Friday, March 23, 2012

Betsey and Ross Gardner: July 4, 1996 - March 23, 2012

Betsey and Ross age 10. Ross is wearing a little lipstick from a kiss he received from his mom.

Betsey and Ross Gardner were born on July 4, 1996 on the rough streets of Washington D.C. to a single cat mother. They were two of three kittens born that day and quickly taken in by a kindly gentleman in Northwest DC. After eight weeks of love and nurturing, he searched online for a warm and caring home for two of the kittens, as he could only keep the mom and one kitten and quickly found an eager, albeit nervous, adoptive first-time pet mom.

Siblings, best friends, and litter mates, Betsey and Ross were adopted by Jessica Gardner, a novice pet owner, under the cheerleading and mentorship of her friends Karen and Kelly, and moved into their new home, a palatial one-bedroom apartment in upper-middle-class DC suburb Alexandria, Virginia. Their home was complete with indoor bathroom facilities, regular feedings, ample water, and many windows from which to serenade the birds perched high in the trees.

When they were adopted, Betsey and Ross had no names, but through a nomination convention and then secure voting process, the names Betsey and Ross were chosen by Jessica's friends in honor of Betsy Ross, the creator of the American Flag, that their birthday was the Fourth of July and they were born in Washington, D.C. Betsey's name has an E because Jessica didn't know how to spell Betsy. True story.

Betsey and Ross had many hobbies, including sleeping, grooming each other, purring, snuggling with and kneading their adopted mom, and playing with their cat toys and each other. Betsey especially loved tuna and would "sing for her supper" each time a can was opened anywhere in 3-home radius. Ross was particularly fond of ice cream and all "human food" often attempting to take food right off his mom's plate. On one occasion, in 2007, Betsey saved her mom's life when a mouse entered their home in the northwest Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights. Without care for her own well-being, Betsey heroically killed the beast and saved the family. Ross kept feral cats at bay when he bravely guarded the house from the living room sliding glass door.

Betsey and Ross were often featured on their mom's blog, Little Merry Sunshine, where they even penned a few posts (and here and here and here). They also have a Twitterfeed where they chat with their friends whenever they can wrangle the computer or cell phone from their mom. Their last tweet was "We have loved our mom, @Jessica_Gardner & are grateful for the life she gave us. Although we are leaving her, we will always watch over her."

Both Betsey and Ross loved to travel. Although getting them in the car was never easy, once there, Betsey would sing along with the radio or make up her own tunes, chat with Ross, and then sleep. Ross preferred to check out the scenery. Both cats had well-used passports that were stamped in many far away lands, including DC, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. They've seen the Atlantic Ocean, Lake Michigan, the Appalachian Mountains, the Chicago Skyline, and all the monuments in Washington DC. They even flew on airplanes. Plus, they went to Watervale once!

Betsey and Ross had a brief brush with fame (although fortune was not included) in 2008 when they were selected to be Super Dele-Cats for then presidential candidate Barak Obama and were featured on the website Cats for Obama (scroll about 3/4 of the way down the page). Before their passing, Betsey and Ross once again endorsed President Obama for a second term as our nation's Commander in Chief because of his belief that every cat's food dish should have catnip.

Although the final two years of their lives were filled with illness, they spent the majority of their almost 16 years in excellent health. Betsey became ill in the summer of 2010 and after countless tests, the diagnosis was hyperthyroidism and cystitis. Until just recently, neither of these illnesses slowed Betsey down. She steadfastly crawled into bed nightly to snuggle and lick her mom's eyelids. Never one to complain, Betsey was brave throughout many treatment cycles, concealing her physical pain until it was too overwhelming to hide and her body simply shut down. Ross was diagnosed with Diabetes and a cancerous Mast Cell Tumor in June 2011. Since that time, he fought an amazing battle, but in the end, the Diabetes won out and Ross was no longer able to control his major organs.

Many people believed Betsey to be aloof and sometimes mean because she was an introvert, not the easiest to get to know and would often hiss at or hide from anyone other than her mom and those she knew best. The truth was that Betsey was fiercely loyal, loving, and playful, usually greeting her mom at the front door, eager to share the adventures of her day. Recently, Betsey showed her true colors when her mom had the stomach flu. Although sick herself, Betsey stayed by her mom's side throughout the ordeal using her purring and kneading powers to bring her mom back to good health.

Ross loved everyone. Just step within three feet of him and he'd start purring and delighted in having his Budda belly rubbed. He also served as the official family doorman, greeting all visitors with hospitality and warmth. Ross loved to play Hide & Go Seek; his favorite spot was inside a dark closet or underneath his mom's bed (aka The Cat Cave).

Having moved to Lake Bluff, Illinois in September 2011, both Betsey and Ross loved exploring the family's new home and making their special places on the new sofa, in the walk-in closet, in the bathtub, on the bed, and on the wingback chair. Starting life in the mean streets of DC and ending up on Chicago's swanky North Shore, Betsey and Ross's lives were a true Horatio Alger story.

Betsey will be remembered for her outspokenness when she could see the bottom of the food dish (even if that were only possible because she'd pawed her way to the bottom of a full bowl), the way she sang in the backseat of the car whenever she visited her vet, her kisses and healing kneading powers, and her loud purr. Ross will be remembered for his love of snuggling, his racing around the house like it was his personal Indy 500 track, his loud purr and kisses, his general rough and tumble attitude, and the way he finagled liposuction in 2005. Of course, the yellow onsie he had to wear after surgery made it all worth it.

When asked for a comment, through her tears, Jessica said, "Betsey and Ross were the best first pets I could ever have asked for. Having not grown up with pets of any kind, I was terrified that first night, but they quickly came to inhabit a large part of my heart. I truly loved each and every day that I was allowed to be their "mom" and only hope I brought as much to their lives as they brought to mine. Saying good-bye to them is breaking my heart, but I take comfort in knowing that they came into this world together and they are leaving together. They have not spent more than one night apart in their almost 16 years and now they will spend eternity together running freely and in perfect health in Kitty Heaven. Knowing they are both free of their illnesses also brings me peace. I will think of them often, but especially on the 4th of July as I'm watching fireworks."

Betsey and Ross spent their final night snuggled up with their mom, purring and enjoying their favorite foods, and generally unaware of their fate. In their final hour, love filled the room as they said their good-byes.

Throughout their lives, Betsey and Ross had a few special caregivers they dearly loved, including Dr. Donna Krochak at the Alexandria Animal Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, Dr. Jennifer Kinnavy and Dr. Nick Guedet of March Animal Hospital in Arlington Heights, Illinois, and Andrea Tredway, vet tech extraordinaire and the cousin of Jessica, Betsey's mom, in St. Charles, Missouri who always took Jessica's panicked phone calls about her pet's health. For their skill, love and care, the family will always be grateful.

Betsey and Ross are survived by their mom Jessica, and many other friends and family members, including a special friend who they know is giving Jessica some TLC tonight and was there with them in their final moments.


  1. My heart goes out to you, on the loss of your furry children, but take comfort in the love you gave them and they gave you.

    This was one of the best things I've read and I hope it helped you to cope, in some way... If I'm not speaking too out of turn, I hope that you do not feel guilty for your decision. You gave them a good life and, from what I'm reading above, were with them until the end. It's a tough decision to make, but anytime you put their needs above your own, it is the best one - and one you should never lose sleep over.

    Betsey and Ross were well loved and, I know they know that. (Even I'm crying and I didn't know them.) I know it's going to be an emotional few days and weeks for you. I'm sending you so many (hugs) as you need to get through it.

  2. Dear Betsey and Ross: I never had the opportunity to meet either of you. However, that has not prevented me from being a fan of both of yours.

    I knew your Mama was planning on having the vet put your bodies at ease; I still cried a little upon hearing (reading) the news of your journey to Kitty Heaven.

    I know your Mama is heartbroken right now. But don't worry about her (she wouldn't want you to be worried). It's normal for us humans to cry and be sad for a few days or weeks when our furry friends leave us. I only wish I were close enough to give her a hug.

    In closing, dear Betsey and Ross, I am glad Jessica had such wonderful cats as yourselves as her first pets.

  3. That is a beautiful tribute to your four legged children. My heart breaks for you.

  4. Oh my gosh, I have not been keeping up and I had *no* idea!! I am so sorry!!!


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