That Christmas With The Awkward Cat Death

By Laura Lily Rose

To be fair, my sister’s cat Charlie had survived pretty much everything.

He ingested dental floss that twisted itself around his intestines; he regularly ate plastic, and was also fond of leaping on counters to consume chocolate baked goods. Moreover, he was an incredibly sturdy cat — lifting him off of the couch always prompted an “oof” and a slight sinking of the knees.

But last year, two days before Christmas, my sister noticed that his breathing was off and he was moving more slowly than usual. This was her cat, her hairy baby — who, even though he lived with all of us, was an animal largely ignored in favor of our much sparklier and more affectionate dog. My sister, however, kept a hyper-vigilant eye on him at all times and so she knew, even when the rest of us weren’t so sure, that something was off.

Mind you, this happened essentially immediately before we were supposed to get on a plane to my grandparent’s house upstate, which is our longstanding holiday tradition. We’ve gone every year since my birth, regardless of weather, illness, or personal preference. So when my 18-year-old sister announced, “I’m not going to San Francisco. I’m staying here with Charlie!” my parents and I were unsure how to proceed.

There had to be a way to convince her to go.

Sure, the cat was moving more slowly and drinking a tad more water than usual, but the air was also dry in our Los Angeles house (what with the heater blasting 24/7 to keep us out of that frigid 65 degrees) and Charlie was in his teens after all. Yet . . . nothing is more important than family over the holidays! Absolutely nothing. Our yearly trip to San Francisco was tradition, my parents reasoned. If she didn’t come with the rest of us, Christmas was surely to be ruined!

Appealing to her sense of familial obligation — and, yes, adding in a little guilt, as one occasionally must — ultimately worked. My sister agreed to join us, as long as her best friend, whom she trusted to love and watch over her precious pet just as she would, was able to come over and watch him.

Our flight happened to be the last flight out on Christmas Eve. We had spent a ton of time packing and my sister had spent a ton of time panicking but finally we were in the sky soaring over central California. The plane landed and we picked up our bags and crammed into an Uber. The ride to the hotel was talkative and fun. I had honestly forgotten that we even had a cat — until we were upstairs in the hotel room setting our stuff down.

That’s when my sister’s phone rang.

Charlie’s breathing had become labored. The friend had walked him over to the emergency animal clinic (what, you don’t live within walking distance from a pet ER?), but it had been too late. Charlie had died.

If you’re wondering if we woke up in the morning to stockings full of coal (to complement our endless apologies to my sister), Santa brought us a special Christmas lesson instead: If you’re looking for the easiest way to ruin the holidays — just stick with family traditions.

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Lead image: flickr/Dennis Skley

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