I have an elderly cat named Emma, a tiny DSH tuxedo whose “boxing weight” was 9 lbs, but who today weighs around 5 lbs. Technically she’s a family pet, but really…I have no problem claiming her as “mine.” She was adopted when I was a singleton, 19 years ago, one month before I met my husband, Bill. She is a bridge between my past life and the present.

Emma has always been confident but cool. Steely but sweet. She is the kind of cat who is liked by people who don’t usually like cats. She has always been the boss of ALL of our other cats (and several of our dogs). She is the one cat that won’t automatically run and hide when a strange human enters the house. For a tiny thing, she can be pretty bad-assed.

A few years ago Emma was diagnosed with kidney failure and then hypothyroidism. We had her treated in Seattle for the hypothyroidism (even though folks thought we were a little crazy to spend nearly $1,000 to treat a 15-year-old cat with bad kidneys). The radiation not only fixed her thyroid, but it also somehow managed to help her kidneys. For the last four years she’s been thin, and slowing, but pretty great for an old gal. No meds or fluids. However, in the last few months Emma has become frail. She still eats, drinks, sleeps and has normal bowel movements, but I find that I have to be super careful when I gently pet or brush her. More than a feather-light touch can cause her to lose her balance.

Perhaps because I know my time with her is limited, and out of guilt for spending far too much time and energy on the canines in our family, a few months ago I began waking up in the middle of the night, in large part to spend some time with Emma and our other cat Christy while our rowdy dogs sleep. Emma likes to crouch on the arm of the large reading chair in our living room where I sit. She tends to shift her balance a lot these days, but she’s still within my reach. She likes my company, and I like hers.


Emma was born in Memphis, TN in the late winter/early spring of 1996 to a street cat.  The street cat and her kittens lived outside but were fed and generally cared for by the next door neighbor of one of my co-workers, Dee. When the neighbors were getting ready to move, they asked Dee if she would look out for the momma cat and her lone kitten. (The kitten was the only one of the litter to survive the deadly play of two unsupervised Labradors.) However, Dee already had six (!) cats, so she asked me if I was interested.

At that point I had two one-year old felines: Tommy a huge gray tabby, and Mimi a flame point Siamese.  Mimi was super-playful and Tommy was generally sloth-like, so I thought that getting another cat as a playmate for Mimi would be a good idea. I drove over to Dee’s house to meet the kitten.

The first time I saw the kitten, she was perched in the bare branches of a small bush that grew in the median of grass between the sidewalk and the street. Even then, even as little as she was, she exuded a rare confidence.

On the drive home she fidgeted in my lap, occasionally looking up at me with her strong and piercing eyes, and I promised right then and there to always take care of her.

Later that night I had to be out of the apartment, so I asked a cousin of mine to kitten-sit. By the time I returned home he had named her Emma, for Emma Peale of “The Avengers.”

In her early years, Emma loved to retrieve and catch balls. Bill and I would buy buckets of soft toy balls and throw them against the wall for her for hours. She loved to jump and do acrobatics while the older cats looked on. (Unfortunately Emma and Mimi never got along, but they both remained playful, just not with each other.)

Then we adopted an 8-year-old Brittany named Baby. He was Emma’s dog.  Every time we returned home from a walk, Emma would greet us by rubbing up against Baby’s front shoulder, and Baby would wag his short red and white tail.

For the first 14 years or so, Emma was a master hunter who regularly left us gifts like mice, small birds, and even snakes. Most often they were dead, but at least once she calmly strolled into the living room with what looked like a wiggly whisker sticking out of her face. Upon closer investigation I realized that it was the tail of a live baby mouse, which Emma then unceremoniously dropped on the wood floor. It ran. She caught it. Bill and I did our best to rescue those baby mice (there must have been a nest in the garden at the edge of the patio), but I’m afraid more than a few ended their short lives as cat toys.

When she was nine years old, I remember thinking that for a street cat Emma had probably exceeded her expected life span. I never expected her to live a long life. And yet, she has. She’s outlived Baby, Mimi and Tommy — all by several years.

What will I remember most about Emma?  What part of her life will stand out the most in my future memories?  Probably the present — her last months of life, and how sweet she’s being, and how much she appreciates the time I spend with her.  My hope, however, is that it will be her life in-total that will stay with me, as a parallel and significant piece of my own life’s story.


Author’s Note:  Emma passed away at the end of March 2015. She is missed. Emma is the subject and inspiration of “The Emma Project” — a collection of portraits of Emma, all by talented local artists, presented side-by-side so that pet parents interested in hiring a portrait artist can instantly compare styles and determine which artist’s work draws them in and suits their needs. These portraits can be viewed at Life Cycle’s facility.