So long for now, Sergeant Spatula

Spatchy in specs

Today marks the end of an era. For the first time in almost 17 years, I find myself without a furry companion. We lost Pete more than two years ago, and today we said goodbye to our beloved pastel calico cat.

Sergeant Spatula came into our lives just after my first cancer surgery more than 14 years ago. We were living in upstate New York where I was a pastoral intern when my friend and my daughters conspired to bring this palm-sized bit of fluff and sass into our lives. She was born to one of Crazy Cat’s litters (yes, that was really her name) in friends and parishioners’ dairy barn, and complaining vociferously from her flea bath she entered our home (well, actually the Methodist Church’s parsonage) and hearts to stay.

Sergeant Spatula

Affectionately known as “Spatchy,” the Sergeant received her name and rank from my daughters, who were evidently in a military kitchen implement naming phase. Life with Spatchy was quite an adventure. In her first year she managed to pull down the Christmas tree, bolt outside during a storm and climb some 30 feet up in the neighbor’s tree, and regularly perform acrobatics by climbing pants legs and curtains. She could open doors and cabinets and drove my mother to distraction with her uncanny knack to know just where mom wanted to sit and beat her to it. She was, however, cute and cuddly, and that covers a multitude of feline misdemeanors.

Although she loathed the pet carrier, she was a stalwart traveler, moving from New York to North Dakota to Tennessee and finally to Pennsylvania. She put up with the indecencies heaped upon her out of pure love for her humans, allowing herself to be carried like a baby, wrapped up like a kitty burrito, dressed in humiliating Halloween costumes, and have her nails clipped to try (mostly unsuccessfully) to prevent the shredding of my husband’s leather sofas.

2013-10-27 21.24.44

The cat definitely had the proverbial nine lives. In North Dakota she ingested 18 inches of decorative ribbon with wire edges. Several hundred dollars, a long car trip, and an emergency surgery later, the Sergeant pulled through and came home with the pictures and ribbon retrieved from her gut to prove it. In Pennsylvania she was accidentally sprung from the back porch during  a package delivery. For three weeks we posted signs around our small town, followed up on every lead, put food out near potential sightings, and refused to believe that she had become coyote snack. To our great joy a skinnier but relatively healthy Sergeant Spatula turned up chilling on the den sofa one morning.

Despite her combat-themed name, she was a lover not a fighter and claimed not one mouse kill to her name. The chipmunks tormented her through the glass storm door, and so did the neighbor’s cat, Hugo. We are fairly sure, however, that she had a secret crush on him but was simply too proud to admit it. She also served as sermon inspiration and writer’s muse, usually by plopping her corpulent self on top of my keyboard.

2013-12-31 22.00.09

For the last several days she was clearly not herself. She hid her illness quite well, something the vet tech said cats were prone to do. After the ribbon incident in North Dakota she was always a picky eater, and she was aging, so we tried a procession of new foods with varying success. For the last 48 hours all we could get her to eat were a few bites of chicken baby food and vanilla ice cream.

A trip to the vet revealed advanced kidney disease with no real option to prolong her life without additional suffering, so we made the difficult decision to not allow her to suffer for our sake. That wouldn’t have been fair.

The staff at Colonial Park Vet Clinic deserves a shout out. They were wonderful and helped make her transition as smooth and easy as possible, and they honored our grief so very well. I am grateful to them.

2014-04-23 23.01.36

Why all this fuss about a cat? If you’ve never had a beloved animal companion, I’m not sure I can explain it. If you have loved and lost a fur friend, you know exactly what I mean. In fact, this old world would be a whole lot better if we loved each other like our animal companions love us. We have so much to learn from them.

Thank you, Sergeant Spatula, for the joy and laughter you brought into our lives, for the love we shared, and for the lessons you taught us. You are already so deeply missed.

Thankful for a “Do-Almost-Nothing” Day

Today was a “do-almost-nothing” or “do-as-little-as-possible” day in the Blezard household. After the Christmas worship services, preparing the family meal, and enjoying good times opening presents and playing games, it was time to decompress. In fact, the only activities that caused us to leave the house were four trips up the street to the site of several “Spatchy” sightings (more on that in a minute) and a walk to the cemetery with the dogs. Other than that it was a lazy day of naps, conversation, and uninterrupted reading for the adults.

This Christmas, our first together as a blended family, was wonderful on most counts. It was a bit traumatic where the animals were concerned. Our way cool and much beloved cat somehow managed to sneak out on a rainy night which put a “damper” over the holiday. We posted flyers around town, and just this morning a young person called saying he had seen her getting into the dumpster near their apartment. Hence our trips up the street to look for her and leave food for her. Still no actual sighting for us, however.

The second animal event happened on Christmas afternoon with our Springer Spaniel. Pete has been having seizures of late, and the last one has definitely left him with some behavioral changes including enhanced counter surfing capabilities. Mr. Husband had left a pan of yeast rolls rising on the back of the stove. We went next door to the church to put our turkey in the refrigerator there until dinner time. While we were gone, Pete managed to finagle the pan onto the floor and had devoured all but one of the unbaked rolls. What happens when active yeasty dough meets warm belly? Yes, you guessed it; severe bloat and bellyache. Were it not for the real fear of a serious medical condition we would have enjoyed much laughter at poor Pete’s expense. Fortunately, he came through it alright, although he did barf most of the rolls onto the living room floor.

Aside from the animal trauma and the typical parish pastor post-Christmas fatigue, it was a glorious weekend. The worship in both parishes was wonderful, the generosity and love shared all around was something to behold, the food delicious, and the reason for the season–the gift of the Christ Child, the Word made flesh–was again humbling, amazing, and gratefully received. Yes, a “do-almost-nothing” day on December 26 is indeed something for which to be thankful.

For what are you grateful on this second day of Christmas?

NOTE: Congratulations to Natasha for winning last week’s contest. I know where to find you and will have your notes waiting. Thanks for sharing your experience!

REQUEST: Please include a prayer for our kitty if you’re so inclined. We hope to spot her and bring her home soon. It’s been a joy to know she’s still alive and close by; it would be so much more wonderful to have her back with us. Thank you!

REMINDER: Adventures in Thanksliving will return on a regular basis on January 1, 2012, with enhanced content and a focus on a year-long life of thanksliving. Hope to see you there!

Photo by GabriellaP93 used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!


The Delight of Dogs (and cats)

This morning on The Writer’s Almanac, Garrison Keillor read a fine poem about dogs. Written by Aaron Kramer, the words and images capture in beautiful concision what it means to live in the company of beloved canine companions.

Our family’s life is graced by the presence of three dogs. Pete is a nine-year-old Springer Spaniel–handsome, loyal, and slightly caddish. Dexter is a three-year-old hybrid cross of Pug and Jack Russell Terrier, possessing an amazing vertical leap, a winsome face, and a well-developed Napoleon Complex. Dexter really belongs to my oldest daughter and is only living with us until her return from teaching overseas, but we have come to love him as our own. Finally there is Sandy, a six-year-old Beagle-Sheltie mix who divides her time along with my spouse’s children between two homes. Sandy is known for an ear-splitting bark, dark, soulful eyes, and a joie de vivre that is only occasionally interrupted by the sounds of thunder and fireworks.

Spatchy the pastel tabby cat (whose full name is Sargeant Spatula thanks to my daughter’s phase of naming pets after kitchen utensils) manages to maintain her dignity amidst the canine craziness; sometimes she even acts more like a dog than a cat. Spatchy is a dairy barn cat from upstate New York, a gift from friends who has delighted us now for seven years. We have to keep a close eye on her; she has a fondness for trying to digest decorative ribbon and cut flowers, and she loves to climb Christmas trees. She is a fierce huntress of flashlight beams and bugs, and she much prefers the indoors to the outside world.

While I shudder to think of the total amount of money we have invested in vet bills, kennel fees, and the various accoutrements that go along with pet ownership, I would not hesitate for one second to count the cost worth it. They bring joy to our lives and and are the embodiment of unselfish love and devotion. Their needs are simple, and their capacity to give knows no limits. Like humans, they have their foibles; Pete and Dexter are cunning kitchen thieves, Dex and Spatchy could rival Houdini when it comes to escapes and devious hiding places, and Sandy is the queen of the world, demanding her subjects’ affection with vociferous pronouncements. Nonetheless, our lives are much richer with these four-legged friends.

A seminary professor and fellow dog enthusiast once reminded me that “dog” is God spelled backwards. Indeed, our canine friends are beloved creations of the Divine One and reflect well the love and compassion of our Creator. Theologians and people of faith have argued through the ages about the role and place of animals and their ultimate fate. I tend to side with St. Francis of Assisi who called the animals his “brothers and sisters” and who held all creatures in high esteem. Perhaps you are familiar with hymn text he wrote that begins “All creatures, worship God most high! Sound every voice in earth and sky…”

What happens to our pets ultimately? I do not care to speculate. What I do know and find comforting are the words attributed to St. Paul in the letter to the Colossians in describing the “cosmic” Christ:

He was supreme in the beginning and–leading the resurrection parade–he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe–people and things, animals and atoms–get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.” (Colossians 1:18-20, The Message by Eugene Peterson)

Pete, Dexter, Sandy, and Spatchy enrich our lives, model love and contentment, AND never fail to surprise, delight, and amaze. I am thankful for their presence in our home and lives.