Ryno and I stood clutching each other, ugly-openly-sobbing on the pavement outside the vet as a perky couple brought their perky golden retrievers in for a check up. We’d just said forever goodbye to Anouck, our green-eyed, black cat; the furriest of our family (we’re both not far behind in the body hair department). A few months prior she’d been diagnosed with diabetes. Even after routine insulin injections — every day, once in the morning and once at night — she wasn’t getting any better. She was getting consistently worse. After countless visits to vet Jenny, who we came to know well, we were informed that she had Cushing’s Disease: a syndrome so rare it was actually in an episode of House.
Anouck was an outdoors cat who spent her days basking in the sun and her nights chasing mice and bringing them into the flat as a kind of morbid gift. Awoken to demonic howls one night I went outside to find her in the thralls of a cat fight with a large ginger. They were fighting each other through a barbed wire fence. Anouck was feisty and full of life. She would often, though unpredictably, nip people on the ankles. Another pastime of her’s was gloating about her freedom to her friend Savannah who is walked on a leash past our apartment block every day. There are a few leash-cats in the neighbourhood, usually kept indoors as a precaution against cat aids, rumoured to be wildly rampant in the Tamboerskloof area.
Anouck’s illness developed over winter, she lost weight and fur. We were confronted with the loathsome reality of dealing with a litter box, she had always gone outside before this. There is no good place to keep a litter box: The kitchen? The bathroom? All gross. But we had no choice as she had begun peeing on things: the carpets, a suitcase, and once on me. We made fires for her to sit beside to keep her tiny body warm. She became glued to this spot. One night our Netflix was disturbed by a hissing sound, she was peeing on an open flame.
One weekend I attended a sleepover bachelorette party in Simon’s Town and when I returned, ferociously hungover, Ryno told me that Anouck had stopped eating. This was it. We’d always said that would be how we’d know it was time. She was skin and bones. With a heavy heart I took her back to the vet for what felt like the 100th time over those few months. I wanted to find out if there was anything they could do. Besides temporarily rehydrating her, there wasn’t. I made an appointment for the next morning so we’d have a night together to say goodbye.
Of course on her last night, to add insult to injury, she was ravenous. We shared a tin of tuna, hers in her small plastic food bowl and ours mixed with mayo and chopped gherkins in brown bread sandwiches.
She was a foodie. Before her disease she was considerably pear-shaped. Dinner guests would be shocked to witness her crying for smushed chickpeas saved for her from the rest of the tin added to tahini, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice to make hummus. She was also known to eat fallen Niknaks (fruit chutney or cheese flavoured, she wasn’t picky) and spaghetti.
The next morning was cold and black and adult. So adult. This was my mom’s role growing up. First taking Thailand and Orphan, our family dogs who were there before I was even born, then Shadow and Dominique, and lastly, the hardest of them all, our beloved Brooklyn, a dog I rescued as a puppy from a puddle in the Transkei. Making Anouck’s last appointment I had a new-found respect for my mom’s strength. She had taken on this responsibility to spare us all. We just had to hear the sad news once it had been done, but she was there every time — for them, for us. She told me that after each time, she’d buy a Shamrock pie from a garage shop, sinking her grief into soft and flaky shortcrust pastry.
I still see Anouck’s black shadow around the house and I can’t quite bring myself to return her insulin needles to the vet. I don’t miss mice under the bed at 2am. And we can now eat a meal without a small, furry beggar circling us for a bite. But nothing will replace our hungry cat.
Alix-Rose Cowie is a writer, photographer and the Editor of Chips!.