One of the oddities of pandemic life I commented on in the first couple of weeks was the way social distancing kept people from interacting with each other’s pets. It was particularly noticeable in Wrigleyville where it sometimes feels like the pet to human ratio is about 1:1. I didn’t really realize how much I loved those moments where I’d run into someone on their walk with a small puppy who bounded up to say hi to me until they were gone. It was a momentary connection with a friendly furball and by proxy, their human, that made my day a little better.
Now, 52 days into pandemic life pets are keeping to their humans as much as possible. Honestly, that’s the right decision. No one wants their dog to carry coronavirus into their home from the morning walk, but it is just one more way that we are less connected from each other. One more tiny bit of normalcy to mourn.
This is particularly noticeable because suddenly there are puppies everywhere. It seems like half the neighborhood has adopted a pandemic puppy. They are curious, lovely, and utterly confused why these strange humans passing by aren’t interested in playing with them.
I’ve always loved animals and grew up with dogs and cats. I was mildly allergic to the latter, but that didn’t stop me from petting and holding them. Right after college I was struggling through one of the hardest times in my life. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say I was working on a lot and things are better now. Shortly thereafter in the summer of 2004 I decided to adopt a cat.
I went to a crowded shelter and played with kittens and cats from dozens of cages. They were all lovely, but nothing really clicked until the last cage, where a truly tiny Siamese blue point mix was so very alone in a cage much too big for her. She just seemed to call my name as she latched onto my shoulder and began purring instantly. She was so small I was convinced they’d make me wait to take her home.
I found out she’d been rescued a couple of weeks earlier with brothers, sisters and her mom, but they had all since been sick with a stomach bug and passed away. The shelter insisted she was about six weeks old, something I’m still skeptical about to this day. But she came home with me, to my little apartment in Salt Lake City, Utah. I named her Phoenix because she looked like she was born in ashes and just never quite cleaned all of them off:
Phoenix wanted to be with her humans as much as possible, but she also was skittish of any new people or situations. I attributed that to her early time in the shelter. She trusted my mom, dad, me, a few close family friends, even our golden lab Emma, but that was about it. Any other loud noises or disruptions were sure to send her to one of her hiding spots until it was normal again. However, as you can see above, as soon as she was alone with her people again she was right there, in the room, on your lap, and often climbing onto her humans’ chest. I think she liked feeling our hearts beat. It always made her purr.
Phoenix lived in Salt Lake City with me for a few years and moved across the country with me to Boston. But two things quickly became abundantly clear. First, I was clearly allergic to her and it was getting worse, not better. I was sick constantly and the asthma I thought I’d vanquished as a child was rearing its ugly head. Second, my work travel schedule always seemed unfair to her. So, when my parents offered to let her live with them and Emma I reluctantly agreed. She’d have so much more space in their house than in my 600 square foot apartment, I’d still get to see her when I visited, and I knew they loved her as much as I did.
She was incredibly talkative and playful most of her life and topped out at about six and a half pounds as an adult. As a kitten I was stunned that she learned to played fetch, admittedly, in more of a cat way than a dog way. She had a tiny furry ball she’d drop near me as a signal that it was time for me to throw it. After I threw it, she would pounce on it to make it rebound a bit before triumphing over her ball, putting it in her mouth and dropping near me expectantly again. She also loved holidays like Christmas because they resulted in things like wrapping paper to play with and Christmas trees to hide under:
When I was home for Christmas last December she seemed a little more subdued and needy. She was less interested in playing with wrapping paper and balls, and more interested in being in your lap for hours. But she was still the same loving, purry kitten who enchanted me in a chaotic shelter all those years ago.
Phoenix passed away yesterday after 16 years as part of our family. I will miss her jumping into my lap the second I settle in to watch TV in a recliner. I will miss her wonder at the joys of wrapping paper. I will miss her moodiness as she looked up at me while I was writing, cranky that this computer business meant I couldn’t hold her at that moment. I hope she enjoyed her years as part of our family even a fraction as much as we loved having her as our companion.