticing an ID chip under his skin, he obviously belonged to someone and got loose somehow or was abandoned, but not knowing where he came from we thought it best to take him to the local ASPCA to have his chip scanned. On the ride to pound he sat in my lap comfortable and trusting as can be, as if he’s known us for years. Because it was after hours, we had to place him in one of those lockers. We felt awful but we knew he would be safe. When he got home that night I can remember us saying, I hope nobody claims him, we’d love to adopt. In less than 2 hours we had fallen head over heals for this filthy ball of furry.
First thing the next morning we got on the phone with the shelter, turns out that this was the second time in a week that this little cat was found by someone and taken to the animal shelter. After the first incident, the shelter kept him for a few days and then released it back to it’s owner.
But apparently the kitty got out again, and thats when he showed up at our door .
This time around however, the owner couldn’t come up with the fines and boarding fees, so she decided to relinquish ownership. That’s when we swooped in and got the OK to adopt him. A week later after being neutered and completely shaved, he was officially ours. I remember the vet tech telling me right after his surgery…”this one is special”, you got your hand full Winston was only 2 and half years old at the time and for the next 13 years he would become the center of our lives.
As with a lot of flat faced Persians, Winston had health problems. During his first annual check up we discovered he had a severe heart murmur, which on a subsequent echocardiogram revealed severe cardiomyopathy. They told us that over- exertion from running or playing too hard could give him a heart attack, so the cardiologist recommended that we start him on a heart medication called Atenolol, and if we were lucky he might live 5 years. The downside of that drug though, even in humans, is that it causes drowsiness and lethargy. With no alternative and fearing that he could drop dead at any time, we reluctantly put him on the medication. Sure enough, after a few weeks, he came less active and pretty much slept all the time. He would still interact and play with us if we coaxed him, but you could tell his body couldnt keep up with what the cat him wanted to do. Still, it seemed this way of life was better than no life at all and we kept him on the medication for 6 months. Then one day, I looked at him and lying around and thought….his heart might be functioning a lot better with this medication, but he’s not happy. I could tell he wanted to be like the other cats and run around and chase things. So knowing the potential consequences, I made the decision to take him off the medication and let him be a cat, not a potato. I figured if he dropped dead from a heart attack, at least he’d be happy in the process.
It was a huge gamble, but to our surprise, not only did he perk up when we stopped the medication, he became a totally different cat and ended up living another 13 good years.
Endlessly curious about anything and everything in his world, he would follow us around the house like a little dog, always wanting to play, always pouncing on things or just wanting hanging out with us. Of course we didn’t want him to over- tax his heart, so we would strictly limit his play time. After chasing something across the room, if we noticed he was breathing too hard, we would pause and let him catch his breath.
Though he was probably and indoor cat before we got him, he obviously wanted to go outside and explore, hence the multiple escapes from his original owners. But, with his looks and gentle demeanor, there’s no way he would survive outdoors, so we kept him inside. Amazingly, in all the years we had him he never tried to get out. He seemed happy as pie to be an indoor cat. As he got older and less active though, we wanted him to enjoy the smell and sounds of outdoors. Knowing that he couldnt climb the high fences, we began a routine of letting him outside a couple times a day to explore the backyard, soak in some sunshine and hangout with the outdoor cats. He loved it and looked forward to it everyday like clockwork.
Yes, he was a cat, an extreme flat faced tabby Persian mix. But his spirit and personality are what made him so different. He was the most innocent, docile, laidback and happy little creature you could ever imagine. He was an absolute joy to be around, not just now and then, but all the time. We’d often find ourselves in awe just watching him be himself and interacting with his surroundings. Some Persians can be quite temperamental, Winston was never moody or standoffish and he never whined or hissed, in fact I don’t think he knew how to hiss… he didn’t have a mean bone in his body. He was a good boy in every possible way. He would respond to his name, knew what the word “No” meant and followed basic commands like a dog. Oh, and watching him eat was extra special. He would eat anything you put in front of him, but boy what a mess he would make…. food everywhere! His face was so flat, he had a hard time getting food in his mouth, so we experimented with different sizes and shapes of bowls and plates till we found the easiest for him.
Unlike most felines, every human and every cat was his friend. Mind you, sometimes those feeling weren’t always shared mutually by cats who didn’t know him. Because of his flat face he would have to get in super close to get a good whiff. I imagine that would freak out a cat or anyone who didn’t know him. His best cat friend was a Siamese named Sam. He loved Sam and followed him inside the house or backyard like a puppy dog.
I suppose physical beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but in our eyes and those of most people who met him, he was breathtakingly Beautiful, almost hauntingly so. There were times when I looked at him that my eyes would tear up because he was so beautiful. It was as if his inner beauty radiated outward into this magnificent almost alien like face. His markings were symmetrically perfect and he had a nose shaped like a heart. But what really stood out about him, were his eyes. They were huge, like giant translucent bronze colored marbles that bulged out from his face. Wonder if he could see in full Panavision? His expressions and head movements were priceless, you could see the wheels turn in his head when we would stare at something, as if to analyze what his senses were taking in. When he would look at you with those eyes, you’re heart would melt. It’s as if he was communicating through them. And when I wasn’t feeling well, he’s forced me to pay more attention to him and less on my health problems When I would return home from a week or two in the hospital he would look at me like….where the hell have you been?
All I know, is that whatever made him him, made my life worth living, and in the blink of an eye 13 years had passed and it was time to say goodbye. Despite doing everything humanly possible, including IV fluid therapy at home, his heart and kidneys were failing. Still, he wanted to hang on for our sake, but we knew it was time. It’s amazing that he had him as long as we did. 16 years is quite an achievement for a Persian with a bad heart, but not for an Angel.
The Beauty of Winston is that he knew what he was. He was pure. He lived in the moment and did what felt good to him… he never over thunk things. He lived his live spontaneously and the way nature intended. He gave his love unconditionally and brought happiness to those around him. If that’s not an Angel I don’t know what is.
I will miss that little creature till the day I die. Thankfully Im already old, so wont have to wait too long to see him again.
Till we meet again somewhere nicer than here, soar high through the universe and eternity my little angel.
Your friend, lifelong admirer and companion, Steve. I hope you’re with god now.
Every time I hear Barry Manilow’s rendition of “Beyond the Sea“, it reminds me of just how much I love you and how much I miss you. I know it’s just a silly love song, but the words and symphonic arrangement stir up such strong emotions. I tear up with both sadness and joy every time I hear it. Thank you Charles Trenet for writing it in the 1940s, Bobby Darin for popularizing in the 1950’s it and Barry Manilow for reviving it once again in the 2000s and putting such emotion into it.