Pretzel by Jan Adrian

I don’t know if Pretzel rescued me or if I rescued Pretzel.  After breaking up with my partner in the beginning of a pandemic, I was suddenly alone.  As a cat lover, I had cats most of my life, but had not replaced the last two who died 7 years ago. I had been traveling so much that another cat didn’t make sense. Then the pandemic hit. Since I wouldn’t be traveling as much, another cat seemed like a good idea.

I made an appointment at Happy Tails sanctuary, picked out three potential adoptees from their website, and went to meet them.  The first one was totally blah. Just lay there while I tried to make contact.

Pretzel was the second one I met. She was in a room with about five other cats. When I went in and sat on a chair, she was on my lap within two minutes, wanting to be petted, and purring. No need to meet the third cat.

Her paperwork said she was nine years old, didn’t like children or other pets, and was needy.  She sounded perfect for me. But what really sold me was her stunning beauty, her baby blue eyes, and her silky fur. I took her home with me.

Pretzel was a very verbal cat. She complained when I put her into a cage, a car, and then a new environment. But I marveled at how adaptable she was. Unless I take the perspective of our souls and imagine that we chose each other before coming into this world, she had no choice about coming home with me.

She was the eleventh cat I’ve had in my lifetime. We lived together for two years, and I often told her she was my favorite. She came when I called (not a characteristic cat behavior).  When she wanted me to pay more attention to her, she gently stroked my arm with her little paw. She often sat on my lap and purred.  When I returned home after being gone a few hours, she enthusiastically greeted me, and gave me someone to come home to.  I loved Pretzel.

About 6 months ago, Pretzel had a sore on her underside that kept bleeding and didn’t heal. The vet called it a mass and recommended surgery.  One thousand dollars later, the vet had removed two masses from the mammary chain, and a biopsy said they were malignant.  Breast cancer. She thought she got all the cancer in the surgery, but of course didn’t know if other cancer cells were in Pretzel’s body. The vet said it usually takes about six months for cancer to progress, and I should watch for other lumps.

The surgery recovery process was very sweet. Pretzel and I bonded. The first two weeks she was caged in a large wire cage to keep her from walking around and exerting herself. At bedtime the first night, when Pretzel was used to being in bed with me, she frantically tried climbing up the side of the cage to get to me.  Instead of reading in bed like I usually did, I sat on the floor next to her cage and read out loud to her. It seemed to comfort her, and she settled down. This became our nightly routine for those two weeks.

She wore a cone for six weeks to keep her from licking the surgery site. She hated it. Instead of hiding in a corner like cats do when they don’t feel good, she started hanging around me even more. Since she couldn’t scratch her head in the cone, she begged me to scratch it as much as I could tolerate. We bonded even more during that difficult time.

Eventually her surgery wounds healed, the cone came off, and we went back to normal.

Then two weeks ago, Pretzel stopped eating and clearly didn’t feel well. An Xray showed tumors in her chest. Even though we didn’t do a biopsy, the vet said Pretzel had breast cancer, and it had metastasized to her lungs. This is the same diagnosis I am dealing with. What are the chances?

Steroids helped Pretzel feel better and eat a little, but she was no longer her old self. She hung around as close to me as she could get. I felt I loved her even more. Is that possible?

The vet said he could refer her to an oncologist, but in his experience, treatment would not be useful at this point, and I would put Pretzel through a lot of discomfort.  Not something I would choose for her. I knew our time would be short.

I have since heard that it isn’t uncommon for a pet to have the same diagnosis as her owner. Some people theorize that pets take on the disease to help out an owner they love. I don’t know if I believe that, and there is no way to prove it one way or the other. But the idea made me wonder.

What I do know is that my relationship with Pretzel demonstrates the saying I have heard, “If you want to feel love, look for beauty.” Every time I looked at Pretzel, I saw her beauty and my heart was full of love.

Just ten days after starting on the steroids, Pretzel was not eating. She declined rapidly, no longer spending time on my bed with me. She hid in the guest bedroom where she could be alone. I sat in there with her and watched as she changed positions frequently, not able to get comfortable.

She was suffering. Her life was in my hands, and I needed to help her forward. It’s often referred to as the Rainbow Bridge or Kitty Heaven.

Although her time in a body was over, it seemed her spirit remained with me. For such a small being, seven pounds, her absence left a huge hole in my life. Now my house feels empty.

I am grieving her loss, an indication of the love I feel. Grief and love are two sides of the same coin. We can’t have one without the other.  We only grieve what we have loved, and every love will end in loss.  I am so grateful for the time we had together and for the love we shared. I am grateful that Pretzel chose me.