So tiny in your cozy giraffe print fleece, your eyes cloudy with cataracts, and your little tongue draped out of one side of your mouth, no longer held back by your teeth which were now missing. You were a picture of sweetness and age. Your mom said you could no longer enjoy time off the leash, running through the grass as your hearing was not serving you. You had such a beautiful life here, you’re sure to be waiting for the person you loved most of all.

They adopted you at a yard sale seventeen years ago. Now you sat at the table with us in your Dad’s lap as we discussed your health. Your ears stood upright and your eyes moved in my direction as though you could still see and hear us, but your family told me those senses had left you some time ago. Dad placed you on the floor and you wandered about, seeming confused. Your memory was failing you, causing you to pace, unsettled. Your mom picked you up. Being held in her arms brought you comfort and helped you to relax. In some ways you were still so strong, your movements showed no discomfort, yet you were no longer who you’d been years ago. Time here on earth had been good to you—you went for rides in motorcycles, ran in the pastures, and snuggled on the couch with your people. Your mom called you her little boy as her heart broke from saying goodbye.

It was cold and raining hard as I made my way up the many steps that led to the kitchen in your home. It took a few seconds for you to realize someone new was in your house then you barked ferociously but your tail and your eyes told me everything about you was pure sweetness. Your body moved in an awkward way, as if all your limbs bothered you, but you refused to let this slow you down. One side of your face and your ear drooped downward as if you’d experienced a stroke some time in your life. You were tough, some would even say stubborn as you powered through all of the physical setbacks that came in your senior years. Your nose burrowed into my bag and found the tasty treats. Of course you needed to eat every last one as your appetite never skipped a beat, even as the sleepy medication began to have an effect on you. Your family heated up baby carrots and you ate these with such enthusiasm as if they, too, were super tasty delightful desserts. Watching you enjoy these treats warmed our hearts. For a dog who lived by his nose, savoring every tasty morsel and literally licking the plate clean, you smiled contentedly from a full belly as you settled into the sleep the medication brought to you.

Your eyes could no longer close nor open fully. The tumor started in your nose and found its way into every space in your sinuses then expanded, stretching and finally breaking the skin over your beautiful face. Even though we could tell every breath was getting more difficult for you, you still wanted to snuggle with your mom. She was your angel. Someone moved away and left you behind. You found her when she was outside and greeted her warmly. She opened the door to her home and you then never left, settling in to your human’s cat-friendly home. Later, when a dog moved into the house, the other cats hid behind you. They knew you as their big protector, the cat who’d keep them safe, swatting when needed at the dog who did not yet know that cats ruled this home. Through her tears, your mom held you and told you to wait for her at the rainbow bridge.

We met about 3 years ago when my youngest daughter became friends with your youngest human. When I’d come to your home, your mom and I would laugh together as we watched you chase and paw at imaginary things. You were a born protector. Sometimes your humans would wake to find you staring at them. Sometimes when the teenage humans had friends over you’d move from one sleeping child to another, as if counting and re-counting while making sure everyone was where they needed to be. You’d watched the children grow from toddlers to teens, but it wasn’t enough time. It’s never enough time. Your body began to give out long before your heart and spirit. They all knew you’d never give up on any of your people and yet watching you try so hard to walk and try even harder to go up and down stairs, it broke their hearts. It was time to help you find peace and comfort. I know you’re still watching them, forever their protector, always the girl on patrol.