So, the first animal in this series of blog posts… is the first non-rodent animal we had to say good-bye to as a couple.

It was traumatic… and awful… and an experience I never want to live through again.

But first, her life….

Pepper was a medium/long-haired black cat. When I found her on the “Dumb Friends League” website ( the “dumb friends league” is the name of the large animal shelter in our town, and “dumb” is used in the old-fashioned sense of the word, which meant ‘mute’) and showed her picture to Darling Husband, he said “no way” to a black cat. I’d never owned a black cat before…but the association between “dark and evil” and black cats (while completely unjustified) just didn’t seem to fit with our personalities.

Darling Husband and I had already gotten our first puppy after being married for only 5 months. But I insisted I NEEDED a cat.

There is just something about a cat… the cuddly-ness, the smallness, the cat-ness…. that a dog just… ISN’T. And I’d always had a cat in my life. ALWAYS.

So, off to the animal shelter we went! We met with one cat I’d also seen online… a gray cat with a cute face. But after learning how very sick he was, Darling Husband  said we should look at a few other cats. He was looking on a different row of kennels when he said, “How about this one??” I walked over, and sure enough- it was the black cat I’d showed him online!!

Her shelter name was India. And they estimated she was 7 years old… but she was probably older.

She had the greenest eyes I’ve EVER seen…. EVER.

She was beautiful! And overweight. ( I don’t think she even had a visible neck.) And when we started looking into her little cat kennel, she waddled between us and her food, so that her tail was facing us.

It reminded me of the cat from Disney’s Cinderella. And I was determined to name her whatever that cat’s name was….

Until I googled it and it turned out to be LUCIFER. (Ummmm….. NO.)

We took her home that day (she was already spayed) and put her on a diet. I still remember her coming into the house and having difficulty giving herself a “bath” because of the lack of neck.

That night she jumped onto the bed and slept in the crook of my left arm. The way she would sleep the entire time she would live with us… until she got sick.

I remember looking up names for black animals, and came to Darling Husband with a list that he picked Pepper from.

She LOVED menthol scented stuff… like Halls cough drops, and vicks. She would go CRAZY when I was sick… it was all I could do to keep her from eating/licking the stuff. But her pupils would go crazy big… which made her look like the “Puss-in-Boots” cat from Shrek. It was the most endearing and precious thing about her.

*side note: Darling Husband and I used to come up with songs for each animal… a special, made-up song… just for them. It was usually very short. But we’d sing it to them often, and usually it would get a laugh out of the one who wasn’t singing…

Pepper’s song was “Too precious for yourself…. too precious for your FA-MI-LEEEE” And we usually sang it when those pupils, in those beautiful green eyes, were as large as saucers.

Her favorite “toy” was a balled-up Halls wrapper. And even played “fetch” with it!

She did NOT like dogs…. or new people…. and her favorite place in the house was under our bed. (But at the headboard. So, basically the position where she would sleep on the bed with me, but on the floor.)

She lost her extra weight and had a little skin pouch… but it never got in her way.

She had the tiniest ears I’ve ever seen on a cat…and I still can remember how her head felt in my hand, as I’d pet her at night. She’d lick the same spot on your skin, with her sandpaper tongue… until you thought she’d licked to the bone.

She was a little bit of a diva… not really wanting to dip her face down to drink… So she’d dip her paw into the water and lick it off her hand. (This is how she drank. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.)

And she had this weird habit of using cabinet doors, baseboards, etc. to scratch her claws. Other than that, she wasn’t destructive at all.

She lived with us from the fall of 2007 till December 2011. I can hardly believe it’s been 4 years since we said goodbye.

We knew Pepper was nearing the end when she started losing a little more weight, and her fur (once silky and meticulously groomed) became dull and coarse. She was having a harder time jumping up onto tables and cabinets… but still had no trouble jumping onto our bed.

It actually started to worry me so much, that one night, I couldn’t sleep. I suddenly had this urge to take photos and get video of her quirks. (It was before we had iphones, so I didn’t have very many pictures… and pets are a bit difficult to photograph anyway.) The folder containing these pictures and videos on my computer is labeled “Pepper’s Night” and is full of my attempts to get her amazing eyes on film. (As you can see below… my sub-par camera and my lack of experience left much to be desired.)  That was mid October 2011.

2 months later, she went into the vet to have her bowels cleaned out from a very severe case of constipation. (It required anesthesia.) And I decided she should also have a tooth pulled at the same time that had caused some concern for the vet. I just figured, since she was so old… I’d rather get them both done at once, and spare a second medical procedure.

And she did GREAT! (With the exception of an asthma attack she had after waking up in the recovery area…) She came home and ate right away! Not really understanding the extent of this asthma diagnosis (I’d never heard of a cat having asthma! And I have it myself!) after the surgery, PLUS a heart condition that had been just diagnosed, about 24 hours after the surgery… it was suddenly very difficult difficult for her to breathe.

Which made her stop eating.

I did everything I could do to get her to eat/drink…. and even took her in to the vet after not knowing what else to do.. Her breathing was labored… and the vet was very worried. We tried different medicines, but nothing seemed to help. After 4 or 5 days… she didn’t care to leave the warm blanket I’d laid her on, much at all. I kept hoping and believing she’d get better. That she’d just snap out of it and recover.

I had another overwhelming urge one night, to get on the floor and sleep by her. I was too afraid she’d fall off the bed if I tried to bring her up to me. And I just kept thinking… after all these years of sleeping by me… it was the least I could do to sleep by her, pet her, and let her know I was there.

I fed her milk through an eyedropper the next morning, and promised her more milk when I got back home (I had planned some time with Dearest Friend that day, just a few hours to get out of the house… I’d been fretting over Pepper for most of the week by this point, and figured the uninterrupted rest would do her well.)

She waited until I got home.

I tried to give her the milk… but she tried to walk away from me. And sparing a few details of what happened next… her heart finally had enough, and she died while Dearest Husband and I held her.

I wasn’t even sure what had happened. He leaned into her chest to listen and make sure… and I just sat there and cried. I am sure I asked… “Are you SURE??” and repeated “She can’t be gone.” A million times. While she was older… she went from routine surgery, to gone… in a week.

Even though we’d gotten a second cat by then… bedtime and sleeping just weren’t the same for a while. The other cat didn’t fetch Halls wrappers, go crazy for menthol scent, or want to sleep in the crook of my arm.

You can’t replicate an animals quirks and personality. You just can’t. (Not that I tried to.) They are so much like people in this way.

We took her to be cremated the next day, and the vet met me at the door. She teared up a bit as she told me “You did everything you could do…” and tears sprang from my eyes… eyes that I’d thought were dried-up by now. It was one of the best things she could’ve said, and the best gift of peace she could have given me.

Because I desperately wanted to believe it was true.

I still think about Pepper… though it’s with more happy reminiscing than sadness now.

I miss her.


Pepper (October 2011) copyright Aris Greene



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