One week ago, Danielle and I said goodbye to our oldest cat, Leela. Her passing was unexpected and has left us completely gutted.
Eleven years ago, Leela came into my life as a six-week-old kitten. She was this tiny little furball who was cute as all hell. I had never had a cat before. In fact, I didn’t really like cats at all. I grew up with a dog and dogs seemed to be more my style. But when a coworker found Leela in her backyard and asked if anyone would adopt her, I didn’t even hesitate to say yes.
As a small kitten, she was like any other. She was curious and playful. And she was smart. I loved having her running around the apartment and climbing up on the couch.
As she got a little older, she started to show some of the signs of her true personality. Having not had a cat before, I still expected her to be more like a dog. In these earlier days with her, I wish I knew better. At night, I would close my bedroom door and not let her in. I had a roommate at the time and when you have roommates, you tend to close your door at night. At least, this has always been my experience.
When my roommate moved out and Danielle moved in, we kept the same habit. Each morning, Leela would cry and scratch at the door. It was maddening, but I didn’t want to teach her that she could do that and it would work. And I didn’t want her to be used to sleeping with us. We tried the spray bottle to try to get her to stop. In hindsight, I would give anything to go back in time and not use the spray bottle on her. This has broken my heart for years.
Eventually, we gave in and started sleeping with the door open. She would sleep under my arm at night and it was so sweet. I wish I could turn back time so I could have done this from the start with her.
Still, Leela wasn’t the friendliest cat. She would be playful, but then switch on you and bite and scratch. It took us years to really understand how to deal with this behavior. Neither of us had any experience with cats to help us. Still, we played with her when she would play along and gave her love every moment she would let us. Even while my arms started collecting dozens of scars from her scratches.
About a year and a half after adopting her, I realized I was allergic to her. I didn’t know I was allergic to cats, I wasn’t as a child. Though, I always had horrible seasonal allergies so it’s quite possible the symptoms just got mixed in with everything else. I went to an allergist and ended up going through three years of allergy shots. There was no chance in hell I was prepared to give her up. I had fallen so in love with her that I couldn’t imagine not having her. The shots helped immensely and they were also able to give me shots for all of the other things I was allergic to, as well. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough for me.
We had good times and bad times with Leela. She grew more and more difficult as she progressed towards two and three years old. Getting her to the vet was nearly impossible. When we moved for the first time with her, Danielle had to wrap her in a blanket and hold her in her arms in the backseat for the entire drive. Leela had her claws dug into her shoulder the whole time.
Despite all of this, having her in our lives was better than ever not having her could be. She was our Leela girl. She was weird, quirky, and a bitch, but she was ours. We knew she loved us, even if she wasn’t the best at showing it.
Shortly after she turned three, we started to wonder if maybe having a second cat in the house would be good for her. Again, we didn’t know enough about cats to know that this was probably a bad idea.
This is when Fry came into our lives. He was another kitten, about the same age Leela was, who was found in a backyard crying. He was so tiny when we got him. By this point, we had switched to a vet that does home visits for Leela, but even that was hard. Our vet told us to be very careful with Fry and Leela. With Leela’s temperament, she was convinced she would kill Fry like a rodent. And she was pretty good at catching mice in our old apartment.
When we introduced them to each other, Leela wanted nothing to do with him. This is something that stayed true for the next eight years. Fry wanted to play with her and she just wouldn’t do it. She didn’t really mess with him too much. She would just hiss and growl at him. As Fry got older, he eventually started to fuck with her a bit. She got her hits in too, though. She would often times just block him from entering rooms or growl at him from across the room. This broke our hearts, but most of the time things were fine enough.
For us, having Fry, and eventually Hattie and Nibbler, meant we had cats that were friendlier and would cuddle with us and we could leave Leela be. She seemed to like this a lot better.
We tried to help Leela with her psychological issues. We tried pheromones, we tried medication. None of it helped. The medication made her a little less bitchy, but it also made her sleep all the time. That wasn’t a fair trade-off, in our eyes. Over the eleven years she was part of our family, we learned how to work with her personality. We knew when to give her love and when to leave her alone.
She always seemed angry, but having her in the house always made me smile. Her little trot as she’d run into the kitchen was the cutest. The ridiculous positions she’d contort herself into while sleeping were precious. The way she’d scratch the couch cushion and then just throw herself down on it made me laugh out loud every time. There was the time we went on vacation and she left a mouse carcass in front of our bedroom door. And then there was the way she would walk around at night with a toy in her mouth crying. She’d leave a mouse toy either next to the bed or in front of my pillow most nights. How I’d open my eyes to her jumping back and forth over my head. How she’d love getting her ears rubbed. How all she wanted was to get into the closet. Or how she’d sit on the toilet while we showered or got ready for bed. When she used sit at the top of the stairs of our old house and watch us through the a mirror. How she’d be the first one to greet guests and also the first one to make them bleed (I wish I was joking). How she’d head butt my chin. How she’d tell you off if she didn’t like the tone you took with her. How she’d knead on my stomach all the time. How she’d love being in bags of any kind. It was all so sweet. She was sweet. It was in there. Only we got to see it, though.
Of course, there was also the time she set her tail on fire on a candle. And the dozens and dozens of times she knocked over our drinks while we were eating dinner. Sometimes, it was an accident while she was trying to eat our food. Sometimes, you could see her do it out of spite because we wouldn’t give her our food. It was never not annoying as hell. And neither were the hairballs she’d leave us. Or the two years or so when she would pee right in front of the litter box instead of in it—of course, this was usually when she didn’t like the way the litter box had been cleaned and, I think, the litter mat we had at the time felt kind of like the outside to her. And then there was how she’d get mad at me when we’d travel and be away from home. When we got back, she’d be mad at me (only me, not Danielle) for a week—she’d growl, hiss, and swipe at me. Or how she’d growl just because we said Fry’s name.
But she was our Leela. And we loved her.
Well, at least Leela just used a candle to light her tail on fire.— Amelia Gapin (@EntirelyAmelia) October 24, 2015
And Leela set her tail on fire again— Amelia Gapin (@EntirelyAmelia) April 17, 2016
How Leela greets me after I’ve been away pic.twitter.com/2WQlBNLQ5B— Amelia Gapin (@EntirelyAmelia) January 10, 2018
Leela hates Fry so much that she literally growls when I say his name— Amelia Gapin (@EntirelyAmelia) July 10, 2018
Oh, cool, Leela licked the raw turkey. If we have to make a second emergency vet trip this week, you know why.— Amelia Gapin (@EntirelyAmelia) November 21, 2018
Leela is laying on my chest, nudging my hand to get me to pet her, and hissing in my face.— Amelia Gapin (@EntirelyAmelia) July 4, 2017
Cats are strange.
About two years ago, we were in bed and, out of nowhere, Leela hopped up and laid down on my chest. This was the first she’d ever done this. She was purring and head-butting me for pets. I gave her as much love as she’d let me. I didn’t know what was up, but I liked it. Over these two years, this became a regular thing with her in the morning, after breakfast, and night, before I would go to sleep. It made me melt every time. Sometimes, she would be purring and growling at the same time, which is a bit disconcerting, but I loved it. Half the time, it would end with her biting or scratching me, but it was worth it to get to give her love. I would whisper in her eat how much I loved her and kiss her on the head each time.
Leela refuses to get off my pillow tonight so I’ll be sleeping with a cat on my head pic.twitter.com/aW7hWt9i7Q— Amelia Gapin (@EntirelyAmelia) January 3, 2017
Leela slept on my head the entire night while growling at Fry who was sleeping next to me. #catlady— Amelia Gapin (@EntirelyAmelia) December 16, 2016
I have a Leela pillow again pic.twitter.com/IfuYicu7qd— Amelia Gapin (@EntirelyAmelia) March 20, 2017
Over this same period of time, she also found that she loved sleeping on my pillow all the time. For more than a year, she went through a phase where her and I would share my pillow all night. It wasn’t comfortable, but fuck did I love having her there with me. When I would wake up in the middle of the night, I’d just reach up and give her some pets. It felt right.
We truly thought that we’d have another ten years with her. We thought she would live into her 20s purely out of spite. She’d be absolutely miserable, but she’d refuse to die. It made me happy to think that.
We will never know what it was that killed her. There are no answers for us. She was 100% normal when I fed her her last meal. She was normal earlier that day. The day before. When she threw up that meal, I didn’t think much of it, at first. She did that from time to time. When I saw her laying on her side in the bathroom, I knew she wasn’t feeling well. I gave her water and she lapped it up. Then she came out into the kitchen and living room. She would lay back down each time like she really wasn’t feeling well. But she was drinking water and moving around a bit. And she had eaten, even though she threw it up. I should have known something was wrong when she let me feel her stomach. I should have known. Instead, I woke up to find she had passed in the night while laying on the couch.
Just got this text from Fry, Leela, Hattie, and Nibbler's vet pic.twitter.com/q9CWq0NqWC— Amelia Gapin (@EntirelyAmelia) November 13, 2016
Leela was our gateway cat, she was the first member of our very own Planet Express Crew. Because of her, Danielle and I have both become cat ladies. She changed me and my life. She meant everything to me. I will forever treasure the eleven years I had with her, but she deserved more.