By Diane DeVaughn Stokes

She came into my life at a time I needed her most. In fact, she needed me even more. Some would say she was just a stray, nothing special, but to me she was priceless.

Tora Lora, named after the Irish lullaby my mother use to sing to me and because she had jade green eyes and long black silky hair and actually looked Irish, won my heart the minute I saw her sitting like a mountain lion in that cold, silver cage at the Grand Strand Humane Society in January, 1989. As I passed the many cages and talked to all the furry residents, she reached her little paw out from the bars and tried to touch my nose. Then, as I opened the door and picked her up and put her in my arms, holding her as you would hold a newborn baby, she gave the slightest little meow, and I knew she had to be mine, Tora Lora Stokes.

You see, at that time, I needed a baby to love. I was trying to get pregnant and since fate was not on my side, adopting a cat just seemed right. I begged the Executive Director to allow me to bring her home that day, but she was a “city cat,” which meant she could not be adopted for five days from the time she arrived in case her owner showed up to claim her. This was only the second day since Animal Control had found her curled up near a dumpster, starving for food and attention, so I proceeded to beg. Lucky for me the cages were full, and needing the extra space, the staff allowed me to adopt her with the understanding that if someone came in looking for their lost three month-old kitten with the same description, I would have to take her back immediately. Thank goodness that never happened. It was love at first sight with this ball of fluff, who needed a mother as much as I needed a child.

Dog lovers would never believe that a cat could give as much love as a dog, but Tora did. She was my shadow, following my every move, from sleeping beside my pillow to waiting for me to get out of the shower every morning so she could go in and play with the water droplets as they slowly spilled down the drain. She loved when I spread catnip in her basket, or on her blanket or toys, and begged for shrimp and chicken whenever she knew we were eating it! She greeted all of our guests with a lap dance, and adored every other animal that ever came into our house, from my parent’s dog to the neighbor’s cat, and even the occasional lizard that slithered through the door. Best of all, whenever she heard the garage door open, she ran to greet me, meowing that she was glad I finally came home.

Tora never gave me one day of trouble. She never damaged anything. She never clawed anything. She never missed her litter box! She was my angel cat, as I affectionately called her. A Rabbi friend of mine actually thought she was named “Torah” after the great book of God’s teachings. I never admitted to him that she was Irish, not Jewish.

Fast-forward eighteen years. Last June, Tora almost died of a serious staph infection that never let her regain her strength. After a series of shots and antibiotics, and having to be shaved for the first time in her life so her skin could heal, she survived, but remained sluggish. Coupled with the ailments that most eighteen year-old cats have, she began failing. I noticed she would stand in her water bowl instead of drinking from it. She was barely eating. She appeared almost drunk at times and disoriented, walking in circles. But, the night she fell trying to jump into bed with me to snuggle against my pillow, I was devastated.

Her condition began to worsen mid-December, and so did mine. I walked around crying knowing she was dying but could not make the decision to put her to sleep. Hey, this was my baby. This precious gift from heaven listened intently to my every fear and frustration during my myomectomy trying to get pregnant, during my four year fertility period, during my hysterectomy five years later. It was she who lay by my side and comforted me through it all. How could I ever carry her in to be put to sleep and end the sweetness and love we shared? Oh, I realized that tons of pet owners had to do the same painful thing, but I wondered if they too, relived all the good times as well as the bad through their pet’s death. I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown. I had no idea how my love for her was so neatly tied up with all the unpleasant memories of the motherhood that never happened.

On December 28, my husband and mother convinced me it was the right thing to do. I felt like I was committing Tora to the electric chair. I felt like I was betraying her.

But I knew that she had gone from eleven pounds to five pounds in a matter of a few months, she wasn’t eating or drinking and we had to give her fluids from a glucose drip bag twice a week. As they say with humans, her quality of life had ceased. The only trait she continued to the end was her beautiful purring every time I held her, even until her last breath.

I admit this was a tough article to write so soon after Tora’s death. I’m crying like a baby. I hope my husband does not see me, or he will have me committed to a mental institution. As compassionate as he is, he could never understand my bond with her that far exceeded pet and owner. But, maybe I can help someone else prepare for the pain and the resurgence of old wounds made new again, as they face ending the life of their most committed friend.

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