I am not aware of many cats that have lived out all nine lives on Dominica, but I can assure you that my dear little Tia-pet was
one of a select few felines in this category. At the age of 16+ human years, he departed this earth en route to “cat heaven.” Since my furry friend passed away at home on May 3, 2014, I feel as if I have the lost the greatest gift I ever received on
Dominica. But I am oh so thankful for all the time we had together; his constant companionship amounted to another enduring and exceptional experience on the Nature Island!
When I made the final decision to move to Dominica, I first settled
at Springfield Plantation in August 1998. There, I met a British/Dominican couple who had found a little kitten where they lived for some time before moving to the mountainous site to work on the property. Although a male, they had named him Tia when he was very tiny. Lo and behold, they came to me after I had not been there for more than a month and informed me that they would be returning to the U.K. As they could not take their animals with them, they asked me if I would be interested in adopting the young cat. As I was moving in to their little house, I found myself in the horns of a dilemma. I reluctantly agreed, although I was not really interested, due to allergies and other plans. I figured he would just wander away to another home if I showed no interest. Well, you can see that never came to pass. I resisted and Tia persisted. He would cry and cry until I let him in and as a very determined little critter, he simply wormed his way into my heart.
Perhaps one of the strangest things, and the biggest blessing for me, was that I was NOT allergic to him. For a while, I thought I had lost that allergy, but then I have proved that I still have it over the years with different cats both here and abroad. Go figure!
By the time I moved from Springfield, we were firm friends. I could go on about his adventures and close calls, but suffice it to say that Tia was one tough kitty. He was never a cuddly, jump-on-your lap cat. Instead, he delighted in very rough play. I and others who dared came away with scratches, superficial bites and sore arms from playing with that cat for hours at a time. And if he was hungry, or wanted in or out, it was hard to ignore that powerful yowl.
Of course he was spoiled, but the pleasure was all mine. He reciprocated with gifts from field forays: lizards, mice and little birds. Sometimes there were other souvenirs from his outings: a number of vets treated Tia for cat bite abscesses . Sometimes they were so large they had to be surgically removed. Although Tia had been neutered when he was young, he remained a territorial type. At all times of day and night ,I would hear the unforgettable piercing screams of two cats at war. Neighbours would sometimes tell me that my cat was giving their cat “blows.” But then came the day when Tia could no longer hold his own and his opponent seemed to have the advantage.
When he was 12 years old, I decided it would be in his best interest to become an indoor cat, as he was starting to lose those feline battles. The vet was worried that he would not adapt well, but Tia took it all in stride. He still had access to protected porches and balconies and was able to content himself by hanging out in those locations with a view. And of course, he would always still play with anyone who dared!
While there were signs of slowing down which became increasingly obvious this past winter when he turned 16, he still jumped up on the porch balcony to check out the birds by day and the bats by night. But one evening, I let him out on the porch alone while I did something else inside for a few minutes. When I went to check on him, I could not find him. I took a flashlight, looked down two flights below to the ground – and there he was – still moving. I ran down, scooped him up and called Tia’s last vets, husband and wife team Dr. Ronnie George and Dr. Nausima Paul in extreme panic. Fortunate for me, they had just finished their clinic and were on their way home, which is nearby. They came right away and examined him. There did not seem to be any obvious or serious injury, except for some sore muscles. Without access to x-ray or ultra-sound, there was no way to know anything further. However, from that point in late February, Tia rapidly declined, although he did hang on for some time.
Those wonderful vets continued to check on him – frequently. They also received a number of calls from Tia’s scared mummy as his behaviour changed and he seemed not himself over those last couple of months. It was hard to watch him fail, but that rough cat definitely had the heart of lion, and I was sure to tell him so. He did not seem to be in pain until the very last day. I sensed that the end was near and stayed right beside him for many hours. I am so thankful that I was there when he looked at me wide-eyed and then took his last breath. I assured him that I loved him, and then he left for that great mouse-hunting field in the sky – “cat heaven” as my mother referred to that celestial abode when I was a little girl.
This whole sad event would have been much more devastating had it not been for the calm and reassuring counsel of my Canadian friend Nancy from Springfield. We spoke many times on Tia’s last day on earth. After he departed, she kindly offered to bury him at Springfield the next morning. I was comforted by her generosity, as that beautiful mountain location means so much to me. Tia had gone full circle and his remains now rest at the place where we first became a family.
It was sunny and lovely on Sunday May 3, 2014. Nancy drove a distance to collect me so we could take Tia’s body for burial. She allowed me to sob and cry and unleash my grief while she alone prepared the ground with pick-axe and shovel. I offered to help her, but she refused. I was impressed with her strength and grateful that I could mourn freely. Fortunately, it was a quiet day and no one else was on the property. When Tia was placed in the earth by Nancy, we said a final good-bye and she tucked his toys all around him. I placed some rosemary for remembrance over his towel-shrouded body. Then we covered him with the damp heavy clay earth, small stones and finally larger ones. I placed a bouquet of white anthurium lilies and we put some pretty potted flowers on top of the grave.
Although I was extremely sad, I was content with the knowledge that he was at rest at one of the most beautiful places on earth. I will miss him for as long as live, but I am extremely thankful to have had endless pleasure from the companionship of a little boy cat named Tia. “Thank you for being in my life . I love you – forever and ever.”
As I think back over the 16 years that Tia was in my life, I am quite amazed at the number of people who have helped me with his care. I am indebted to all of you and I thank
you for what you have done so that Tia could have the best quality of life possible for a cat. God bless you!
Friends, neighbours and cat lovers:
Special thanks to Vernon Gordon and family, my former neighbours who looked after Tia often between 2004-11. Their willing assistance and wonderful cat care enabled me to travel all over Dominica for my writing assignments, spend time in other Caribbean countries as well as summers in Canada and leave quickly when my mother died.
Also to Ursula Joseph, my faithful helper for 14+ years who was always there for Tia and even rescued him from a couple of scary situations (which gave her a fright).
Nancy Osler at Springfield helped me through the most difficult process of Tia’s imminent death, his burial at Springfield and the painful hours afterwards by being there for me and allowing me to freely grieve.
Liz Madisetti was on stand-by to take care of Tia this forthcoming summer, even though his health was failing. She was completely willing to pet sit, despite the uncertain circumstances.
Other caring pet-sitters over the years (also known as Tia’s ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles”) included: Eddie Shillingford, Tessia Butler, Dr. Patricia Rodney, Whitney Sommers, Malcolm, John, Peter, Dr. Caryl Lockhart, Susan and Alden Weeks, Jenny Spencer, Ben Tapley. (If I have forgotten anyone else, I’ll be sure to list you and soon as I remember!)
Veterinarians played a critical role in ensuring Tia’s good health and well-being over his long cat life, and I have the utmost of respect and admiration for their compassionate work with all animals:
Dr. John Toussaint, Dr. J. Collin McIntyre, Dr. Caryl Lockhart, Dr. Reginald Thomas, Dr. Nausima Paul and Dr. Ronnie George were always available when Tia had an illness or an injury or was in need of a check-up. I especially appreciate the many times that Dr. Reggie Thomas came to the house to examine Tia as he became a senior cat.
Finally, I am forever grateful to Dr. Nausima Paul and her husband Dr. Ronnie George who provided phenomenal geriatric and end-stage care. They were basically on-call for the last two months of Tia’s life. Their support, guidance and interventions enabled me to better understand this phase and allow Tia to make a smoother transition to the hereafter.
To Tia’s first pet parents, Lorraine and Steven Ricketts: If you ever come upon this blog post, know that you gave me the greatest gift of my life in Dominica. Heartfelt thanks.
Rest in peace, dear Tia-pet.
Footnote: In June 2014, Lorraine, Tia’s first pet mummy contacted me out-of-the-blue by email and enquired about me and the little cat. We had lost touch for several years and I had to give her the sad news of his passing straight away. However, it was lovely to reconnect with her and to have shared the special gift of Tia-pet, the Dominican Wonder Cat!