For we are more than blood
And we are less than those gathered
Memories shared of those gone
Instinct calling like to like
Love when there wasn’t always like
You find those you choose worth much

A few weeks ago, the eldest animal we have suffered a stroke in the night.

We didn’t discover it until the morning when I was feeding everyone and she was having difficulty moving around. I won’t go into the details, but it was terrifying. I watched my mother have a stroke in the middle of the night. I watched her recover from it. I have watched my darling Usa recover from her stroke as well.

It was only afterward that I realized I wasn’t the only one who would be profoundly affected should Usa not recover. She is, in a way, my eldest dog’s older sister. They were both raised by the same cat, though years apart and at very different times in that cat’s life. Each of my three dogs kept a close eye on Usako as she worked to recover from her stroke. The truly telling thing is that she actually allowed it.

Usako has always been a bit prickly when it comes to others, especially other animals. Her mom wasn’t much better, though if you were going to live at Cotton’s house, then you were going to live well and pull your own weight as much as possible. Cotton wasn’t a large cat, but she wasn’t small either. She could and did rule a large section of land around our first farm and she taught Vincent (our eldest dog) everything he knows about hunting those who would prey on ‘his’ animals as well as taking care of those under his care.

(I’ll never forget watching Cotton catch and bring mostly dead animals to feed our youngest pregnant cat in the week or so leading up to her giving birth. Cotton hadn’t even wanted us to keep Freya in the first place.)

Even with all of that, Usako doesn’t rule the way her mother did, but everyone gives her space when she walks by. She’s our eldest nonhuman on the farm. She was born under my bed when I was a teenager. I think there’s been maybe half a week where she wasn’t living with one member of my family or another her entire life. She’ll be 18 this year and I know I won’t have her forever. She’s already lived longer than her own mother by almost 5 years.

She let the dogs, who are each so much larger than she is, keep one of them near her for over 24 hours even as we humans kept an eye on her as well. She refused to let us make things easy for her in most instances as she recovered with one exception. She adores getting canned cat food now as we’re really worried about her water intake. That doesn’t mean she didn’t try to steal the dry food that the others still eat. (She can make the jump! I was so worried that she’d never be able to make that kind of jump again.)

I’ve known that my dogs and cats are an intergenerational adopted family for most of their lives. Vincent and his mate Helena had a litter of puppies and we still have one of those puppies. They also adopted two kittens who came home just as their puppies were being weaned. One of those kittens then also had a litter of kittens, and we still have one of them. We had an orange cat, ‘Cutis, who passed last fall who was Vincent’s brother and who Cheese, the puppy we kept, adored like he adored no one else. All of them love Usako just as much as I do if differently.

This was supposed to be a short-ish post, not long and rambly about the family dynamics of the animal family members in my home.

Usako does love her little brother and the continuation of their family even if she finds them annoying sometimes. She used to sleep with Vincent when he was a puppy. She wasn’t so wild about Vincent and Helena’s puppies, but she was a lot older when Cheese and his siblings came along. She wasn’t thrilled with us during the first month we had Helena, but in fairness, we were moving houses at the time, so it probably had more to do with that and her mom also passed during that time. It was a hard month for everyone.

But that’s life a lot when you have people you love that get hurt or get old or get sick. It’s hard, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it.

Usako’s an old lady cat, but that doesn’t stop her. Having a stroke doesn’t stop her. Cheese had to relearn how to walk as a puppy after he had seizures (which he hasn’t had in 3 years now), but that didn’t stop him. Losing his mom and our older dog Sissy so close together along with other animals didn’t stop Vincent, though it certainly broke his heart for a while. The family that our family animals have created is multigenerational between cats and dogs where there’s only two instances of actual blood relation, but that doesn’t stop them from loving each other or loving their humans. When Usako leaves us, whenever that may be, it will hurt, it will be hard, but I’m glad I got to know her and love her in the first place.


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