Check out the Emmy-nominated SNL short, “The U.E.S.” (I’ll wait. Enjoy!)
Kate McKinnon starts rapping, “I stay home with my cat, home with my cat…I got a cozy blanket, and I got a warm cat.”
I feel so seen.
Most of the photos of Mowgli and me feature her in all her tiger-striped, raccoon-tailed glory… and some semblance of my feet. They’re taken while I’m wrapped in a distinctive gray blanket on the couch, and she’s snuggled up, resting her chin on my ankle. The best photos capture her eyes closed during a slow blink, and there’s a serene smile on her face while she purrs.
Mowgli passed away shortly before midnight on November 10, 2019, after a brief battle with bone marrow disease, and a lifetime thriving as an FIV-positive feline. Always an exceptional creature, she departed on her own terms, with dignity.
Her death punctuates a season of my life shaped by grief. My longtime partner, and Mowgli’s beloved companion, Dan, died suddenly from an undiagnosed condition in 2017. Three weeks after his funeral, Dan’s parents helped move Mowgli into my apartment in Manhattan. I had never imagined life with Mowgli without Dan.
That first night I carried Mowgli to bed, and she rested her head on my ankle, like always. I burst into tears, despondent.
In the chaos of loss, Mowgli became my constant over the past two years, and her idiosyncrasies instilled a joyful cadence in my life.
She adapted to our new dynamic by conning every visitor for treats and barging into neighbors’ apartments uninvited. Mowgli kept greeting each day with “sun salutations,” a ritual of waking me up with incessant chirrups, then finding a sunny spot on the bed to sprawl out for stretches and cuddles. While I endured depression, anger, and exhaustion, I had that cozy blanket and Mowgli. She was a gift, not a ghost.
Mowgli was the Magic Johnson of cats. The Jonathan Van Ness of cats. She thrived as an FIV+ feline, and her immune-deficiency disease never suppressed her energy and ambition throughout her 12 years.
Her story began in 2008 when she was scooped off the streets of downtown Los Angeles by a recent college grad. It’s likely she contracted FIV as a kitten, or was born with it.
Over time, Mowgli found Dan and then accepted me into their pack. She traded her days of evading coyotes in the Hollywood Hills for life as an indoor cat, basking in the Santa Monica sunshine, experiencing her first autumn in Connecticut, and then hunting city mice in Manhattan.
I unlearned the stigma and misinformation about FIV. FIV+ cats can live long, normal, healthy lives. Mowgli never required special care, except for when she had some teeth removed due to gum disease. It left her with one fang, and when her lip curled, she looked like Elvis.
Mowgli’s FIV-status interrupted our couch-laden days last spring when her vet asked if I wanted to take in a young FIV+ cat rescued from a bad situation. I said yes without thinking and panicked about the details later. Enter: Elizabeth the Foster Cat, a curious, shy calico who likes to chase her tail.
Elizabeth the Foster Cat expanded my capacity for vulnerability and tenderness without the catalyst of loss. Taking care of two cats was hard and stressful, for sure. But I didn’t love Mowgli less with Elizabeth around, each of them created exponentially more love in my life.
All Elizabeth wanted was to be friends with Mowgli, and the closest she got was sitting nearby while Mowgli lounged in her favorite shoebox. The day City Critters put Elizabeth in a carrier to take her to the adoption center, Mowgli took one last swipe at her through the mesh.
*Update: FIV+ cats can safely live with uninfected cats. Elizabeth the Foster Cat started 2020 with her forever family! More than a year after she was rescued, City Critters found her perfect match in a household that includes an immuno-healthy cat.
I can’t believe these photos are from 36 hours before Mowgli died. She never lived as a sick animal, even during those ten days after her terminal diagnosis.
When Mowgli’s FIV-status caught up to her and manifested as bone marrow disease, I freaked out. I was petrified she was going to keel over any second. When the panic subsided, it became clear that Mowgli had her own path, and all I could do was give her strength and grace by loving her the best I could.
Grief shows up differently for everyone, whether you’re mourning a person or an animal or a chapter of your life. It’s super fucked up. Suddenly, the love you give has no place to go.
Well-meaning family members cautioned me against caring for Mowgli after Dan died. They worried it would inhibit my healing. For me, the decision was an instinctual, “YES,” humbled by the honor while full of fear and pain. I gave some of that unmoored love to Mowgli for two years. Mostly while at home, wrapped in that cozy gray blanket.
People fight for inner peace, acceptance, or whatever when they confront loss. There’s pressure to make meaning and to move on. It’s been four weeks. That’s not enough time to reflect on the magnitude of a life – or nine. There’s a new blanket draped across my couch now, and I’m testing my versions of “sun salutations.” I miss Mowgli, my warm and wild cat.
The night Mowgli died, her vet, Dr. Hyla Gayer, told me, “Remember, they don’t think about life and death the way we do. They live from moment to moment.” Dan’s beautiful legacy is about living and creating in the moment, too.
What I know for sure is that upon her departure, Mowgli reunited with Dan, her bonded human. His love is indelible from Mowgli’s legend and vital to her lore. And giving love to Dan and Mowgli doesn’t mean I ration the love I offer the living. Love is infinite. It simply multiplies.
Eileen Hynes is a former bright-eyed journalist who once interviewed John McCain about immigration policy at an ice cream shop in New Hampshire. These days she lives in Chelsea and her benevolent corporate overlord is called Sprinklr. She rediscovered her writerly tendencies through the medium of “extra-long Instagram captions” and keeps forgetting to cancel that yoga class by the 12-hour deadline.