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February 2, 2012

My Final Entry -- Love and Loss

Dear Friends,

On January 23 at about 9:45, my dear sweet kitty, Kieffer Andrew Smith, went to be in peace. He was almost sixteen years old, a grey tabby with beautiful green eyes and funky thumbs that he actually used, leading me to say that he was the evolution of the cat.

I found Kieffer the evening of October 13, 1997, on my first weekend in my first single girl apartment. I had just taken a job with HPAE in New Jersey after a year and a half of living on the road doing housevisits for the Laborers, Teamsters, AFT and UNITE (which was just UNITE back then.) I meant to get a cat, but did not know I would find one so quickly! I was on my way to buy a phone at the K-Mart just walking distance from my little one bedroom apartment when I heard a pathetic little cry that seemed to be saying, “Mom!” A tabby kitten jumped over a low fence and straight into my arms, and I took him home. He was starving and looked like nothing but ears and paws. I ran back to K-Mart, purchased a box and liter and food, and ran home to feed m new baby. He ate ravenously, used the box like a pro, and went to lie down in my palate of covers (I didn’t even have a real bed yet!) and looked at me like, “Mom, I’m ready for bed now.”

I named him after David Kieffer, legendary organizer and my first boss ever in the labor movement. The human Kieffer taught me a lot as we drove around South Florida doing house visits, including the fact that I will never be one of those organizers who can read a map, talk on the phone, eat a taco and drive at the same time. I felt that naming my little tiger after him was a fitting tribute.

Kieffer cat took care of me during my young and single years, putting up with organizer hours, feeding at weird times, and the occasional male visitor. He especially loved my long term boyfriend Gregg, an RN and fellow cat person. He also enjoyed briefly being roommates with my friend Emma, an organizer who went on before me to public health school. And he always loved his Aunt Lisa, my long time best friend and partner in organizing, Lisa Riccardelli.

When he was about a year old he clearly wanted companionship, so I went to the shelter and got him a wife. Katherine was a beautiful tuxedo cat. She and her litter mates were found in a dumpster outside the Taco Bell at Oxford Valley in Langhorne, PA. Kieffer and Katherine adored each other and were frequently seen cuddling in a chair or just companionably sitting in the window. She died in 2004 at age 7, very abruptly of feline diabetes. Kieffer and I grieved, but shortly thereafter the most wonderful development came into his life.

In July of 2005, my partner MR moved in. After an initial adjustment time (involving Kieffer peeing repeatedly on MR’s backpack) Kieffer adopted MR as his head cat, worshiping him ever since. MR works from home, and as such he provided the stability that had been missing in this organizer’s cat’s life. MR fed him right on time four times a day, predictably came downstairs at the same time every day to have tea or check the mail, and basically lived that routine lifestyle that cats crave. Kieffer was only unhappy when MR left town for a conference, looking at me like, “Mommy, where the heck is Daddy?”

Kieffer began to go downhill this past summer, spending some time in the hospital with a bad dental infection. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him, but he was losing weight. His appetite gradually disappeared, and he shrunk from a one time 18 pounds down to 5 on the day he died. We tempted him with every treat he ever wanted, but in the end he just wouldn’t eat.

I knew we were near the end on Friday, but I got to spend the weekend with him grieving. Gradually he retreated to his favorite comfortable spot, behind the futon, wrapped in the curtains and warm against the baseboard heater. He stayed there for much of the weekend, and I put a dish of water there so he could easily drink.

This morning my mother and I took him to the Chestnut Hill Cat Clinic, where he has gotten excellent care for years. It was clear that he was ready to go. The vet and vet tech were both incredibly kind and made him comfortable. We held him as he passed on to the next world.

I’m not sure I believe in heaven for people: like the machines in the Matrix, I’m not sure humans could handle a perfect world. But I do believe in a heaven for cats. And I know that Kieffer is there, reunited with his wife Katherine, and with many of our beloved furry family members who have gone on before us.

This is a hard time, a time of transition. My mother’s cat Amber, who had been like my little brother, passed on at the age of twenty just a week and a half ago. There has been a lot of loss.

But as Carly Simon said in “Coming Around Again,” “There’s more room in a broken heart.” I mourn the loss of my dear sweet Kieffer, but I know that he would want me to make space in my heart for new passion and new dedication.

We will not be getting another cat or a pet of any sort. Poor MR really has been pressed into service as a live in cat sitter, and with the hours I work it’s just not fair.

Thank you all for your love and support. If you have a moment and a bit of change, please give a small donation to Big Cat Rescue in honor of Kieffer, my little tiger.

Love and Peace,

Kieffer’s mommy

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