Legend has it that she was a 9/11 survivor, found as a kitten, along with her brother Mackey, in Battery Park City shortly after the dust settled, abandoned or orphaned by a mother cat who may have perished in the attacks. It was probably just a story made up by the dude at the animal shelter in the hopes that they would be adopted quickly, but as the saying goes, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
In the end, Riley McAllen lived 17 years, had two confirmed mouse kills, and was admired by all those who came in contact with her. She will be missed.
She came to live with me through a series of fortunate, and no so fortunate events, during a previous relationship. When a fat-bottomed mouse ran over my foot in my previously sacrosanct kitchen, I was outraged. I brought in the big guns, and had Mackey and Riley stay with me for a few days to let those vermin know who was boss. Six months later, I was a bachelor with two cats.
Unlike her affectionate brother, she was an aloof cat, taking months to warm up to me before finally crawling onto my lap as I watched Monday Night Football. I sat still for 2 ½ hours, ignoring the cramp in my leg and the pressure in my bladder for fear of disturbing her and never receiving her affections again. After that, we were pals.
She hated Val when Valarie first arrived on the scene, ignoring her for the most part, and hissing at her when Val got too close. It was several months before she graced Valarie with her presence by jumping on the bed in the middle of the night. I could feel Val go rigid in the fear of disturbing her. I knew that feeling all to well. It wasn’t until we moved into the marital home that Riley warmed up to her. Riley got one of her claws stuck in the rug as she ventured down the carpeted stairs. Val freed her claw, scooped her up and kissed her on the head before releasing her on the tile floor. They were inseparable after that, spending quality girl time together in the bedroom, and going to get their nails did whenever their respective claws got too long. Val even convinced her to don a harness and a leash and the two of them would traverse the yard in search of butterflies.
I’m not going to pretend that I wasn’t jealous.
She was not the most athletic cat, and it reflected in the extra few pounds she carried in her posterior, and although she wasn’t the dominant animal in the home, she was not above throwing her weight around on occasion. After about a year in the new house, we noticed that she was starting to lose a considerable amount of weight and muscle mass. We discovered that, like many older cats, she suffered from an over-active thyroid. We were able to control the matter with twice daily pills, administered with the use of a chunk of cream cheese, which she loved. She survived the better part of two years after her diagnosis. Recently though, she stopped taking her pill. Then she stopped eating altogether. In fact, both cats stopped eating. Thus began a series of visits to the vet over the past two weeks. These are tortuous affairs for every one involved. We brought them in for blood tests and $700 dollars later discovered the Mackey had elevated liver enzymes, and Riley’s thyroid numbers were through the roof.
The trial of bringing two cats to the vet simultaneously proved too much for my heavy heart to bear, so I was forced to take them one at a time. I took Riley to a very prestigious animal hospital where they felt that the best course of action was a 3 to 5 day hospital stay for treatment and observation.
All for the very Park Slope friendly price of $4700 dollars.
For a 17 year-old-cat.
I managed to hold my thoughts in check as I explained that I would have to sell my home in order to pay that price, which by the way was not going to cure the animal, but merely extend her life for a few weeks, or even days. We settled for a bag of fluid and anti-nausea medicine, and for the next 24 hours, she did resume eating again, but it was short lived. We couldn’t get her to take her thyroid medicine, or the appetite stimulant that they prescribed. It was only a matter of time. I knew that we were going to have to make a tough decision very soon. In one last episode of strange late life behavior, I discovered her in the bathroom sink, letting the water run over her head and drinking her fill during the heat wave we had last week. I dried her off and brought her into the air-conditioned bedroom and placed her next to Mackey who was already occupying my spot on the bed.
Then I retreated downstairs to the couch.
As each day passed, our hearts grew heavier. On top of the impending certainty, was the guilt of not having the wherewithal to provide my cat with the best medical care.
It wasn’t until someone I trust shook me from my misery by informing me, “Don’t think of her as one of your young children, think of her as an 84-year-old lady in a housecoat.”
I left for work on Saturday night with an anvil on my back. I said goodbye to Riley as she lay on the cool, wood floor, stroking her while silently asking her to eat, even a morsel, to ease my breaking heart. The next 12 hours was not fun, to say the least. When I arrived home in the morning, my wife’s face told the tale as she greeted me. Riley was gone. My burden was lifted as my heart was broken.
But along the way, a miracle of sorts happened. The kittens arrived!
(Cue Elton singing “Circle of Life”)
If you recall from our last episode, we were recently adopted by a pregnant Russian Blue named Bella who took up residence under the house and gave birth on August 5th, the 18th birthday of our son Michael. When my wife went down to feed our felines on Friday morning, she discovered Bella crying into the front window. After yelling at her to go to the yard, Valarie made her way to the kitchen.
(On a side note, it still baffles me how the cat knew to come to the front of the house. Not only did she know that we HAD a front of the house, she knew exactly which one to go to. It boggles my mind.)
Anyway, after tending to Mack and Riley, Valarie went out to discover three new fur-balls emerging from their man-made cave on wobbly legs, crying and squeaking the way 4-week old kittens do. An orange, grey, and white Calico, a black and white mix, and a tubby all-black kitten, quickly named Bane, for he was “born in the dark”.
My wife was ecstatic. She fed Bella and made preparations for the new arrivals. So this is what grandparents do… The kittens were a godsend. They lifted the dour mood that had hung over the house for the past two weeks. Even Mike, not a fan of cats in general, came out to greet them.
On Sunday, after Riley’s passing, we buried her in a secret location somewhere in South Brooklyn under a fruit tree overlooking a placid body of water. A nice final resting place. Then Valarie set out to make a pet bed for under the house and proceeded to bathe the kittens under the watchful eye of an anxious single mother. They grow closer by the day.
The conversation turned to the future and who’s going to stay, and who’s going to be given away, and how we’re going to incorporate the outside cats with the resident king of 72nd street. Mackey has resumed eating and seems to be his normal, lovable self again, but he too is 17, and his needs come first.
There is indeed, a circle to this life. People and animals come and go, and bring with them the joy of living and the pain of leaving.
Good night Riley, my sweet princess.
We will never forget you and we will speak often of your quirky nature.
Sept 2nd, 2018