A month or so before turning 18, Kitty passed away in July 2014. It was a sad July morning when I reluctantly accepted that July 1, 2014 would be the last day I’d ever spend with her after having her as a constant companion for as long as it would take to raise a child through high school. She had finally used the last of her nine lives after enduring numerous senior ailments for the previous few years.

I took her to the vet no fewer than four times before, thinking it was the end of the road. However, each time, she fought back with tenacity fit for a cat to once again rule over her two dogs (and two humans) at home. Kitty’s miraculous ability to recover left Tonie and I in awe. However, it was tragically clear that morning that this time there would be no miraculous recovery. Finally, Kitty’s phone number had been called. She forced a weak purr as I gave her one last hug and lifted her lethargic body from her bed, and I remembered the first time I’d ever held her in that way.

We huddled in my one-bedroom apartment’s walk-in closet, among my clothes and the water heater, about seventeen years earlier, and I hugged the tiny, delicate kitten as tightly as I dared. She still had stitches in her abdomen from the most recent operation. I had experimented with different names for the abandoned kitten after I’d claimed her as my own, but none of them seemed to fit, so I just called her “Kitty.” There didn’t seem to be a need to change it at that point because she recognized it as her name.

In Huntsville, Alabama’s Five Points Historic District, a tornado warning siren sounded, filling the sky with its eerie wail. In the Tennessee Valley, tornado warnings were nothing new, but it was impossible to get used to the ominous siren that started out in a lonesomely low pitch and gradually increased to an earsplittingly high tone that prickled the skull like an icepick. The tone fell once more, and the cycle of horrifying noise that had been driving them insane started all over again.

I had just stepped outside into the muggy calm before the storm. The oppressively hot air seemed to make breathing difficult, and the sky seemed to be tinged with a sickly yellow hue. Anyone who is familiar with an area that experiences frequent tornadoes will feel a sense of dread in the sultry air’s chilling silence. As gently as I could, I quickly ran back inside and picked up Kitty. My apartment complex didn’t have a tornado shelter, so Kitty and I went to the closet, the only room in the apartment without windows.

I sat in the pitch-blackness of the closet because the power had gone out earlier, hoping against hope that I wouldn’t hear the loud, ominous roar that would indicate a freight train outside. The sound that stuck out in my memory was instead the soothing purr of a kitten. The rhythmic vibrations on my chest resounded serenely and brought calm despite the terrifying circumstances. Kitty’s soft purrs almost made me forget that I was listening for the approach of a tornado. My sense of security against the approaching threat of a tornado was aided by the purrs of a three-pound kitten. Who would have thought a tiny cat could wield such influence?

Kitty’s soothing purrs gave me the comfort I needed during the ensuing seventeen years as I endured numerous difficulties. As the years went by, our personalities merged into a distinctive understanding, and our bond grew immeasurably. Her sassy feline demeanor made me laugh and get frustrated at the same time. Before Kitty, I had no idea that a pet could bring me such comfort and love, and I had no idea the depth of that love until I left the veterinarian’s office that day without her.

Over six months have passed since Kitty’s passing at the time I’m writing this, and while I still miss her terribly, I’m getting better at looking back on the memories of her with more happiness than sadness. Although I recognize that it is all too easy to attach anthropomorphic characteristics to our pets, especially if they provide a primary source of companionship, it is equally true that, to most of us, pets are much more than “just a dog,” or “just a cat.” Without a doubt, Kitty will always be a special part of my heart.

Over the years, Kitty’s purrs, headbutts, cheek rubs, and even scratching have offered refuge from some of life’s more difficult realities. Three terrible winters in upstate New York, an abrupt career change, the death of my Grandmother, the loss of a job and the helpless uncertainty that followed, as well as too many other personal struggles to list all contributed to my ability to cope thanks in large part to Kitty. Throughout a decade of change, loss, and upheaval, Kitty remained the only constant in my life.

She finally decided to ride in my 18-wheeler as the shotgun passenger. We hauled everything from pet food to toilet paper, Cap’n Crunch to knurled pistons from coast to coast during the five years she traveled with me. Along the way, she charmed countless security guards at hundreds of freight shippers and customers. She would jump into my lap after a long day and stick her head out the window to take in the atmosphere of wherever we happened to be. Her boundless curiosity and love of life were never more apparent. Her little pink nose twitched quickly as she savored the aromatic wonders of the world in which we lived, and her eyes glazed over in the bliss of the moment, expressing the unmistakable pure satisfaction of the gift of life. Sometimes I had to let go of the frustrations of the day and just smile at Kitty’s happiness because she could make the act of being alive euphoric. It was just one of many presents Kitty gave me while we were together.

The greatest gift from Kitty may have come in the middle of an unlikely love story. In 2008, Tonie was a college professor in El Paso, Texas, and I was a truck driver from Alabama when we first met. It was clear from the beginning that despite the differences in our upbringings, we complimented one another like RC Cola and Moon Pie or, in terms of her culture, like Crema and Tacos al pastor. Although it seemed like an odd match, once we had tasted the magical combination, it was difficult to imagine one without the other. Thus began a long-distance relationship that allowed me to get along well with the American Airlines employees at the Huntsville International Airport for the following year or so. We ultimately came to the conclusion that since my job allowed for mobility, it was time for me to relocate to El Paso.

The meetings between Tonie and Kitty before they went to El Paso were cautious. Tonie was unfamiliar with cats, and Kitty frequently displayed snobbish behavior toward other people in general. She was notably picky when it came to female humans. Prior to meeting Tonie, I had a scattered and sporadic dating life, with the majority of my dates being one-night stands. But on the rare occasions that I did bring a date home, Kitty usually responded to their intrusion into her domain with a combative glare. I can still clearly recall Kitty hissing angrily at one of them for having the gall to try to pet her. Tonie and I were concerned about the situation when I moved to El Paso because Kitty’s history with human females had been largely antagonistic. Kitty’s history with animals was not much different from her history with people; Tonie also owned two dogs. So, there was also that to worry about.

Although the players did not immediately adapt to the new way of life, Kitty warmed up to the dogs and Tonie even more quickly than we had anticipated. Tonie also developed feelings for Kitty fairly quickly. Kitty calmed our worst fears by gracefully assimilating into her new extended family. Not long after, Kitty started rubbing against Tonie to give her the affection she had previously only given to me. The RC Cola to my Moon Pie and the Crema to my taco, perhaps Kitty’s confirmation that I had finally discovered the ideal match. I could not have asked for a better gift.

On the day Kitty passed away, Tonie wept just as freely as I did, and it became clear that we had lost more than just a pet; we had lost a member of the family. Before she passed away, I gave her a head kiss and told her I loved her, but she already knew that. I can find comfort in the knowledge that she was loved and cherished despite the pain of losing her. She was my most dependable and welcome friend for many years before I met Tonie, and she later became a beloved member of a new family. She was without a doubt one of the more travelled cats in the United States, having visited all 48 contiguous states and leaving her paw prints in most of them. The perfect traveling companion was waiting for me. I was delighted to return the love and friendship she had given me for more than 17 years. To ensure that Kitty could always experience the communion with nature that she so cherished, Tonie and I scattered her ashes beneath a lovely cottonwood tree on the banks of the Rio Grande.

My sweet girl, goodby. You were so much more than “just a cat.” The best friend I’ve ever had was you.

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