Fulfilling the Promise

She was the smallest cat in the pound–found in winter, in D.C., feral and exhausted. I’d stopped by the animal shelter because I was on that side of town, but I didn’t know it was deadline day. Cats that were not up for adoption were euthanized on Tuesdays.


Aretha at five years old.

The shelter worker said placing a black cat needed a previous home inspection–too many people abused black cats. The cat was feral and would never make a good pet. Too much time outside. She was reluctant to schedule a home visit—the paperwork to have this one put down was complete. Still, the adoption wrangled its way through.

When I brought her over the threshold, I made her the promise that I had made all my cats: “I will spoil you and love you and care for you until the day the quality of your life declines. I will not prolong your life to avoid my own suffering.” She bolted behind the bookcase and remained there for more than a week, coming out at night to eat and use the litter box. We abandoned the shelter name “Raven” as not right for her, and named her “Aretha,” after Aretha Franklin. She demanded some R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

For a feral cat, she adapted to home life quickly. Regular food, warm laps, and a bed changed her mind about going out. She was never interested in the door again. She retained odd habits–given a whole bed, she would lie on the hanger left on the edge of the bed or a plastic bag that hadn’t been recycled yet. She slept in the sink when it was hot. She would not wear a collar.


Aretha earlier this month, enjoying catnip and sporting white whiskers.

She’d take a moth down with lightning speed and accuracy. She was a heat-seeker and followed sun patches around not matter where they were–on tables, chairs or floors. Once we moved to Arizona, she loved lying outside until she panted. I’d have to carry her inside for fear of heat stroke. No lizard was safe in our yard. She’d pluck off their tails and play with the squirmy part, leaving the lizard to run off and grow a new tail.

At 14 she developed arthritis, and limped in the morning. We were quite the pair, right out of bed. At 15, her whiskers began to turn white, one at a time, until she had four.

Today, the promise I made to her 16 years ago had to be fulfilled. I was teaching, so Cooking Man took her to the vet because the medicine didn’t work and she was in pain. I was hoping to see her again when I came home, but she was gone already. I am struggling to believe it was the best thing for her, if not for me.

I wish for Aretha a re-birth into another cycle of life. I will miss her sorely in this one.

Quinn McDonald was owned by Aretha. She has two other cats.