It has been a tough day.
Leo the cat has been a buddy for a couple of years. He wasn’t my cat. I was his person.
He was adopted by the daughter of my partner. She did this impulsively, didn’t really think it through. Leo didn’t like staying alone in her apartment — and she worked some long hours. Leo would entertain himself in some mischievous ways. He stole her hair ties and batted them all over the apartment. She’d find new hiding places, he’d find them and bat them around. ”Cat Hockey,” if you will. The “Goal” was the crack under her front door. Great fun for the kitty, not so much for his roommate, who came home to find her hair ties in a pile on the landing outside the apartment door. When he ran out of hair ties, he would go unspool all the paper towels and shred them all over her kitchen.
So she did what many kids do — she brought the cat home to her Mom’s place and left him. That left Mom with a total of three cats for a time — all bequeathed by her two daughters. The younger daughter took a cat with her when she found a job and moved out. That left two — Leo and Milo. Milo is an elderly gentleman — he’d be 80+ people years. Leo was respectful of Milo and they were buddies in gentle play and companionship.
Leo continued to toss around the hair ties we bought him — stashing them under rugs and having all manner of fun with them. I am sure he considered himself a kitten, though he was about 15 pounds and had an enormous head. I nicknamed him “the Ocelot” for his appearance and some of the noises he made.
Whenever I stopped in to visit, he’d come running to the sound of my voice. He’d run and hop onto the back of the chair I usually sat in, and await being fussed over and petted. The kitten in him prompted him to curl up in laps. He was dog-like in seeking a hand to pet him — and he could be quite persuasive.
Somewhere along the line things changed. It may have been the hustle and bustle of remodeling and workmen tromping about. Leo would retire to the basement and hide out. It may have been some kids who showed up for a family reunion and chased him. In the end, we suspected a physical illness we couldn’t understand. Whatever the cause, Leo began to neglect the litter box.
Try as we might, we couldn’t predict when this would happen, nor could we figure out why it was happening. Leo seemed almost remorseful. He’d behave differently when he’d had an episode of leaving piles and puddles in the basement. The basement has a painted concrete floor and, while this is a huge inconvenience, my partner patiently cleaned up the messes.
Today was different. Leo had cut loose all over the hardwood floors in the kitchen. We’d agreed not to spend a bunch of money on vet bills, and he’d had some other health issues earlier. We’d spent a ridiculous amount of money having some of his teeth pulled when he had an abscess.
Mary, my partner, has a lot of other issues in her life right now, including aging parents and the onset of dementia in her Dad.
So, today, it was time for Leo to leave us. He’d never been an outdoor cat. We’d already seen what happened when he was left alone. I was crazy about the little guy, but had no place for him. Mary had to journey to look after her folks — today being her Mom’s birthday. I had not been around to clean his messes, but I’d seen him claw her new furniture. Nobody wanted Leo or, in the case of those who might want him, nobody had a place for him.
So, the difficult decision was made, and I would see Leo off.
I’ve no idea why, but I’d always figured that if I had to take a cat for euthanasia, I’d take the cat outdoors for awhile. Cats are always trying to slip away and run outdoors, so I figured there’d be no harm in indulging that impulse on our last day together. I should have asked him first. His howls of protest told me that I’d made that choice mostly for myself.
His behavior this afternoon made it clear that he knew something was up. But that romp in the park wasn’t his idea. I brought him home. He was miffed at the trip to the park, and had been avoiding me, but suddenly he jumped up on my lap as he always had, and commenced his trademark purring. I’m glad he did that.
After a little while, he hopped off my lap and lay in the last shaft of sunlight coming through the south window of the den. He stretched out and dozed for a few minutes. I was thinking that we had 20 minutes to get to the vet, and we’d better get this done. He stood up, turned around, stretched and came over. He rubbed against my leg, then he put his forepaws up on my knee. He let me pick him up — though he’d always hated and resisted being picked up, being his own cat and all.
Into the carrier with minimal protest. He didn’t even protest the last car ride. He furiously rubbed his noble head up agains my fingers extended through the door of his carrier.
At the end, he was a good kitty. He purred as the initial sedative hit him, taking his eyes off mine only when he became too sleepy to hold up that majestic head of his. The rest was over quickly. HIs last motion was to extend his forepaw toward my hand as the IV needle went into his hind paw. And he breathed his last.
The litter box is an important part of what might be looked at as a “contract” between human and cat. Keep it clean, treat the kitty well, and cats are fastidious about their elimination habits. They’re clean and dignified animals. Ignoring the litter box is indicative of something seriously wrong with a cat. I’ll never know why Leo so breached his dignity as to leave little puddles and piles all over. No matter.
Whatever dignity he’d lost was more than replenished by his conduct in his last hours. Now, he lay peacefully on the unfriendly table at the vet’s, with a little washcloth I’d placed as his pillow. I will always remember him, especially that last purring visit we had right before the end. I didn’t want to watch his nose turn purple, and I didn’t want to feel him turn cold. I petted him for a last time, and took my leave.
I will take his carrier and donate it to the Animal Shelter. The Humane Society will also receive that last stupid gift I’d bought him — a retractable leash and a stretchy harness. He didn’t want those, though I imagine he appreciated the gesture. In his way, he had had a better idea of how to spend our last hour together.
So long, Buddy. Thanks for the laughs, the naps, and the “High Speed Kitty Massages — No Claws, Just the Pads™.” See you at the Rainbow Bridge.