Before my father’s Alzheimer’s stole half his lifetime of memories, his favorite story to tell was about the day we met our beautiful Beleza. We had already picked out a name for our new kitty and were on a citywide search for the perfect feline who embodied the Portuguese word for beauty. Beleza shortens sweetly to Belly. This is what we’d call her.
As my dad used to tell it, “We went cage to cage…” In his original version of the story, we are stopped just shy of walking out the door by a hopeful Morris Animal Refuge staff person calling “Wait! I have more “inventory” in the back!” He would say: “They led us to a room we didn’t know existed, and we walked up and down the row. Not this one… not this one… When we came to her cage (gesturing affectionately to our Bell Bell), she was sneezing and sick plus… I think there was some blood.” These things are true. She was a 10 month old Philadelphia street cat who’d been brought in pregnant. She had recently delivered her litter, and her eyes were thick and runny. My dad was NOT convinced she was the one. But I was. I think it’s more that he was worried for me. She was a sick girl when we met her, and my protective poppa wanted to make sure I wasn’t entering into guaranteed heartache falling for such a kitty. But she was Beleza – Beauty – the most gorgeous feline creature I had ever set eyes on. I was in love. That was just over 13 years ago, though dad’s current recollections date her to around 40. I can only wish for such defiance of housecat mortality! In all my 35 years, I have never met a cat so richly red in color. I remember the day when we were finally able to bring her home – all the Morris visitors and staff people exclaiming around us about her coat and her golden glowing eyes to perfectly compliment it. How can I ever begin to say the joy and healing she has bestowed upon our lives these last many years? As both my parents decline through Alzheimer’s disease, Beleza has been a constant source of tenderness, affection, and comfort for our entire family. As their primary caregiver, I share their home with them and Beleza has her own pillow at the head of my bed. I wake many mornings to her eyes staring into mine or to her paw placed atop my hand. She loves egg yolks and fresh grass and licking water from our fingertips. She has a shoe fetish! She prances around the house carrying handmade yarn toys and merowing very, very loud. Whenever she sees my dad, she runs to him and every single time he bends to caress her, gets down on his 81 year old knees to kiss her, and over and over again tells her just how beautiful she is.