I am going to tell you the story of Harriet.
Harriet is my cat. We don't know how old she is, where she comes from. I picked her up from a local animal shelter--the kind that does not euthanize their residents--in 2002.
She was older, she ended up being diabetic. She wasn't the type to cuddle up to you, she didn't want to be or look cute. She just wanted to be herself. She felt like sitting at the top of the stairs, so she did so. She wanted me to feed her, she let me know. She didn't like my boyfriend, she made that highly evident by using my living room rug as a litter box.
Although declawed and aparently sporting only one fang, she was a proficient hunter. In order to "thank" me for giving her a secure home--something I think she lacked for quite some time--she would take care of the mouse problem in my apartment. The first time I realized she had this talent, and this gratitude, was when she, while I was at work, killed an unfortunate rodent in my kitchen, cleaned it off, and spread it out nicely in presentation form at the top of the stairs leading to my apartment. When I got home, reached the end of my ascent, I look down to see this precious possession given to please me, and I completely freaked out. Harriet, on the other hand, simply looked at me in a confused fashion, and then, assuming that it wasn't in good enough condition for me, proceded to clean it off more just in case that was the clincher she was missing.
She graduated from this to actually demonstrating to me how she would catch and kill the unfortunate creatures. I awoke once in the middle of the night because I heard a wail...thinking she was ill, I turned the light on. No, she was there, sitting proudly on her haunches, with another victim dangling out of her mouth. Upon acknowledging my now awake state, she dropped it to the ground. Yes, it was still alive. It immediately started to jump about to escape, but Harriet had other plans. She, with lightning fast action that I thought was impossible for a cat her size, immediately pawed it down. Unfortunately, it buried itself in a pile of my laundry, but she insisted upon watching that hill of dirty clothing until I ended up washing it a week later, just in case it came back.
Harriet was queen. She did not like her authority being challenged. Her first test was Geronimo, my new roommate's cat. He was your typical "dumb guy" in cat form. He just wanted to play, she wanted him to get lost. I brought her back from a short sojourn home and he excitedly greeted her at the door when she came in. This good-natured welcoming patrol was met with a swipe with her unclawed paw across his face, and a resulting "what did I do?" look in cat bewilderment from him.
When I got my little ones, she tolerated them. She seemed to be happier in the company of her own kind. As one of them, Charlotte, got a bit bigger, she thought she was in a position to challenge Harriet for power. Charlotte made the mistake of hissing at Harriet once, and she received the same buffet to the face that Geronimo did in response. To make her point all the more clear, when Harriet saw Charlotte again in passing, she wacked her again...this time sending her clear across the floor.
Harriet did "crash" in the diabetic sense once. Since cats can gradually recover from diabeties, her body started to make insulin and we didn't know. Suddenly, we found her on the floor, completely collapsed. We took her to the vet and had to painstakingly look after her for a few weeks while she recovered. For a while, she couldn't walk, and my mother tried to wash her with the cat equivalent of a baby wipe. My father described the sounds she made as "nothing he had ever heard any animal make before....but they didn't sound good." After my mother finished, Harriet grabbed the discarded wipe in her mouth and shook it back and forth as if to teach it a lesson for its impudence.
During this time, Emily, another of my little ones, who loved Harriet very much, would jump into the laundry basket we kept Harriet in and sit with her. Somehow, Harriet knew she was there, even though her crash rendered her temporarily blind. Harriet purred, and so did Emily. All of the other cats were too afraid to go near her, but Emily stuck by her.
Harriet may have hated car rides, she may have been rather unfriendly at times, but she was probably the smartest cat I have ever had. She always "knew" something was going on---like she was just one step, as opposed to many, from understanding. She always tolerated other cats, save the ones that challenged her authority. The best part was that she seemed happy--she had a home, a secure home, and that was something she never had before. Someone abandoned her, and that made an imprint on her mind. When I moved out of my last apartment, she crouched in a corner, desperately worried that we were going to leave her behind. Anyone that thinks that these kinds of things do not affect animals--that animals aren't "smart enough" to remember them or for them to make a permanent imprint on their minds just like us--has never seen a look on a pet's face like Harriet's that day.
Now, she has an infection, and one of those that may indicate the presence of something much more dangerous.
For nearly four years of her being my companion and reigning queen of my house, I want to thank her for being herself. She didn't offer any apologies for being herself--for wanting things her own way. She knew that if we, or anyone else, didn't like that, she could make it on her own because she had.
If a cat could show you how to be more secure and be comfortable with who you are, she did. And if this is her time, she will be missed. But somehow, I know that she will be more tranquil, more peaceful about her own passing than I will, and she will probably be the one to comfort me in the end.