Growing Up With Sydney

Tonight’s blogapaloza challenge:

Write about an animal. It can be a pet. A fictional character. A pest in your house (my personal favorite recently).

When I was in second grade, my family and I started visiting animal shelters in search of a cat to adopt.  In early February, we visited the Humane Society in Chicago and picked out the one we wanted.  When it was time to begin filling out the paperwork, however, we were told that there was some kind of mix-up, that the cat was undergoing medical treatment and wasn’t eligible for adoption yet.  Disappointed, we returned home empty-handed.

During the last week of February, I had this feeling of keen anticipation, like something really good was about to happen.  The feeling intensified all week until, that Friday when I got off the school bus, I just knew something was in the works.

When I walked in the front door, I heard a soft “mew” as a charcoal-gray colored kitty came up to meet me.  Mom had gone to another animal shelter that afternoon, saw a cat with a sign on his cage reading, “Good with children,” and brought him home.

We decided to name him Sydney.  When he was around, there was never a dull moment.  He loved chasing yarn and cat toys around the house.  When spring came, he stood at the back deck door, pleading to go out.  We wanted him to be an indoor cat, so we confined him to the house as long as we could.  He managed to sneak up to the attic and climb out the window Dad occasionally forgot to close.  From his lofty perch, he meowed so loudly that it disturbed the neighbors.

Eventually, we caved and began letting him out.  He proved to be an excellent hunter, often leaving his catches at our feet when we came to the back porch to let him in.  He also became increasingly brave, wandering farther from home.  To minimize the likelihood that he’d be picked up by someone and not returned to us, we put a bright red collar and ID tags on him.

We soon learned more about his adventures.  Elderly ladies would call us explaining that Sydney had followed them home from Jewel and was now standing in the middle of their kitchens as they unpacked groceries.  Another time, we got a call from some teenage boys who had left their car parked in front of a 7-11 on Archer Avenue.  They had left the windows down, and when they finished buying their Slurpees they returned to find Sydney calmly sitting in the front seat.

Another time, one of my mother’s friends came to visit and parked her car out front.  She, too, left the windows down.  When she was getting ready to leave, she noticed Sydney in the backseat just before she drove off.

Twice, Sydney was “catnapped” by a family on the next block.  Seeing him on the sidewalk, they mistook him for one of their own pets that had recently wandered off.  Their runaway kitty was a girl, and when we finally got Sydney back, he was wearing a bright pink collar.

Despite his antics, Sydney and I were inseparable.  After all, we practically grew up together.  I carried him around like a baby.  If I held him at waist level, he would climb up so that he could put his front legs around my neck in a hug.  He loved to sleep at the foot of my bed.  When Mom told me to make my bed, I’d protest, “But the cat’s sleeping on it.”  “Work around him,” she insisted.

During the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I came home from work to find Sydney waiting for me.  When I picked him up though, something wasn’t right.  I noticed a sizable lump on the shoulder blade of one of his front legs.  Worried, I pointed it out to Mom, and she scheduled an appointment with the vet.

He confirmed what we already suspected:  Sydney had a tumor.  The vet acknowledged that he might have to amputate the whole leg, but assured us that cats can do very well with three legs.

I came home from work a week or so later to find Sydney in the dining room, wearing what looked like a gauze sweater over most of his body to keep him from licking the wound.  He confidently walked over to me on all four legs.  Thankfully, the doctor hadn’t needed to amputate.

Unfortunately, Sydney never seemed the same after that surgery.  He never put on the weight he lost after his brief hospital stay.  Because he was so thin, his body sounded hollow.  When his stomach rumbled, you could hear it all over the house.  I remember when I came home after my freshman year of college, Sydney followed me everywhere, as if he knew I was going to leave him again in September.  His stomach made loud rumbling noises at night, making it difficult to sleep.  I remember trying to sneak out of my room to get some shut-eye downstairs when I thought he was asleep.  He always found me.

Not long after I began my sophomore year of classes at Northwestern, Mom called to say that Sydney wasn’t doing too well.  He wasn’t eating.  He was listless.  She said she was going to have to take him back to the vet.  I wanted to come home and spend some time with him, but I had midterm exams and couldn’t get away.

On a rainy, gray Friday right before Halloween, Mom called me again to tell me the sad news.  Sydney was found to have pancreatitis.  The vet could give us antibiotics for that, but it would only prolong the inevitable.  All his other organs were failing, so he would still be miserable even if they cleared up the infection.  He was 13 years old after all.

Mom made the painful decision to have him put to sleep.  I hated that I couldn’t be with him in his last moments.  I had had him from the time I was seven until I was nineteen.

My family has owned a succession of cats since then, but Sydney stands out because he was “my” cat and because he was such a part of the family for over twelve years.  I wish our pets could live as long as we do.



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