After the Shelter People finally wised up and let me have my way, I got to spend all my days with Dolly. I loved curling up with her in her mountains of soft, fluffy fur. I loved it when she groomed me all over. I even loved grooming her.
In fact, I became so enamored of grooming Dolly that I started helping her clean all the parts she couldn’t reach so well anymore: I licked the tangles out of her elegant neck ruff and chest fur, and sometimes I even cleaned her bottom. Not because I liked cleaning her bottom, mind you, but because I wanted her to smell good when I snuggled with her. Sure, I swallowed a lot of hair in the process, but Dolly deserved all the love and grooming I could give her.
But one day, I found myself feeling really yucky. My tummy hurt, and I didn’t want to eat my food that morning. Even the meaty-flavored glop that I usually liked didn’t appeal to me. In fact, the smell of food made my stomach clench in an odd way.
The Shelter People were worried, of course, and even though they tried to keep it a secret, I heard them uttering the word “vet.”
What’s a vet? I asked Dolly.
A vet is a bad person who hurts you and pokes you and prods you and forces pills down your throat, she said.
I don’t want to go to the vet! I cried. It sounds sc …
Suddenly my whole body clenched and I made a most uncouth “urp” noise. Before I knew it, my body was clenching again and again, and I went “urp-urp-urp-urp.”
I ran to Dolly’s bed and cried, What’s wrong with me? … “urp!”
Get out if you’re gonna puke, she grumbled.
But before I could obey her, my final “urp” sent a bunch of yucky-tasting liquids and a great big clump of something nasty spewing out of my mouth.
Oh, man! Dolly groaned. Now look what you did! You horked all over my favorite bed! She stood up and gave me the most disdainful expression I’d ever seen. And they’re going to have to wash it to get all your puke off! I’ve spent weeks putting my fur all over this thing just so, and now because of you, it’s going to be all ruined!
I’m so sorry, I said with a sniffle. I didn’t mean to yuck up your bed. Please don’t hate me forever! Besides, that was awful for me. I lay down and put my head between my forepaws as the Shelter People rushed around with paper towels and sanitizer, grimacing at the mess I’d left.
It’s OK, little one. I know you couldn’t help it. Hairballs happen. Bast knows I’ve had my share of ’em. Dolly gave me a reassuring lick, and I started feeling better.
After that little incident, and the soul-rending torture of having fake tuna-flavored goo shoved in my mouth — “to get rid of the hairballs,” the Shelter People said, but I thought it was more like, “to punish the kitten” — things settled down. Lots of people came and went, looking for kittens and puppies to adopt. I tried my best to draw their attention to Dolly, but most of them didn’t even give the poor creature a second glance.
That’s just the way it is, Dolly said. Old cats like me usually die at the shelter.
But Dolly, I said, I know the right person is out there for you!
I used to think that, too. And I sure tried to make myself attractive to the humans who came to adopt a pet. But after a while, you just give up …
Oh, poor Dolly, I crooned, and I started purring and grooming her ears with extra gusto.
Then, a whole bunch of naps later, a man and woman walked in the door. As the bell jingled, I opened my eyes: these humans had white hair and they walked slow. I made a quiet little “meep” and they gave me a pet. But I could tell they weren’t looking at me.
Dolly. Dolly! I purred, bumping her head with my nose.
What? I’m trying to sleep!
Dolly! Your people are here! I said.
I could feel the weight of her grief. Sweetheart, you know how sad that makes me. Don’t even joke about it. She curled back up into a tight ball without even looking at the couple waiting at the desk.
I’m not joking, Dolly! These really are your people! Wake up! Come on!
Oh, fine! But if you’re teasing me, I’ll swat you all the way into the dog kennels. And don’t think I can’t do it, either!
She slowly unwound herself, stood, and gave herself as good a stretch as she could manage with her creaky bones. And as soon as the woman laid eyes on Dolly — and Dolly laid eyes on her — I knew the match had been made!
“Who’s this?” the lady asked the Shelter Person as she gave Dolly a gentle rub.
“Oh, that’s Dolly. She’s been here forever. She’s a sweet old lady, that’s for sure.”
“She is a darling, isn’t she, Merton?” the lady said to the man.
He reached out a hand and allowed Dolly to give it a sniff. Once Dolly gave her permission, in the form of a head-butt, the man stroked her neck. “Oh, and so soft, too,” he said.
“We’d really like to adopt her. Wouldn’t we, Merton?” the lady said.
“She is a nice cat,” the man said. “If you want to bring her home, Edie, it’s fine with me.”
The Shelter Human said, “You understand Dolly is a very old cat. She’s 17 now.”
“Well, young lady, we’re very old people too! Our boy Chester passed away a few months ago — he was 21 — and our house has been empty without a cat. We’d love to give this lovely lady a home.”
“That’s wonderful,” the Shelter Human said. She looked at Dolly and said, “Well, sweetie, it looks like you’re going to go to a forever home … Well, pending our review of the adoption application, of course.”
It didn’t take long for the Shelter Human to check everything she needed to check.
“Your vet says he’d send his children home with you,” the lady laughed. “And your landlord says you can have a cat. So you’re approved!”
I can’t believe this, Dolly said. I never imagined I’d see the day … Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. My eyes leaked a little bit, too, and I gave Dolly a few last grooms and head-rubs as the Shelter Human assembled the cardboard carrier the couple would use to bring Dolly to her new home.
Don’t cry, little one, Dolly purred. Your forever-home will come soon, and I’m sure you’ll forget about an old lady like me as soon as you get to hang out with your brothers again.
I’ll never forget you, Dolly! I said.
Oh, phooey, she said as the white-haired humans gently put her into the carrier and closed the top.
I was really sad to see Dolly leave, but I knew this would be the end to the aching loneliness that had filled her heart — and that the last chapter of her life would be filled with love, warm laps, and indulgence.