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A cat with a mission

By LILLIAN J. WINTERS

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 30, 2000


When family pressure forced me to find a private assisted care home for my 93-year-old mother, I was rescued by coming upon a small private home in a quiet rural area. They were equipped to accept four live-in ambulatory senior citizens and had room for one more -- Mom.

My mother fell in love with her new home immediately. Why? One reason was because it was a small country house with a large fenced back yard holding a cow, some chickens, a donkey, a horse and two geese.

An animal lover, she was even more enthralled when she was greeted at the door by two cats and a dog. One of the reasons she so loved visiting my home was because I had two dogs and one cat. When she was greeted by a cheerful little woman and introduced to the three other guests, I knew that we had found the right home.

She settled in with her new family and immediately became a favorite with the two cats and dog. Every other afternoon I would come to pick her up and bring her to my home for the afternoon and evening. When I picked her up, Mother always insisted I stay long enough to play with and talk to the resident pets before we left.

At my house, Oliver, Megan and Sooty would bombard her with yelps of joy and wet kisses as she fussed over them. After supper I would drive her back to the little house in the country.

As time went by I noticed Putsy, the gray and white cat, on Mom's lap every time I came by. Putsy would doze contentedly as Mom gently fondled her.

It was then that I deliberately began to ignore a subtle change in Mom. She stayed in her chair for longer periods and dozed more than usual. Molly, the proprietor and main caregiver, a jolly, lively, middle-aged woman, brought the change to my attention. I had been reluctant to see it.

She suggested I shorten Mom's visits to my home by an hour or two, and maybe come for her only twice a week, because she seemed extremely weary upon her return. I compromised by bringing her to my home for the afternoon twice a week, and the other day staying there to visit with her for an hour or so.

A few weeks later she ran a fever, and the visiting nurse came by twice that day to check her. Some days later, as I sat near her as she dozed, the cat firmly ensconced on her lap, Molly came to sit beside me.

"I think something's happening here," she said softly.

Trying not to panic, I asked her what she meant.

Molly pointed to the cat on Mom's lap. "Putsy won't leave her now except to eat and visit her litter box."

I failed to see what that had to do with anything and said so. She patted my hand and smiled knowingly, pointing again at the cat. She started to say something but evidently thought better of it. She smiled and patted my hand. "If the fever gets any higher, I think you should take her to the emergency room."

My eyes widened in shock.

"Only if the fever goes higher, dear."

The next day I arrived just as the visiting nurse was leaving. The fever was higher, and the consensus was that I should drive Mom to the hospital. They kept her there for one week and then brought her back to the home.

That week I spent some part of every day with her. She was confined to her bed. I found Putsy curled up alongside her every time I came. Mom would smile and inch her hand down toward her friend, and Putsy would stretch just enough to snuggle her face into Mom's hand. A contented smile glowed on my mother's face.

I glanced up and noticed Molly standing in the doorway. Smiling, she winked at me, turned and left quietly. The cat never moved from Mom's bed all the times I was there.

I finally summoned the courage to ask about the cat. Molly gently told me that Putsy had done this several times before. When one of the residents neared his or her crossover time, the cat sensed it and would be at his or her side in the bed until the transition had taken place, usually after no more than a few days or a week.

Mom worsened, sleeping more and more. When she tossed fretfully, I would take her hand and place it on Putsy's head, immediately calming her and bring a smile to her lips.

By the end of that week, Mom slipped over to the other side. The moment she did, Putsy sat up and studied Mom's face for a moment before slipping off the bed and out of the room. True to her calling, this special cat never slept with any other boarder until she felt it was time to assist another soul in crossing over.

Lillian J. Winters is a writer living in Spring Hill.

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