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The day before we put Max to sleep The New Natural Cat by Anitra Frazier arrived in the mail. After our vet had come and gone, I began to read this wonderful book.

As I read, I realized that I had been doing everything wrong, that a five year old cat with a tumor between his heart and lung didn't have to be. Somehow the empty grief I felt over my loss was filled with a new sense of purpose. I would learn everything I could about holistic cat care and not let another Max happen because I didn't know about meat by-products or the perils of vaccination.

Max was the best friend a guy could ever have. He had been in two homes before he came to me as a six month old kitten - he had been found licking barbecue sauce off an outdoor grill. He was the first cat I had lived with and he was as interested in me as I was in him. Probably nobody since my mother had watched me pee with such interest. He also took a special interest in watching Iowa Hawkeye basketball on TV during the long cold winters. He even learned to turn on the bedside lamp with his nose.

Max was a great mouser, and the house we lived in on Summit Street was as full of holes for mice to enter as a piece of Swiss cheese.

Later, when my wife Hillary moved in, she awoke one night to hear a strange raspy sound which she thought was coming from me and she thought I was in terrible distress. When she turned the light on we discovered Max with a mouse in his mouth, facing off with his companion Corky - and with a growl, defending the right to keep his prey.

A few days after Max died, we were visiting friends in town and they gave us an amazing card, written and painted by a Cecie McCaffery. They had found it in a local card shop.

On the back of the card was a poem called "Max in Heaven's Hands," about a cat named Max who had just died. What the chances are of there being a card with consoling words about a cat named Max I don't know. Probably about as great as having friends who could find such a card. The psychologist Carl Jung called it synchronicity - messages from the Universe. I called it a message from Max.

So Max was the inspiration for Tiger Tribe and later I wrote a letter to Cecie, telling her how much the card had meant to me and asking her about the story of the card. One day she called me on the phone and thanked me for my letter and told me that although she wasn't quite ready to tell the story, in a few months she would write it down and send it to me.

What follows is that story, simply and gracefully told.

Max was a homeless kitty. I first met him one evening at my sister-in-law's front steps. So wise and patient, with large loving eyes that looked long into mine, was this painfully thin white cat with hints of orange here and there.

Max needed a home. Something needed to be done, and being the "doer," especially where animals were concerned, I took Max to the vet. It was there that he received his name, suggested by another patient's person as I filled out the forms. Not much to tell, I'd barely known this Max, this sweet one, for fifteen minutes; and so Max newly named was left in the doctor's care.

Shots, tests, good food, boarding costs, mounting uneasiness, and then the phone call. The test results were back and not good. This kitty was thin for the dreaded reason: feline leukemia. In the days to come, I searched for some sort of treatment or hospice situation that might be trying unorthodox treatments, searched for some hope, I couldn't bring him home to our four healthy cats, nor could I return him to his old neighborhood to slowly succumb in pain and possibly pass the disease to others. The only decision that was left was to have him put to sleep, to euthanize him.

In a long conversation with a fellow animal lover, I was strongly advised to be with Max through his passing in order to insure that his death was easy and true, that is to say, he would not be said to be dead and then sent off to some ghoulish lab for vivisectionist purposes, a possibility if one's vet was not truly "human."

Many months before, our dear Nicolas had been put to sleep after a long battle with F.U.S.. I wasn't with him and now I have many regrets that I had not been there for love show him and to tell him how very much! I was told he was brave...I was not.

I wouldn't say I'm a religious person, but rather spiritual and seeking, and so that night I prayed. I prayed for three things:

One, that I would find the courage to stay, to be with him until the end.

And two, that somehow there would be some relief, some help with the ever mounting costs, as my patient and loving husband could only bear so much.

Lastly, I asked that I could have some sign he was all right and was somewhere safe, somewhere where Nicolas was too.

The next day at the vet's office I did find, or rather seemed to be given, the courage to stay with him...I hadn't expected his tongue to drop from his mouth as life left him and I cried and cried thru jerkily-asked questions to the vet about souls and the afterlife. He was more more suffering...

That afternoon my sister-in-law called to say that her neighbor, who had in past offered Max food and shelter as best she could, wanted to contribute to his expenses, which was very kind. To my surprise, two days later a check arrived for exactly half of the vet's bill, an amount unknown to this lady.

Sleep was to elude me that evening. I sat in the dark on the couch in the living room with our four cats in a half circle in front of me...then the sensation of soft fur passed over my arm. It wasn't my clothing or any of our had to be Max.

And so my prayers were answered, and life with all its joys and sufferings goes on, and above all, I know there is no death, it is only a door...

Cecie McCaffery is co owner, with her husband Ricky Goodman of Pinx A Card Company, Inc. They have three daughters, five cats, five mice, one hamster, fish, frogs, and two turtles all living with them in their home in Newbury Park, California.

Months after this story unfolded, their daughter Nicole was diagnosed with Tay Sachs, a devastating terminal illness. Nicole died at home January 8, 1992. "We are, each to each, lessons of love and direction on our long voyage Home"

Reprinted with Permission from the May/June 1993 issue of Tiger Tribe.

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