Visiting the Vet: Remembering My Heart Animal

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In early February of every year, love is in the air. At least it’s supposed to be. Most folks are shopping for fine chocolates, and champagne, making dinner reservations at The Melting Pot or maybe discovering that they really have finally fallen in love with that special someone. Well … not so much for me, at least this year. This year I’m focusing on that special kind of love, the type of love that asks for nothing in return. Pure and unconditional love, no manipulation, no strings attached, no lies, betrayals or head games. I’m talking about the love that our pets give us.

We’ve all had our share of dogs and cats throughout our lifetime, and they do in fact bring us great joy. But really, think about it … wasn’t there one pet in your life that you could claim as your heart animal? It was that one special pet that meant the world to you, that came at just the right time in your life and that you eventually loved with all of your heart and soul. I’ve had many dogs and cats through the years, and anymore, many come and go quickly, it’s the nature of my work as a veterinarian. But I had a very special pet many years ago and I’m going to tell you all about her, my true heart animal, my cat Cromadine.

Growing up my family always had dogs. The only cats I knew were the ones I heard about from my grandmother. She grew up in Baltimore city during the 1920s and cats in the city back then were truly 2nd class citizens. My grandmother had befriended one of the city cats back in the day and she would indulge me with stories of this cat. It was an unusual cat because it was so friendly and colorful. Nanny would dress it in baby doll clothes and push it in her doll carriage all over the neighborhood. She called her cat Cromadine. From an early age I was intrigued, but I had never met a cat.

In 1982, the summer after I graduated from high school, I got my very first job as a kennel attendant at a large veterinary hospital with an attached boarding kennel. I learned so much at that job and I learned to love cats. When my 18th birthday rolled around, one of my co-workers presented me with the most unusual kitten I had ever seen! She was a hodge podge of black and orange, a gorgeous tortoise shell. The minute I saw her I knew it was my Cromadine. It was a wonderful 18th birthday present!

I introduced her to my grandmother and she likewise fell in love. My grandmother and I had an extra special bond. It was my Nanny that believed in me and helped raise me after my Mom died; I was 14 at the time. The loss of anyone or anything is difficult, but when you’re 14 and your Mother is gone, it’s heart wrenching.

Cromadine became my best friend. When I got my first apartment, the 3rd floor attic of a big old farmhouse in Baltimore County, Cromadine was there. She was the one that lived with me when I worked two jobs and went to night school to get the pre-requisites I needed for veterinary school. She was the one I read my acceptance letter to when VA Tech accepted me into their Veterinary program. And it was Cromadine that meowed the full 6 hour trip to Blacksburg when I left for Vet School. We drove down to Virginia in my green 1979 VW bus.

I’ve heard people comment that tortoise shell cats are the epitome of evil. Cromadine was one of the friendliest cats I’ve ever known. I used to take her to school when we had live animal labs. She donated blood, she let us examine her, and she was the model vet student pet! I’ve come to learn that tortoise shell cats simply have eccentric personalities.

Cromadine adjusted well when I got married, and when my then husband and I decided to make Dorchester County our home, along Cromadine came! She was also there when I brought each of my sons home.

By 2003, I had my sights set on building a veterinary practice. I had a beautiful young family and lived in a quaint historic town. I had a business plan and construction on my new hospital had commenced. Cromadine was 20 years old. I knew she wouldn’t live forever, but at the young age of 38, my cat Cromadine had been with me longer than anyone … and she had seen me through some tremendous life events. On Oct. 1, 2003, I had to do one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I had to end the suffering of my beloved beautiful tortoise shell Cromadine.

Many dogs and cats have come and gone in the 13 years since I lost my cat, but none will ever take her place. She arrived in my life at just the right time. She helped heal a broken heart and was there every single day for 20 years. Cromadine was my special heart animal, and I’m sure if you think about it, you’ve had one too.

Editor’s note: Ms. Flaggs is the lead veterinarian at the Cabin Creek Animal Hospital in East New Market. She writes from her home there.

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