Saturday marked the end of a 42-year reign of Siamese cats in our household, although we never did own one. Early on, we learned that Siamese do not have owners; they have staff. Similar to the long line of rulers in certain dynasties or royal families, a Siamese cat's reign can be defined by the personality of the ruler. We realized early on that Sugar’s would be a reign of terror.
For the majority of her 15 years in charge of our household, she ruled over every dog we owned. One can be a dog owner and maybe you could also be a cat owner, but not if the breed of cat is Siamese. I don’t know where or when this arrogant attitude entered the species, but I suspect it was at some point back when Thailand was called Siam. The kings of that era were fond of their Siamese cats. By the 20th century, they had become one of America’s favorite cats.
Their elegant eggshell white coats of fur eventually darken with age, so that near the end of Sugar’s life, her coat had turned an iridescent shade of black. Another significant change happened; she mellowed dramatically with age. She no longer greeted strangers with a blood-drawing bite to the ankle.
Her eyesight also got worse with age, although we suspect that she had poor eyesight from the beginning. She always seemed unsure of her surroundings and got especially edgy when something new entered the house, like a small puppy.
Six months after Otis, our Bichon-Poo left us for Doggy Heaven, we brought home another mixed breed poodle. We purchased a Shiatsu-poodle we named Sweet Pea. She is a small seven-pound puppy who somehow managed to make Sugar like her. She had all of the exuberance that little puppies have and wanted to play with everything from her owners' shoes, socks, eyeglasses and blankets, to toys and even Siamese cats. To state that Sugar disliked dogs would have been a gross understatement before Sweet Pea entered her life. She not only tolerated her puppy-like behavior, she would sometimes let Sweet Pea lay beside her.
During the last few days of her life, Sugar stopped eating and drinking. Two days before the end, Sugar left her bed and the bedroom where she spent the majority of her time and came out to the living room to be near the family. On her last full day on the planet, Sweet Pea decided to lie down beside her. As Sugar could no longer walk, she really had no choice but to let the puppy remain by her side.
I eventually told Sweet Pea that she had to leave Sugar alone as most animals prefer to go off and die by themselves. This was not to be. Sweet Pea insisted on lying with Sugar, their warm bodies touching each other. As the end approached, my wife and I sat beside Sugar and spoke words of comfort. I was surprised when she opened her eyes one last time upon speaking her name. I doubt that she could see much of me because she had been running into walls for the last six months. I do know there was recognition, though, because she let out one last, very weak meow.
Moments before the end, she exhaled what would best be described as a sort of cough. Following the third cough-like exhale she stopped breathing. I knew this type of cough from past experience. First with my father, then my mother, followed by Otis and finally now Sugar. Sometimes this sound is referred to as the “death rattle.” Whether it is the soul leaving the body or just simply the body exhaling its last breath is up to each of us to decide for ourselves.
Personally, I prefer to be there at the moment when a loved one transitions to the other world. Although death is generally treated with sorrow as opposed to birth, which is treated with joy, the two share some common ground. I see these moments as passing through a doorway to another world, with birth as entering our known physical planet, and death as exiting to the unknown.
Each can be as wondrous an occasion as the other if we only allow them to take their natural course.