The Cat Who Guided My Dad Home
by Leslie-Ann Guiney
I adopted Billy from the Toronto Humane Society. He was a scruffy, orange, wormy kitten with a terrible upper-respiratory infection. I knew his rehabilitation would cost a lot of money, but when this kitten looked at me we both knew in an instant that he was for me and I was for him. I named him “Billy” after King William of Orange, the king that most Northern Irish people revere. Because of this, my father — who had immigrated to Canada from Belfast — loved Billy more than any of my other cats.
Billy loved everyone. He would lie on the floor and wait to be touched. But he especially loved my dad. Whenever Dad came for a visit, Billy ran straight to him. My father had a terrible heart condition, and Billy had always been sickly, so these two creatures with their poor health in common became fast friends.
Later, I adopted a cat named Merlin without knowing that he had feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). That virus soon killed him and, two weeks later, took Billy’s life. I was devastated by the loss of my two boy cats, but Billy’s death had a significant impact on Dad. Only a few months later, my father’s heart condition worsened to the point where he had to be scheduled for his second bypass operation. He was given a 70/30 chance of making it, and we were excited at the thought that the operation might give him a new lease on life.
Dad had his surgery in the morning, and we saw him that afternoon. He was pretty much out it from the drugs he had been given, but he was able to tell us via sign language that a cat had been with him during his surgery. We didn’t know which cat he was talking about, and we thought he might be hallucinating from the drugs. We left Dad at the hospital that night and went home to get a much-needed night’s sleep.
That night I dreamed of Billy. In my dream, he was perfectly formed and vibrantly colored. I woke up crying from the warm feeling of seeing my dear friend again. I remember telling Billy how happy I was to have him back and that I was honored that he’d chosen to return to me. What I didn’t realize was that Billy was trying to tell me something in this dream.
When my mother and I went back to the hospital to see Dad the next day, there he was, sitting up, right as rain, and writing messages on a clipboard because he was still intubated and couldn’t talk. He told us that he loved us, and that he felt better than he had in a long time. He said he was going to get out of the hospital and go home. He offered to help me wallpaper my bedroom when he was well enough. We were ecstatic at his remarkable progress.
Then he again told us about the cat, whom he now identified as Billy, who had been with him during surgery. He said he had felt Billy jump on the bed, walk to his hand and rub his head on it, then flop over. Mom and I looked at each other and laughed, because that is exactly what Billy would have done. The visit was cut short by the arrival of the respiratory therapist, who came in to check on Dad’s breathing. I had to leave his room before I could tell Dad about my own dream of Billy.
We sat in the waiting room for forty-five minutes. Then a nurse appeared and told us that we should call anyone who needed to say good-bye to Dad, since they didn’t think he would make it through the night. My mother was shocked by this news and broke down in tears. I felt a bit more prepared because by then I had made the connection between Billy’s appearance in my dream and the fact that my father’s death was near. Because of this dream, I was calmer and better able to console my mother. Ten minutes later, the nurse re-turned to say that they had done all they could, but were very sorry; Dad had passed away.
That was when the significance of my dream and Dad’s words about Billy made sense. Billy had come in the dream to tell me that everything would be okay — that he was going to be with Dad to guide him, if you will. Is it a coincidence that this kitten, who had a respiratory problem, helped to guide a human who died of respiratory failure? Is it a mere coincidence that this sick little kitten died only three months prior to my father’s death?
I know that Billy was here for a reason; he came to guide Dad home. I truly believe that animals are here for us, and that we’re here for them. They should be respected and recognized for the hefty spiritual burdens they carry without ever asking for anything in return.