Do bonds of friendship between animals survive death? This is an interesting question that may not be provable with hard evidence, but I believe that, in some cases at least, they do.
Consider the story of Coolio Cat and Nightshade, two of my cats who shared a lifetime together. Three weeks ago, Coolio passed away peacefully at the age of 15 (Read his memorial story).
This past Friday, his lifelong friend, Nightshade, followed him into the light. Now granted, Nightshade was 14 years old, and her health was not very good lately. But what interests me is how quickly she went downhill after Coolio's death, and how her behavior changed. I also had a sense that Coolio's spirit was still with us, and that he was hanging around with Nightshade, watching over her.
|Nightshade in her Halloween cat stance|
Nightshade was always an emotionally needy cat. She was a rescue who had a terrible, abusive kittenhood. Once we had adopted her, she quickly bonded with us and with Coolio, a young stray cat we took in when we moved here. Although Coolio was a year older than she was, he was still young enough to romp and play and teach her how to be a happy cat. On the other hand, she didn't trust our dogs, and would puff up and hiss if they got too close. It was this habit of rearing up like a Halloween cat, along with her somewhat grumpy facial expression, that earned her the name Nightshade.
In terms of black cat superstitions, I used to joke that although a black cat crossed my path every day, I also had a lucky white cat that canceled the bad luck out. Sort of yin and yang. Of course, I don't really believe in any of this, it was just family fun. As Groucho Marx once said, "If a black cat crosses your path, it means the animal is going somewhere." (Oddly enough, Nightshade started turning white in her old age. When we adopted her, she was pure black, but in later years she had developed several white spots on her fur.)
Nightshade also loved to ride around on my shoulder -- so much so, that I used to joke she was a reincarnation of a parrot. This was cute, but also sometimes rather painful, because, as she got older, she would dig her claws in. Even as a kitten she was always afraid of falling, which led me to believe she must have been dropped, or even thrown, at some time before we got her, especially since she was distrustful of children. (Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of her doing the parrot act, to my deep regret.)
After Coolio died, Nightshade became even more clingy. She wanted to be held constantly, and spent a lot more time riding around on my shoulder. Meanwhile, her health took a sudden turn for the worse. She developed breathing problems, ate less, and seemed to have trouble keeping warm. I would often find her sitting on top of the fridge, or next to the crock pot when it was on. She also sat on top of the stove when we were using the oven, and would snuggle against the other cats on the couch. And she spent more time sitting in the sun, where, presumably, her black fur absorbed the warmth like a feline solar heater.
|Nightshade in her younger days,|
when she was pure black
On the day she died, I had let her outside with the other cats, where she liked to sit on the front porch. An hour or so later, I found her dead on the grass in the front yard. My first thought was one of guilt: If only I had kept her inside, she would still be alive. Which wasn't really true. There were no signs of trauma on her body, no indication that she had been hit by a car or attacked by an animal. She had simply passed away. Had I kept her inside, she would have died inside. As it was, she crossed over while doing something she really loved: sunning herself in the grass on a warm autumn day. (I am reminded of my brother-in-law Enzo, a licensed falconer, who died of a heart attack while releasing his hawk at a bird demonstration. He, too, went while doing what he loved.)
Because it was the afternoon before the Sabbath, I was unable to bury her right away. (She is the third cat I've had die just before the Sabbath, and Coolio died on the Sabbath itself. Is this coincidence, or do they prefer to go then because it is more spiritual? The Sabbath is sometimes called "a taste of Eden," and Eden is, after all, the Jewish metaphor for Heaven. Plus, Eden has animals in it.)
On Sunday I buried her next to Coolio -- and here is where things got strange. I dug the hole as usual, lined it with dry grass, and laid her in it, wrapped in a soft blanket. After saying my final goodbyes, I filled in the hole and marked it with rocks. Then suddenly the wind came up, and there was a feeling of light and happiness. For a fleeting moment I had a mental image of Coolio and Nightshade walking together, healthy and happy again. Then it was over. Some might say it was just my imagination, but I am convinced that Coolio's spirit was waiting for her, and that they went together to the spiritual Garden of Eden.
|The graphic I used for years on eBay. These kittens are,|
of course, long ago adopted out to forever homes,
after which their mother, Chayah Cat, was spayed.