Farewell Ginger and Dora – carers supreme

Farewell Ginger and Dora – carers supreme

Ginger and Dora, both age 16, now at rest.

Ginger and Dora, both age 16, now at rest.

Ginger and Dora are at rest under the apple tree in my backyard. They lie beside my dog Titan, who passed away six years ago. They were all great mates. Together they were an incredibly important part of my eating disorder recovery team.

Three of my grand children are visiting today and their visit is forcing me to confront reality: Ginger and Dora have died, they are at rest, and my home is horribly, horribly quiet without them. Thankfully my daughter prepared the children. Aged seven, four and two, the children have grown up with the cats, loving to pat them and always treating them with utmost respect. The seven year old glowed with happiness on his previous visit, having Dora sit on his lap and purr. The ultimate.  He is happy that Ginger and Dora are under the apple tree, ‘because the apples off that tree are my favourite, Grandma’.

Ginger and Dora became part of my family in 1998. They were eight weeks old and I chose them at ‘free kitten day’ at a cat home in Melbourne. Dora was sitting quietly in DSCN6466the cage and Ginger was swinging around the wires like a little monkey. Their personalities developed in line with their presence that first day – adorable Dora loved the indoors,  an introvert, a perfect lap cat; and Ginger, the extrovert with some circus tricks,  was a garden cat, a friend to neighbours, passersby, tradesmen, everybody.

In 1998, a wonderful Melbourne surgeon replaced four vertebrae and three discs with a six centimetre titanium rod in my cervical spine (an eating disorder-related injury incurred 27 years before). The dog and the cats were my major support team during convalescence and during the final phase of my eating disorder recovery. They accompanied me on walks, they slept on the bed on and beside me, they were constant companions. They absorbed many tears. And gave immeasurable comfort and love.

DSCN3586They helped me regain me. Loyal, accepting, faithful, non-judgemental. My pets moved house at least 10 times with me. Some people say cats have a problem in moving house. Not my cats.

With each new move, they would sit in the car and look forward to our next home. Within 24 hours, they were settled in. We trusted each other and we looked after each other.

Visiting the vet was another outing in the car that they took in their stride. Purr, purr.

Until this past year, their health record was purr-fect. But lately both cats had developed serious problems that come with age; the time had come.

I suppose that growing up on a farm, I have the benefit of being accustomed to the life cycle of animals. That said, there are animals and animals – those for commercial survival and those for pets. My dad, the farmer, was a softie. He didn’t like seeing any cow going to market. And as for his farm dogs and, in his latter years, his house cow, his heart ached when their time came. One of my earliest memories is of my dad, in the early 1950s. He had two draught horses to pull DSCN7188the plough (before he could afford a tractor) and they were named Jack and Jill. I don’t remember which horse died last, but I do remember  Dad being very upset, and he dug, by hand, with shovel and crowbar, a big hole under the eucalyptus tree on the hill above the farm house. And in that hole, he put the horse to rest. I guess it was Dad’s way of coping with his grief.

So when my pets die, where possible, I like to keep them close by, in the garden, the equivalent of Dad’s farm. I talk to the pets when I wander around the vegetable garden and orchard, choosing a piece of fruit or some vegetables for my next meal, or maybe I am hanging the washing on the clothes line. I have a chat with them. And I feel they are still near.

Many of my friends with eating disorders also have a cat for a pet. Cats are very IMG_0969special. Like dogs, they seem to sense when our spirits are low, when we need a little extra comfort. They sit on us and purr, purr. They play, and make us laugh. They make it be known if we have let their dinner time pass (responsibility is good for us). Ginger would climb on to my office desk and start pushing papers off the desk top and on to the floor. He was so smart, and so considerate and loving, wrapping his arms around my neck and purring like a lawn mower; he was a like a wonderful man in cat’s clothing.

In his younger days Ginger would catch birds, bring them into the lounge room through the pet door, and let them go, as if to say ‘here’s my contribution to dinner, the rest is up to you’. The birds would sit on the highest shelf of the book case and doors and windows would need to be opened to flush them out. Mice would be brought indoors, too, and let go, and more than once I found one under my bed. Dora would watch all this with interest.

Ginger and Dora grew up with computers, lap tops, the mouse and the keyboard. In their early years, they would sit on top of the computer terminal, hang over the edge and swipe with their paws, trying to catch the words as they were tapped across the screen.

DSCN6727More recently, they have enjoyed sitting on my lap. They have helped in the writing of each of my books in the past seven years, and helped inspire the concepts for the three new books due for release in 2015.

Ginger helped to promote Australia’s first family conference DSCN5714on eating disorders in Brisbane in 2013. Both cats had an uncanny way of knowing when I was about to attend another eating disorder conference.

Even before the suitcase came out of the cupboard they began to behave as if to say ‘we know you are going away, can we come too?’ They waited for me to return from my latest trip, to the Academy of Eating Disorders conference in New York. And then, it was clear, the time had come.

I called the vet, and later that day, we made our last trip together, in the car. The vet was kind and compassionate. This was, he said, the best thing to do. In his 44-year career, the task he performed that day for Ginger and Dora had never got any easier. Home again, Ginger and Dora, were placed together forever, under  the apple tree.

Thank you Ginger and Dora for sharing your life with me. Would you like to share your pet story?

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