Saturday, January 1, 2011

Past Lives: Animal Reincarnation

I know this is going to sound absolutely bonkers-crazy, but I'm going to say it anyway: my cat is the reincarnation of my previous and now passed-away cat. Yes, I know I sound like one of those strange cat ladies who believes they are the reincarnation of an Egyptian princess. I'm well aware of how off-the-charts nuts this sounds. And yet I find it's an inescapable deduction: my Mickey is the reincarnation of my dear, late Rowdy. Here's why.

Rowdy was only four years old when he developed all sorts of horrible medical problems. He had kidney stones. He had an immune response to his regular distemper booster shot which caused his whole body to break out in sores. He had a stroke. Then he developed pancreatitis, and that was the final straw. My dear, sweet little boy had to be put to sleep. He was in so much pain, it was the right thing to do, as there was no hope for him to recover. It broke my heart. And the night before we took him to the vet to end his misery, I told him: you have to come back to me. You simply have to, because four years just isn't enough.


After Rowdy was gone, we started to look for a new kitten right away in an attempt to dull the pain of missing our poor little boy. We even found one. It was a rambunctious Abyssinian from a backyard breeder about an hour from our house. We took home this waif of a thing, and discovered he was taken too soon from his mama; our vet said he was underweight, bloated, and could possibly have F.I.P. Wanting to do the right thing for this baby, we took him back to the breeder where he would have the best chance of getting well with his family. And we went back to looking for a kitten.

We looked on the internet -- it seems most of my life happens online -- and found a breeder in California whose queen had just been bred...the day before! Of course it would be 65 days before our new baby was born, but we didn't care. The daddy cat (or stud cat) was the very image of our poor Rowdy! Now that turned out not to be such a big coincidence. We learned, upon writing to the breeder, that Daddy was a cousin of our Rowdy; they shared a grandfather. Naturally, missing our departed "son," we couldn't help but sign up for whatever treasured kittens this Daddy would produce. About two months later, we got to watch as our new family member took his first steps in the queen's nest, as the breeder had everything on camera for her potential kitten homes to see via internet.

Eleven weeks later, and we arrived at the breeder's home to meet our new baby. She had seven kittens, all spoken for, all running around our feet in a blur, playing with each other and ignoring us visitors. As we talked to the breeder about cat-related topics, watching the "children" playing on the living room floor, one kitten came and sat down at my mother's feet, as if to say, "I'm going home with you." All the other cats and kittens were oblivious. This kitten, chosen by us at birth via webcam from two states away, we learned was our kitten. We named him Mickey.

Now here are reasons I am so certain Mickey is actually Rowdy reincarnated: Rowdy's favorite person was my mother, and when he stopped running and playing, it was my mother's lap he would land on. He loved to play fetch, and would play for hours if you kept the game going. We have a box of cat toys at our house, and of all the scores of different toys to choose from, Rowdy preferred one toy over all the others, e.g. "The Fetching Toy." This he would dig out of the box, put at your feet, and wait for you to throw it for him, as he was a very busy cat, and had lots of energy to burn.

Rowdy also had a second favorite toy. This one was a piece of sheep's skin, which basically amounted to a huge ball of fluff that no other cat was interested in; Rowdy alone liked this toy, and would pack it around in his mouth.

Another of his quirks was that he'd try to eat your food, and when he couldn't, he sit on the back of your chair and put one paw down on your shoulder, as if to say, "Remember me?" When he slept, he would always find a spot backed up to a wall or under a chair, as if he were afraid of being surprised or stepped on; often this would be a cold, hard place, such as a cement floor (and we don't live in a warm climate). If he was scared by something, he'd dive into the back of my mother's closet where he could not be reached.

Mickey came home with all of these quirks in place. Right away, he decided that my mother was his favorite person; his habitual spot was right under her chin (but only as long as he remained small enough!) When he discovered the cat toy box, he gravitated right for the Fetching Toy and the sheepskin. He was fetching on his fourth day with us with no prior training whatsoever, as if he already knew the game. If you don't believe me, here's a video I took of our eleven-week-old kitten playing fetch. Please note that, although he loved the Fetching Toy, it was really too big to fit in his mouth for fetching, so we used a tiny puff ball instead; when he got bigger, we graduated to the Fetching Toy.

When he came to us, our two other cats acted as if they knew him, and that it was no big deal he'd come into their space. Here's a video showing Mickey on his third day eating off the same plate as his new brother, Jack. Usually it takes weeks for my eldest cat to accept a new kitten, but with Mickey, not a problem.

Mickey will perch on the back of your chair if you're eating, and put just one paw on your shoulder, just like Rowdy would. He sleeps against walls, under chairs, and on the cold cement bathroom floor, and when he's really scared, he'll dive into the back of my mom's closet. I have had nine cats over the years, and only one cat did these things. Only Rowdy.

Mickey has one trait that Rowdy didn't: he's scared to death of every little noise. Understand, he was raised by the most loving kitten home one could imagine, as his breeder spent her whole life caring for her cats with no other distractions; I could see this loving attention every day on the webcam as Mickey was growing up. And yet Mickey will run and hide at the most inane of noises. This could be genetics, as his daddy is also prone to hide in the kitchen cupboards when scared. But it could also partly be because of the horrible last week Rowdy spent on earth. Having had a stroke, Rowdy was taken to the emergency vet hospital, where they insisted on keeping him for days, doing an MRI and taking blood for tests. All the while, unbeknownst to anyone, he had developed pancreatitis, which is just about the most painful thing a cat can endure. If I had gone through that, I might run and hide at the slightest noise, too.

Do I think of Rowdy when I look at my little Mickey? Hardly ever these days. Mickey has become his own little person, and the memory of Rowdy has faded just a bit. I love Mickey for who he is, not as a replacement for my dear lost boy. But somewhere deep inside, I do feel that Rowdy has come back to us, and that I don't need to mourn him quite as much when he's tripping me, weaving between my legs, the way Rowdy used to do.


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