I have a bad reputation around home for unexpectedly bringing home animals that need somewhere to live and be loved. Several years ago, while dropping off baby guinea pigs to be sold at our local stock and grain supply, I spontaneously brought home two pilgrim geese goslings. And there are many such stories I could tell you. But Tequila was an animal that needed a home less than I needed to share a home with her.
Two years ago, my youngest daughter and I decided we wanted a cat. After looking at the cat shelter website, we agreed that ‘Smokey’ was the one for us. He was beautiful, mature, well-behaved and needed a good home. On arrival at the cat shelter, we were told that Smokey had already found a good home but that there were ten other cats that we could look at. This presented a problem. Some family members were not especially keen to share their living space with a feline friend so, we had agreed that if Smokey wasn’t available, we would not get a cat. It was a sort of Gideon’s fleece; a sign, if you like.
So, we would not bring home another cat, or kitten, but would just look at the other cats and then return home to a cat-deficient living space. Good in theory. But then we met Tequila. She was ten months old and had the coloring of a panda bear. Caught wandering the streets ‘on heat’, she had arrived at the shelter only three days previously. When we approached her cage, she leant backwards, lost her balance and fell clumsily to the bottom level of the cage. ‘Eeow’, she said to us angrily, as if it was our fault. Not easily put off, my daughter opened Tequila’s cage to give her a pat. The panda-cat creature swiped at her with a paw full of claws. ‘Moving on,’ said my daughter, as she quickly shut the cage door and we went to meet the other cats. But we knew. We knew that we would be back. We knew that we would take home the crazy panda-cat with the intelligent, sparkly eyes. And we did.
The rest of the family were not thrilled to see Tequila instead of Smokey or No-cat. However, I was besotted! From the beginning, I knew that Tequila was my mirror, teacher and guru.
At first, we made excuses for her unsocial behaviors saying that we needed to be patient with her. She was a ‘street cat’ and required time (and love) to heal from her wild and neglected past-life. We focused on feeding her and giving her a warm place to live (the laundry) and avoided touching her beautiful panda-like fur as this usually ended in bloodshed. Our blood was shed, not cat blood.
As the days turned into weeks, Tequila settled in and accepted that we were a part of her reality; her tribe. She hid in bushes, jumped out unexpectedly and grabbed hold of human legs with her teeth and claws. Her sleeping place changed daily and it became a mystery to discover where Tequila was sleeping so that we didn’t disturb her and risk punishment. It was like living with a tigress that had shrunk and was dressing as a panda bear for identity reasons. We were confused. But I, at least, was watching.
At this point in the story, it is important that I inform you that I am a woman towards the end of my menopausal transition. Now 53, I have almost completed this fierce and informative journey that we call ‘menopause’ or ‘change-of-life’. (Change-of-life, it is and, change our lives, we must.) And, in some strange way, Tequila was helping me to understand myself and who I was to become in this new season of life. She was reminding me of the wildness, the importance of being truthful, the necessity of acknowledging emotions and respecting the wisdom of the body. She was teaching me to shed, to moult, to leave unhelpful things behind. She was showing me that I did not have to be overly nice; did not have to withhold wisdom or opinions.
While I was learning from my feisty guru, Tequila was also changing. In the mornings, she started quietly sneaking into my bedroom. After checking the bed was safe (no dog presiding over the space), she jumped up and let me pat her. This ritual became a daily safe practice. Unless, of course, the patting went on too long or was administered incorrectly or … or … or …
The weeks turned into months and Tequila began to show us all her softer nature. She remained an ambush predator at night and continued to punish us for inappropriate pride behavior however, pats and cuddles and even lap-sitting, became acceptable interactions. Her purring became a common sound in the house as it reverberated around the room like the rumbling of a suppressed volcano. Tequila found other parts of her catness. And we came to love her as she was.
One very sad day, about a month ago, Tequila was hit by a car and died instantly. (Writing this horrible sentence has released more sadness in my heart and tears from my eyes.) After burying her, I was comforted by a friend who said, ‘I believe our pets wait for us at the rainbow bridge to pass over with us into the afterlife.’ What a beautiful belief! I hope it’s true. Tequila was my teacher and my friend.
One of my favourite lines in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series is:
Aslan isn’t a tame lion!
Tequila wasn’t a tame cat!