In 1999, in Portland, Oregon, I went to the humane society and got a cat. Shelby was a beautiful, three-year-old, tiger-striped Maine Coon, or partial Maine Coon. She answered to her name, so I kept it. When I went to pet her in her cage, she licked my hand and I was all in, so to speak. I took her home and she hid in the damper, for three weeks. I knew she hadn’t escaped through the chimney because there were soot soiled footprints to the food bowl each morning on the light gray carpet. I finally pried her out one day, boarded up the fireplace, and within three months, she was allowing me to pick her up and carry her about the house.
Shelby and I became very close. She was my only pet in my adult life until recently, and I lived alone for much of that time. She was a nurse cat who knew when someone was sick. I once had dental surgery, and she literally did not leave my side until I was ‘right’ again. I did live with my former partner for three years and when he had a retinal detachment and the subsequent surgery to heal it, she uncharacteristically, parked in his lap for two entire weeks. He returned the favor by giving her treats in bed, a habit I sustained for the rest of her life, another six years.
Shelby traveled with me, in a car, riding shotgun. She ate and drank when I stopped and used her box in the backseat. She saw (or slept through) California, Arizona, Nevada, Nebraska, Oregon, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. She also flew from Indiana to Arizona, layover in Dallas. I’ve never been so bonded to a creature as I was Shelby, not even my family. She was truly a witch’s familiar.
On April 30th, 2015, I came home from a long day out to find that she was ill — paralyzed in her hind legs, in fact. At her age, I knew what was likely happening, and by 1 a.m. that morning of May 1st, I stopped her suffering and let her go. I had promised her no tests, or procedures, just relief. And with good advice from our vet, I offered her that. Yes, she was nearly twenty years old, most of which she spent with me, adoring me loyally over all other people.
I was crushed for most of 2015 (I had two other deaths that year, one a family member), and six weeks after her death, I started a YouTube channel. So, I was distracted, and busy. My guides said ‘November’ for another cat, and with some complaining and resistance, I obliged. But by golly the new kitty could not look like Shelby.
I volunteered at the local humane society that year and had already met Mazie but she looked like Shelby, so I wrote her off. When late November arrived, I went to the pet store where the humane society farmed out cats to be adopted. There were four there that day. One was white and she hissed at me and wouldn’t come near me. One was tuxedo and he threw up when I opened the cage. Another was black and she scratched me. That left ‘Augustine’, the outrageous name my friend at the humane society gave her (he was good at finding names). I picked her up and she cuddled into my neck, and despite her similarities to Shelby, I brought her home. She was lighter in color, and leaner, and longer, anyway, and she seemed to love me instantly.
Augustine was five years old. I brought her home and she went straight to the food bowl and then the litter box, and then got up on my bed. Shelby had not lived in that home, so that wasn’t the issue. Then, she lay down next to me and slept for three days. She had no adjustment period whatsoever and during that three days, she did nearly exactly what Shelby did. She crawled under the covers and curled into my stomach several times. She lay next to me in bed and didn’t budge but to eat and go to her box. And finally, she’d grab my robe or sweater when I went to get up, extending her claws so that I couldn’t move without dragging her off the bed or ruining my clothes. And, she’d share a ‘look’, like she was teasing me, and it made me laugh. Shelby did all of these things, regularly — and that look. I was in awe, as if my little princess had come back to me. The grief I’d felt for months lifted, finally. I dreamed that I had three cats, and Shelby was among them.
I named her Mazie for being so amazing. But I was concerned when on the fourth day, she was still very lethargic for a cat her age. So we went to my trusted vet. I had noticed a large mat on the underside of her front, left leg, and thought it strange. So, I mentioned it and asked them to check it out. When they returned her to me, the vet tech showed me the one-inch cactus needle that was embedded under that mat, and it had been there at least three months as I knew her from the shelter. Mazie was very sick, likely with infection. That cactus needle, was nearly, exactly where the emergency vet had placed the needle to put Shelby down.
Antibiotic in hand, Mazie settled in and showed me a far different personality as she healed, hardly like Shelby. She did none of the things that she showed me those first three days. She is very different, and she’s adorable. She runs constantly. She doesn’t allow me to pick her up often. She sleeps away from me most nights. But every now and then, I get that look, that cuddle under the covers, and that extended claw in my robe or sweater, just every now and then.