Not so with Rooner. She’s been mainly confined to my apartment for most of the five years I’ve lived in Germany. When I moved here, expecting Gina to come with me, I brought her cat Pookie. Rooner came along later. She’d been living in turn with my ex, Cathy and then with my daughter Robyn. Rooner wasn’t happy with either of them. At last she had to come to Germany too.
My friend Lizzi brought her out here and Pookie and Rooner then had to try and make a go of it together. It was not a really good arrangement and I tried to have Rooner adopted by Keith and Yvonne but she never really settled with them either. Eventually Pookie went back to England, to Gina, and finally Rooner came back to me.
Rooner was a very beautiful cat, but with rather bad manners. She had a habit of waking me in the early hours of the morning, sometimes by sneezing on my face. Always very early, about the time when one of the neighbourhood cats commenced caterwauling. Often it would be 5:00am and I’d never get back to sleep. In a way it was Rooner who got me started writing. She’d wake me and I’d start to write a few bits. Perhaps, because my dreams had been curtailed by Rooner, I’d try and write them down before they melted completly away.
Rooner had a fine time when my apartment balcony was being rebuilt. For a while she’d have the luxury of climbing in and out of the apartment whenever she wanted. This was probably her best time of all in Germany.
For a long time Rooner was a strong, healthy cat. The only thing she craved, and I fear I never gave her enough of, was attention. She would love to come and sit on my lap or my chest. She would often perch on the chair arm behind me and gently tap my head.
Last year, starting in August, I had many trips abroad. My landlady Frau Reich would pop in once a day and feed her. Sometimes I’d be away for a week or more and on one of the trips in November Jens called me to say that Roo was sick, should she go to the vet? Naturally I gave the go ahead and they gave her a full check up and really found nothing.
Later it transpired that she had worms and she seemed to do better after worming and the removal of some bad teeth. Shortly after that she developed an abscess near where the teeth had been taken. The abscess was treated but then her left eye started closing up. The eye too was damaged and had to be removed. At this point I was offered to choice of having her put to sleep. Although the eye could be removed it would be expensive. I didn’t question the cost but what I hadn’t thought about was how much pain the operation would cause her.
They kept her in two days longer than I expected and when I took her home I was appalled by how weak and helpless she seemed. I thought then that it had been a terrible mistake. I wrapped her in a towel, soon to be soaked in blood, and held her.
By morning she seemed stronger. I had to go to work but I made it home at lunch time. To my astonishment she hauled herself to her feet to greet me. In a few more days she was moving around quite well and was starting to adjust to being without an eye. She even started to jump up to her favourite perch on the radiator.
But this was not to last. One night she jumped on to me while I was asleep and I rolled over and she ended up pitched onto the floor. In the morning she had lost her steadiness and was walking very badly.
Another trip to the vet and it seemed she had had a stroke. This surely must be the end for Rooner, I thought, she seemed to be in such distress. But no, the vet advised, small animals often get over strokes and I be advised to wait. Meanwhile the wound where her eye had been removed was closing up although the site of the old abscess showed little signs of healing.
Well, it turned out the vet was right and once again she rallied and it seemed that after a week or so she was improving. She’d become a very fussy eater and I struggled with numerous different foods to try and find something that would suit her.
Back she went to the vet every week for antibiotics and at length she improved and even started putting a little weight back on. Once or twice she ventured out onto the balcony. Then we had a four day weekend and I made a trip back to England.
I checked Rooner into the vet for my trip. I thought they’d be best placed if she took sick again. But by now she’d come to hate that place with all its associations of pain and separation from me. And she scowled fiercely at me as I handed her over.
I think that last weekend was the end for her. She was very weak when I came to collect her and seemed to have lost every bit of weight again and was as light as a shadow. It seemed that she might have had a further stroke.
Yet, despite her weakness she would still haul herself up onto the couch to sit beside me and rest on my lap if she could. But every breath seemed painful and she no longer had the strength to keep herself clean.
After a long night of painful, laboured breathing I finally decided that the end must come and I took her to the vet for the very last time.
In Germany, they say, cats have seven lives. In England, of course, we think they have nine. Rooner, for sure, squeezed every drop out of her allocation. My old friend had told me that Rooner would let me know when she’d had enough of life. And for me the life an animal is too special a thing to end without considering very hard.
In truth, as well, I'd hoped I wouldn’t have to decide. That I’d come home one day and find that nature had taken its course, and that she’d have died naturaly.
But it didn’t work out that way. In the end I found the will to cause her life to be ended, at least that way I was with her when she left it.
So it was back to that hated place where she had so many associations of suffering: the surgery and so many innoculations. During all the times I held her while she’d been prodded and injected, she had never once hurt me.
That last fatal needle, it too brought forth a yelp of pain before, at last, everything was over for her. But I hope that the last thing she knew of this world was the gentle caress of someone she was devoted to.
And that was it, until that final bill arrived and I went to pay it. I'd been expecting to collect her ashes. I’d planned to sprinkle them on the field outside, as soon as the wheat was cut.
But that’s not going to happen. There were no ashes for me and now I have no nothing but pictures and memories of that cantankerous, feisty cat. No opprtunity for a last goodbye, but this.
The vet said she had the temperament of an English landlady. It’s not a flattering comparison. But she had spirit, and while she was still strong, grace and beauty. Never did a creature cling to life with such great tenacity and I wish she could have enjoyed more of it.