We wanted to tell Ashley’s story because this little cat deserved better than life gave her, because we want people to be aware that they need to think about how the particular cat they’re thinking of adopting might fit in with their future plans. Animals feel loss as much as we do and sometimes one more loss is one more than they can bear. Sometimes it’s not better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
Ashley was a tiny, grey spitfire of a cat with a low threshold for stress. She was not unlike many humans in her eccentricities. Many of us prefer to avoid crowds or noise. Many of us don’t like sharing our living space with too many others. Ashley didn’t have much choice. She came into shelter care in June 2005. She had been found as a stray but she didn’t get along with her finder’s kitten. So she ended up at a shelter, which Ashley considered worse than sharing space with a pesky kitten. Like many people who are outspoken, Ashley made no secret of her opinions and she ended up at Katie’s Place when she made herself unwelcome at her first shelter.
Katie’s Place was another ordeal for Ashley who had to navigate a crowd of cats in her communal room. But she settled down in time and became affectionate with the volunteers when she wasn’t being jostled by other cats. In truth, she longed to have someone of her own to love. She was lonely. So it was a blessing when a couple responded to her friendly overtures and adopted her.
Ashley was finally happy after a year and a half of shelter life. She loved her new home and family, and they were delighted with her. It would have been a happily-ever-after story except that her people had a baby a year or so later and Ashley once again found herself having to share her world with a noisy intruder who stole a great deal of her people’s time and attention. She expressed the anxiety this caused her in an animal’s way. She began peeing in the house. Her people understood that this was due to anxiety and stress but they declined the medication the vet offered for it and chose instead to return Ashley to the shelter. Ashley was crushed. She thought the worst had happened when the little stranger became a part of her family. But then the unthinkable happened and they put her in a carrier and took her away from her home forever.
We remembered Ashley as a spunky little diva who would give the other cats a piece of her mind if they got in her way. She was quick to assert herself one minute and then quick to climb into our arms for a cuddle the next minute. She was always a spirited, confident cat. But when she came back she was different. She still warned off the other cats, but the life seemed to have gone out of her. She seemed much older than her five years and she spent most of her time sitting quietly as though she had withdrawn into herself.
She didn’t seem quite right so we took her to the vet for a check up and a dental that had been recommended at her new-cat visit. It turned out that there was a lump in her mouth and the vet had it biopsied. It proved to be cancerous. Ashley would not have much more time. She already seemed to have faded somehow. We wanted to take her back and try to give her a few good last days in a foster home. But the vet insisted that her general condition was too poor. She was on pain killers and was having trouble eating. The recommendation was to let her go now. So a volunteer went to be with her. Ashley purred as she was held and stroked. It was the last tender moment in a life with too few tender moments. This tiny diva just never fit in anywhere.
Quirks that we tolerate in ourselves or in other people are rarely tolerated in pets. We expect them to be perfect. They must like us. They must like what we do or don’t do. They must be even-tempered, patient and good-natured in all circumstances. Ashley failed to meet the requirements. In the end there was no place for her to belong. The spark had gone out of her eyes when she came back to the shelter that second time. She lost hope and, without a reason to fight, illness overcame her. Technically, she lost her life to cancer. But if life had been better for her, she might not have succumbed, not so young. In truth, the cancer probably took hold when she reconciled herself to sadness. In truth, she died of a broken heart.