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This is an excerpt from my book Adventures in Veterinary Medicine: What Working in Veterinary Hospitals Taught Me About Life, Love and Myself. It features Virginia, the cat who started my love affair with torties all these years ago. It was first published in 2010.
As those of you who read Buckley’s Story know, Buckley was my office cat at the animal hospital I managed for eight years before she came to live with Amber and I. She wasn’t the first one, though. Not the first tortie, and not the first office cat. Before Buckley, and even before Amber, there was Virginia.
I first met Virginia when I went for my first interview for the hospital manager position at the Middleburg Animal Hospital. The hospital was then owned by Drs. Jack Love and Janet McKim, a husband and wife team. I had spoken to Janet on the phone briefly before my interview, but really didn’t know what to expect. This was in the days before every animal hospital had a website. I knew what I was looking for in a potential employer as far as practice philosophy, and in addition, I was looking for a clinic that had that intangible right “feel.”
As soon as I walked into the waiting room of the hospital, I knew I had found the right place. There was an old-fashioned wooden bench, a rocking chair, and the walls were covered with photos of dogs and cats. A large free-standing cage held several kittens. When Janet came up to greet me, I was even more sure. I instantly liked her. She took me back to her office and began the interview.
After a few minutes, a beautiful tortoiseshell cat walked into the office. “That’s Virginia,” explained Janet. “She’s one of our two hospital cats.” Virginia proceeded to walk over to me, looked up at me, and then dug her claws into my legs and used them as a scratching post. I wondered whether that was part of the interview – a test, perhaps, to see how I would react? In hindsight, I realized that, of course, this was the moment she marked me as her own. I had dressed up for the interview and was wearing a skirt and pantihose. I can honestly say it was the first and only time in my life I left an interview with runs in my pantihose caused by kitty claws! The interview went well, and I left feeling hopeful that I would be offered the job.
A couple of weeks later, Janet called to invite me to go out to dinner with her and Jack. We sealed the deal over dinner, and I spent the next eight wonderful years working at the Middleburg Animal Hospital. And the fact that Virginia was part of the deal only increased my happiness.
She was estimated to be about ten years old. She was FIV positive. FIV is the feline version of the aids virus. It is contagious between cats, but is primarily spread through bite wounds. Casual, non-aggressive contact does not spread the virus, and it is not zoonotic, which means it cannot be spread from cat to humans. However, Virginia’s owners were not comfortable keeping an FIV positive cat and had left her at the animal hospital for euthanasia. Somehow, the hospital staff never got around to it, and by the time someone remembered, she had wormed her way into too many hearts for them to go through with it.
Virginia was the poster child for tortitude, that unique personality of tortoiseshell cats. She had definitely read the manual. She was feisty, independent, and set in her ways. The only other animal she liked was Marmy, our other hospital cat, a sweet, wise old medium-haired orange cat. You could often find Marmy in his cat bed, with Virginia curled around him, squeezed into the small bed with him.
She liked most of the staff members, but this was not always mutual. She thought nothing of using her claws if she felt like someone wasn’t doing her bidding (ie, petting her properly, feeding her on her schedule, or committing any number of transgressions only she knew about). None of these were exactly the kinds of qualities you’d look for in a hospital cat! At one point, early on during my time as manager, there was talk of sending her to a nearby sanctuary for FIV positive cats. I was nervous about doing so, but I set an ultimatum: if Virginia went, so would I. Thankfully, by then Janet and Jack had come to rely on me, and took my “threat” seriously. Virginia got to stay.
She loved me fiercely. She would be at the door to greet me each morning. When I took a few days off, the staff would tell me that she’d been looking for me, and when I returned to work, the look on her face made it clear that she did not appreicate being abandoned like that. She had her routine, and it didn’t vary much from day to day. In the morning, she’d sleep in a cat bed I had placed in front of a sunny window on my desk, next to my computer. She’d spend most mornings napping, but she also made sure that I paid attention to her, often clawing at my “mouse hand” to get my attention. As lunch time got closer, she would park herself on the bench in the exam room adjacent to my office, where most of the staff gathered for lunch each day. She loved to mooch off of peoples’ lunches, with morsels of meat or cold cuts and yogurt, especially peach flavored, being favorites.
For four years, she made my office my home away from home. She showed no symptoms of her disease. Then, in the spring of 2002, she started to decline rapidly. She seemed to lose energy, and her always healthy appetite started to wane. She couldn’t make it to the litterbox in time and had frequent accidents outside the box. She wouldn’t come to greet me at the door in the mornings. An ultrasound showed that her heart and liver were in bad shape.
On a sunny April morning, we decided that it was time. I spent her last morning in the office with her in her bed by my side. When I wasn’t crying, I was calling staff members who were not on duty that day to let them know, in case they wanted to be present for her final moments. I held her on my lap in the office, surrounded by all the people who had been a part of her world, as she took her last breath. I don’t think there are many cats who got the kind of send off she did.
I still miss her. The photo above was on my desk at the animal hospital until I left; now, it’s on a shelf in my office here at home. She was my introduction to and beginning of my love affair with torties. Even all these years later, she still has a piece of my heart.
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Beautiful bittersweet story. Nothing like the love of a cat!
What a beautiful tribute to awonderful kitty ! I’ve had several FIV cats who lived happy lives.
You’re such a wonderful writer. Thank you for sharing Virginia’s story.
Aww, thank you, Will!
Cats leave paw prints on our hearts. Beautiful story Ingrid. It brought tears to my eyes.
I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Theresa.
Thanks so much for sharing this story as I live near that vet clinic and had heard lovely things about it. when we first moved here. I also “inherited” a tortie from a vet that the owners wanted put down due to asthma issues – funny she never showed any signs of it, and we live in the country off a dirt road. She had quite a few more years with us and our family. We actually live near the facility that housed FIV positive kitties though they are no longer there. One of our cats was positive but he lived out a wonderful life with us. So glad Virginia had you as her human!
That is so cool that you live near that vet clinic and the place that used to be a sanctuary for FIV+ cats, Sandy. The clinic has been under new ownership for many years, but I’m still hearing good things about it.
I enjoyed learning about Virginia. She sure was special. I cried at the end when you described how she started to decline.
Wow! I would love to buy and read this book. How do I get it? Is it on Amazon?
Yes, it is on Amazon, and I meant to link to it! Here’s the link https://amzn.to/3Wv3Z9i
Hi Ingrid I’m really thankful that there are people like you who is compassionate about cats and know and understand them well and really made a difference to change their lives.Thanks for all the things that you’ve done for these wonderful animals that are God’s gift to us, but not only cats but all the animals in the world as well.
Thank you for your kind words, Rea!
A really lovely story of your first love affair with a Tortie Ingrid……I love hearing how people found their “best friends”…..although of course it’s often THEM that find us.
Pam (and Sam)
Yes, Virginia most definitely picked me, Pam!
Thanks Ingrid, I very appreciate that you share your wonderful stories with us. I sincerely hope that you do write another book at some point.
Thanks, Jim. Not to worry, there will be another book 🙂
Lovely story Ingrid. As I read I’m reminded of the strong connection we have with the animals that cross our paths and the lengths we go to to ensure their well-being. I wouldn’t trade my experiences, good or bad, for anything.
Aren’t torties wonderful, Mason?
Bernadette, Virginia always made sure I knew how lucky I was that she allowed me to work in HER office 🙂
Marg, the Middleburg area is definitely a beautiful part of Virginia (the state, not the cat!).
Laura, I think cats invented the phrase “do my bidding”.
Thanks, Layla. Who knows, there just might be another book some day.
Beautiful story. You certainly have been blessed with Tortie love!
Is another book in the offing?
Wow. Virginia sounds like yet another amazing tortie that you were blessed to know! And I love that phrase “do my bidding” because THAT is exactly what my husband says is the phrase our Lulu would say if she could speak English! What a great story, Ingrid.
That is a wonderful story about Virginia. We are all very glad that you had Virginia because it led you to Amber, Buckley, and now Allegra.
Ingrid, you certainly live in a beautiful part of the country. I lived up there for a couple of years, once at Mrs Dillions outside of Wash. and once at Farnley Farm. But that was way before you I believe.
Enjoyed hearing about Virginia.
Who cares about the claws? They come with the package! How lucky you were to have met her so that she could lead you to Amber and Buckley, and what a wonderful, peaceful passage for her.
She sounds like she was a wonderful cat. Torties are so special.
Thoughts in Progress