Bessie never really wanted to live with me.
She and her sister were feral street kittens who were terrified of the world. But when their mother disappeared after I’d been seeing them for a few months — leaving the babies alone on my front porch — I had no choice but to bring them inside when it got cold that fall.
For 10 years, she’s reluctantly shared my home. She never lost her feral fear of the world, but she accepted my food and she stole my heart.
There was nothing wrong with Bessie when I got home Tuesday evening. She was impatiently waiting for dinner, just as the rest of the cats were. But by the time I went to feed them dinner, something had happened.
Instead of loudly demanding food — as she did ever night — she laid peacefully in one of her favorite sleeping spots. When she didn’t move, I feared the worst. When I touched her, she was already cold.
I had no reason to believe anything was wrong with her. She hasn’t acted unusual in any way. But there must be something wrong in the genes she and her sister share. When they were young, Molly had four kittens — which I wrote about long ago — and now three of those four daughters have died.
One of the kittens lived only a couple of weeks, not long enough to even get a name. Emily lived until three years ago. About a year later, Charlotte died. Both of them had an illness that the vet couldn’t figure out. Their bodies essentially stopped taking in nourishment, even though both ate all the time.
Can you tell which is which in this picture? Other than the amount of white between their eyes, they were pretty much identical. Molly’s on the left and Bessie is lying beside her.
There was two other differences between the two sisters. Bessie had only three legs, for one.
She wasn’t born that way, but she had an accident when she was young. She somehow got some strands of fabric wrapped around her paw as she played under the bed one day. Because she was feral, she wouldn’t call for help from me. She just pulled and pulled on the fabric, tightening the grip and killing the blood flow to the paw. By the time I found her and got her out, her only hope was amputating her leg. (I’ve talked before about how my online friends surprised me by raising the $1,800 to pay for her bills.)
She hobbled around just fine on three legs. A girl who was already tiny weighed even less than before with only three legs. Bessie and Molly each have weighed between 4.5 and 5 pounds, as have all of Molly’s adult offspring. I’ve never been around cats so small.
There was another difference between them. Molly has never gotten over her fear of people enough to even let me pick her up. I’ve never heard her purr. I’ve never been able to hold her except when I’ve given her flea treatments and she’s fought me as though her life depended on it.
Bessie would occasionally let me pick her up. She learned to trust me just a little bit. At times. And in those wonderful times when she could close her eyes and relax in my arms, she would purr for me. Coming from a feral cat who’s still filled with tremendous fear, it’s a beautiful sound.
I’m going to miss Bessie. It’s going to take me awhile to quit looking at Molly and wondering briefly which of the sisters I’m seeing.
I’m going to miss the two of them sleeping together, huddled closely just the way they were when I first caught them on my porch and brought them inside on a cold night about 10 years ago.
I regret that Bessie could never get over all of her fear, but I’m really proud of how far she came with being able to trust me. I’m sorry I won’t have any more years to teach her that it’s OK to trust — and that it’s OK to lie in my arms and purr.
I’m going to miss her, but at least I know she will never feel afraid again.
Goodbye, little Bessie.
Note: All three of the photos of Bessie will enlarge to a bigger size if you’d like to click of them to see her more clearly.