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File Under: Lessons Learned from a Cat (Lesson #1)

I could write a book on all the lessons I've learned from cats. Naps are good. Stalk quietly and pounce when the moment is ripe for catching what you want. Play. Have good boundaries. The list goes on and on. But all of that is for another day.

Today I must write about Dillon.

Dillon is the most beautiful smoke tabby you could ever hope to meet. His topcoat is dark grey with black stripes; his undercoat is light silver. So his color changes with every step. He is a study in greyscale with dusty emerald eyes and jet black pads on his paws.

Dillon was born in the spring of 2003, one of six kittens to a semi-feral mother. I know this because I took his uber-pregnant mother to the veterinary clinic on the day I moved to Starlight Farm. It was a momentous occasion, for Dillon's mother and for me. I had been living in a trailer in a trailer park. I realize it would sound more elegant to say, "I had been living in a mobile home in a gated mobile home park," but this is East Tennessee and not some posh retirement village in south Florida. It was a trailer. In a trailer park.

Dillon's mother had become a frequent visitor to my back porch for her daily ration of dry cat food and kind words. As I packed my belongings in preparation of moving to my very own piece of land - six acres of impermeable, shale-infested East Tennessee hillside, complete with an aged single-wide trailer that would serve as home until I could gather funds to build a cabin - I realized that, once I left that trailer park, this young, pretty, pregnant stray cat was very likely going to go hungry and have her kittens with zero support.

Instead of leaving her to such uncertainty, I scooped up this half-wild graphite colored cat with green eyes, put her in a carrier, and hauled her to my vet to board her for a few days until I got settled in my new place and then she would come and live with me at my new farm. I named her, "Smokey."

Dillon and his five siblings were born the first night at the vet hospital. One kitten didn't survive the night; the other five - Dillon, Festus, Rachel, Bear (a female who, when she was born, resembled a miniature black bear) and Angel - survived and thrived and, two weeks later, Smokey and her young family came to the farm and filled my home with the joy and laughter and scampering that only a litter of kittens can do.

When they were old enough, all of them, including Smokey, were "fixed" and microchipped and given the option of staying in the house or running around the farm. All six eventually decided the lure of mice and moles far exceeded the comforts of the couch, and so they all became barn cats over time.

And, over time, as life always goes, one by one they left me. Smokey wandered away a few months after her kittens were weaned. She was spayed and microchipped, but I never heard another word from her. Bear contracted a horrible degenerative illness and was helped across the Rainbow bridge in her eighth year. And so, one by one, each of my dear kittens left.

Except Dillon.

Dillon lived in the woods and loved every minute of it. He came to the barn every morning and every evening without fail but refused to come in the house. He ate his food and stayed for a few minutes of snuggles and petting and then headed back to the woods. You could hear him coming, too. Dillon was like a bat - he meowed in rhythm to his movement, using cat-sonar to let me know where he was and that he was coming in for food and snuggles. "Meow." walkwalkwalk "Meow." walkwalkwalk "Meow." walkwalkwalk

Every single day.

For years.

Then, two winters ago, Dillon showed up at the barn with a wound on his neck. Two tiny puncture marks. Skunk? Snake? I had no clue. But he let me pick him up and shave his neck with no restraint at all. He let me put him in a large crate in the garage so I could monitor his healing. But it was so very cold, even in the garage, I decided to bring him into the house.

By this point in my life, the old single-wide trailer had morphed into a new d-log cabin. My little dream-come-true house, and I had a couple of cats in the house already.

But Dillon is one cool cat, and he fit into the "pride" of house cats right away. And for whatever reason, after a decade of living the outdoor life by choice, Dillon decided he would become an indoor cat. From that first night onward, he never approached a door to leave the house. Ever.

Dillon's new routine included endless hours of sunbathing on the back of my favorite reading chair - an oversized, overstuffed, supersoft piece of furniture that was perfectly designed for catnapping along the back of the headrest. He was the perfect housecat. He never picked a fight with another cat. He never missed the litter box. Not once.

Until today.

This morning, I found Dillon lying in an oversized pet bed, unable to see and unable to control his bladder. He was making his transition. I have no idea why. He seemed a little quieter than usual the last two days, but nothing to be overly concerned about. Or so I thought. But Dillon is leaving me. Today.

I tell myself I've been a good mother to this cat-child. That he's had a good life and a relatively long life, considering his first decade was as an outdoor cat. I tell myself he knew love and peace and happiness and abundant food and snuggles every day of his entire life.

I tell myself many things.

That I must focus on work today. Deadlines and due dates and committments and I run my own law firm and my staff depend on me to earn their wages and my clients depend on me to take care of their legal matters and my family depends on me to earn their food and shelter and warmth and every box of cat litter at home and every paper clip at work. I am a dedicated professional. I am a disciplined person. I work hard. I work long hours. I provide top-quality deliverables. I can DO this.

I tell myself.

And I have many other critterchildren and each of them must eventually make their transition and I have to understand this and deal with it. And Dillon was the quietest of them all and could go unnoticed, unlike Gideon, my goldenboy who is young and playful and absolutely will NOT be ignored and demands snuggles when he climbs my chest and curls around my shoulders and tucks his head under my ear and purrs so very loudly. Gideon demands time to get affection and to give it in return.

Dillon never demanded anything.

Dillon always gave.

And today, as he is leaving me, he is still giving. A steady purr to say, "thank you, mommie" and "goodbye, mommie" and "I love you, mommie." All while his body is stiff and unyielding and almost unresponsive. And it's almost Christmas, Dillon, and I don't want to be sad. And yet he continues to give. Transitioning now, instead of January, so the soil is soft enough to dig a grave. Such a thoughtful soul is Dillon.

Tis the Season of giving. And Dillon has been a Zen Master in teaching the art of giving and asking nothing in return. And today, he is giving his very life.

I like to imagine, when an animal leaves this plane of existence, he is going to be a companion for some child who has prematurely transitioned. I find comfort in the thought that right now, as my own heart is breaking, some little girl who left shattered parents behind is right this minute sitting on God's lap and asking for a sweet smoke tabby cat and God smiles at her tiny face and says, "I have the perfect cat for you, sweetheart, and he is making his way to you right this minute. His name is Dillon and you'll be playing with him very soon."

Being a Godly woman is hard. Being a lawyer is hard. Being a small business owner is hard. Being a farmer is hard. Being an animal rescuer is hard.

On days like today, being a mother is the hardest job in the world.

I love you, Dillon. Thank you for every moment of joy and happiness you shared with me. Peace to you on your journey. And please tell Sam and Spencer and Tickles and Lizzi Mae and Koko and Spud and Smudge and all my other children long gone that I said, "hi" and I still think of them often, and

I love each of them with a mother's love.

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