Ken Leighton 1:30 p.m., Nov. 26
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The Cat That Filled the Hole in Our Hearts
He literally came out of nowhere. I’ll get to that later. This is the story of our cat, Tiger, and how he came to be our pet, but the story is mostly about a different cat, a much-beloved tough kitty named Simon. When I met my husband, I fell head over heels in love. I think he felt the same way, because after a semi-chaste three month courtship punctuated by serious make-out sessions, we finally had our first “sleep-over” date and we were inseparable. About three weeks after this seminal occasion, he came over after work, and mentioned that he needed to go home to feed his cat. “Cat?!?! You have a cat?” was my startled response. “Yeah, didn’t I tell you?” he tentatively questioned. “His name is Simon.” I think he was a little afraid of what I would think about a six-foot two big lug of a guy owning a cat. If it was even humanly possible, I fell more in love with him at that minute than at any other time in my life. “Why didn’t you tell me? Let’s bring him here!!” I insisted on going to his place with him that very instant to pick up the cat and bring him to my place to live.
We picked up Simon and took him back to my apartment, along with his bowl and litter box. He was a big cat, black with white paws and chest, and according to John, a mainly outdoor cat, coming and going at will through a pet-door in his kitchen. John told me about how Simon was a hunter and very independent, which maybe was why it never came up that he owned a pet. Upon further inquiry, I discovered that John retained custody of Simon after a break-up, it being decided it was best for the cat to stay in its original home. I thought that was sweet. Many men would have gotten rid of the cat or insisted the departing partner take him. It seemed that they co-existed nicely, with little need for John’s ministrations beyond the cleaning of a little-used litter box and the refilling of a water/food bowl.
Needless to say, my idea of owning a cat was a little different than John’s, his less hands-on approach seeming a little too neglectful for my tastes, hence the decision for a change of venue for Simon. John was spending almost every night at my place, and it just seemed like the right thing to do. Well, Simon was not having any of it. Used to being able to go out at will, he howled and yowled and complained at being an indoor cat. John wanted to let him out, and I of course told him absolutely not, at least not until he got used to the move. Three days later, we made the mistake of leaving the door open for a second longer than usual, and he bolted. We spent the next two hours driving down the streets in Ocean Beach, calling “Simon, Simon, here kitty, kitty!” I was beside myself, and I could tell John was clearly upset over losing his cat, who I realized by his red-rimmed eyes was far more important to him than I originally thought. We finally went home, hoping beyond hope that he was just hiding. My neighbor was out front, and I asked him to keep a look out for our lost cat. He asked me “is he black and white?” and my heart leapt. “Yes, have you seen him?” I cried. “Yeah, he’s right over there, chilling in the bushes”. Sure enough, right then we heard a tentative “meow” and there he was. John cradled him in his arms and his relief was evident by the huge smile on his face. We made a pact to keep the door shut until we were absolutely sure Simon would not get lost and was comfortable in his new digs.
Life went on swimmingly, with John eventually moving in with me and us renting out his condo. I adored Simon. He was such a charming guy, who one minute would be climbing the walls to be let out and the next be lounging in the windowsill soaking in the sunlight. One day my landlord knocked on my door and asked “Lorie, do you have a cat? I saw one in the window.” I hemmed and hawed that it was John’s cat and asked “what could we do? We couldn’t just get rid of him!!” My landlord was a sweet guy who really liked me as a tenant. A little back story – when I went to look at that apartment, I was in a suit, with a filled-out application, a credit report, and a cashier’s check for first, last and deposit. He was holding it open and there were a bunch of kids there, obviously roommate situations. I took him aside and told him “you don’t want to rent to these kids. You want to rent to me.” Upon recovering from this proclamation of superiority over the less-desirable youngsters, he simply said “okay”, and that was that. The apartment was a large, ground floor unit with a roof-top deck that overlooked the ocean, and it was $600.00 a month back then. You can understand my preparedness when I went to see it – I had already done a drive-by and knew it had to be mine. Anyway, back to Simon. My landlord told me “I understand, but if I let you have a cat, I have to let everyone have a cat. You have one month to find him a home or you have to move.”
I was devastated. I loved Simon, and I loved my apartment. After a week of agony, a thought occurred to me. What if I bought my own place? I was gainfully employed, had good credit, and best of all, John’s mother was a realtor. The more I thought about it, the better it sounded. I asked John’s mom to begin looking for me in Ocean Beach. She tut-tutted, and said “I have the perfect place to show you in the village of Point Loma”. I was dismayed. I wanted to stay in Ocean Beach. I was fond of the area, its bohemian lifestyle the initial draw of why I lived there in the first place. Reluctantly, I went to see the condo she had in mind. The next day we had written an offer. The condo was smashing - very grown-up, with a wet bar and French doors on both patios. My old apartment was literally fading from my memory only to be replaced by my need to get this terrific condo no matter what. We finally made a full-price offer, it was accepted, and I was in escrow. I called my landlord to break the news that I was moving out and told him about my new place. He was very happy for me and we had a laugh about how a cat had pushed me into the realm of homeownership. I gave him a full one-month notice, which worked out perfectly because it would give me a week after escrow closed to move out and clean, and he in turn gave me back my entire deposit. We parted as friends, him wishing me luck and me thanking him for kicking me out and giving me the push I needed to start growing up. Although I knew he would miss me as a tenant, I think he was secretly pleased that his most responsible tenant was becoming more so.
We moved into the condo, and Simon got used to his new digs quickly, being able to come and go out the back patio. He never went far, mostly just out on the grass to sun himself or chase butterflies. If I called him, he would come bounding over the brick wall that separated the patio from the grassy yard and fly into the house. One night, right before sunset, I called him and he did not come. I stayed up all night, calling and waiting. By the next morning, he still had not come home. All day at work I was miserable, and because I did not work far from home, I kept going home to see if he was there. That night, going to bed, I told John “I am really worried something happened to him”. John, although clearly concerned, told me “he used to do this all the time. He’ll come back.” That night, after finally drifting off to sleep, I heard a meow at the patio door. I ran down the stairs, opened the door and he literally flew inside, covered head to toe with dirt. I screamed “Simon!!” and hugged him as hard as I could without squishing him. Hungry, he was squirming to be let down, but I hugged him for a good minute before letting him eat. John was standing beside us by then, grinning and saying “I knew he would come back”. But after that incident, we both agreed it was time for Simon to become an indoor cat.
Life went on, with us getting married after three and a half years together. Simon was about nine by then, and by all appearances seemed to be doing well. We had treated him for a urinary tract infection and also for worms most likely contracted during his tom-cat days, but for the most part he never seemed to have any health issues. One thing I noticed though was that he had started to dislike being held. I chalked it up to age. Other than that, he ate well, still liked being petted, and slept with us every night. During this time, after hearing our neighbors get into yet another fight, and the real estate market taking off, we decided that it was time to sell the condo and move into a house. We found a nifty three bedroom fixer on Catalina Blvd. that had not had anything done to it since it was built in the fifties. As a matter of fact, the owner was the original owner. She was elderly and very sweet. When we went to see the place, she peered at John and asked him “what’s your name again?” He told her his full name, and she said ‘I remember you when you were just a little boy. There was a little girl, too.” He responded “that was my brother and sister.” It just so happens that his mom and dad lived in the house one door down from her during the late fifties and early sixties. That was it. We were in. She told us she wanted us to have her house and we could not agree more that it was meant to be. She was sad to be leaving the house she raised her children in and shared with her now deceased husband, but she was going to be moving in with her daughter and their family and they were very happy to have her. We promised to take good care of the house.
Another move for Simon, but by now he was okay with moving. He loved the bigger house, having more room to roam around, and a big back yard for exploring. He rarely wanted to go out much anymore, other than to lie in the garden. We did lots of work on the house, pulling back old carpets to find pristine hardwood floors which we had sanded and finished to gorgeous results and rewiring the place to have light switches and overhead fixtures rather than plug-in lamps. Then one day, Simon vomited. I thought nothing of it, as cats are prone to do so. That night, he did not want to eat. The next morning he ate very little, and promptly vomited again. Now I was concerned. Always a voracious eater, it was unlike him to not have an appetite. I called the vet, and they checked him for any obstruction or foreign object that may have wrapped around the back of his throat (cats like string and sometimes it gets caught in their throats and causes retching). They decided to keep him and run a few tests, just to be safe. I went to work, confident that whatever it was, it was nothing serious.
The vet called me at work that afternoon. “I’m afraid I have some bad news”, she told me. I slowly sat down in my chair and asked “what’s wrong with Simon?”, my voice shaky. She went on to tell me that his kidneys were not functioning, one being completely atrophied, the other enlarged and shutting down due to over-compensatory use. “What does that mean for Simon?” I asked, although I had an idea that this was not good. She said “he most likely will not survive more than a month at best.” Tears streaming down my face, I left work and picked him up. They had given him fluids, which restored his appetite, and me instructions on how to administer subcutaneous fluids to him to keep him hydrated. They said to bring him back in a week and they would test him again to see if there were any changes in his kidney values and we would discuss what to do next. We diligently gave him his treatments, praying that somehow, someway, he would improve.
A week later I took Simon back to the vet, and when I picked him up, they told me his values had rallied for the better. They said it was a bit of a miracle, because kidney disease in felines rarely improved. I was beside myself with gratitude, because this tough kitty had become a cherished member of our little family. I was told to keep giving him the fluids and watch him, and to call them if I noticed any change in his condition. Weeks went by, with Simon seeming to be his old self, lying in the sun, eating, and actually still playing with his toys. I would pull a string around and he would chase after it, sometimes jumping several feet to pounce on it. Then, one day, he vomited again. My heart stopped. The vet had told me that vomiting is a sure sign that he is declining. I took him in, they tested him, and told me his kidney function was almost zero. When I asked what I should do, they told me to take him home and say goodbye. For the next three days, I came home every day from work at least twice a day to hold him and pet him, and every night I kept him in our bed. He was barely eating and had lost so much weight, but he still looked healthy and his spirit was still strong. Then, on the fourth day, I noticed his eyes were becoming dull, and he would not let me hold him. The vet had explained to me that this progressive disease most likely had started years ago, and his starting to not like being held was because it was painful. By now, he was most likely in terrible pain. I was in pain as well, the realization that maybe I could have helped Simon had I brought him in sooner becoming unbearable. I made the call, and they said to bring him in the next morning to determine where he was in terms of whether or not it was time.
How do you describe bringing your pet, that looks up at your face in the morning and meows “hello” to you, to the vet to most likely be euthanized? You can’t. It is difficult to even write about this, because it stills brings tears to my eyes. I let Simon out that morning, and he basked in the sun for the last time. I put him in his carrier, and he and I took our last car ride together, him crying like he always did when he was in the carrier, me sobbing uncontrollably at the thought of what was coming next. To hear Simon crying so loud, more so than ever, like he knew what was coming, almost made me turn the car around. I had to pull over because I could not see, and I reached into his carrier and stroked his fur until I was composed enough to drive. When I got to the vet’s office, I put my sunglasses on, went inside, and one of the employees met me in the lobby. As she took the carrier, I let out a sob so loud the entire office stopped what they were doing and tried to console me. The people waiting in the waiting room realized that I was experiencing the worst nightmare a pet owner confronts – the letting go of a beloved pet. I handed off the carrier and ran out, embarrassed and grief-stricken.
Back at work, I waited. There was still a small glimmer of hope, maybe Simon could live a little longer with more fluids or some other miracle. The phone rang, and the receptionist said ‘Lorie, it’s your vet.” I took the call, and they said he was barely alive, and would I give the authorization to put him down. I called John to tell him, and he said “Honey, he is suffering. Call them and tell them okay.” I called them back and gave them my permission. To this day, I wish I had been with him when they did it. One of my greatest regrets in life is that I was not there to hold him and tell him how much he meant to us. I cannot explain it, but at the time I could not do it. I was inconsolable, and I could not bring myself to watch him die. My only explanation for this is that I had not had a pet in so long, and Simon was like a little soul in our house that I had become dependent upon. Without his presence, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.
At work, I sat at my desk and felt only torment. “I should be there, I should be there” played over and over in my head. The guilt was crashing over me in waves, but I just sat there and cried. Finally, I went home. When I walked through the door, I half-expected Simon to come out of nowhere. It was awful to see his bowls and toys and litterbox sitting there, waiting for him to come home. A few minutes later, my husband came home, too. We hugged and cried, and decided to go for a walk. It was so sad for both of us, his birthday just being two days before, mine being the following day. It was the worst birthday week we ever had, but neither of us cared about our birthdays. We only wished that Simon could have lived longer.
The vet’s office had explained that Simon would be put to sleep around 1:30. Our walk was silent mostly, both of us thinking about this special cat and his place in our lives, and dreading going home to an empty house and having to dispose of Simon’s things, almost like he never existed. It was truly a death in the family to us, this cat who was so instrumental in orchestrating changes in our lives that were so wonderful. Would John and I have decided to live together and eventually get married if Simon had not tripped the strings of my animal loving heart? Would I have bought my first place, which lead to us owning our dream home that we live in now had Simon not been the catalyst? Who’s to say, but these thoughts had run through my head for years, and that cat had become in my mind something of a Godsend, because he only brought good into my life.
On our way back from our walk, we were three blocks from our old house when I heard it. A little meow, and then something rubbed against the back of my leg. I looked down, and to my astonishment there was this little orange cat. He was skinny, his hair was short and mangy, and he had fleas all around his face. He stared up at me as if he were trying to tell me something. Then he meowed again. I told John to run home and get some food. He did, and the little orange cat wolfed it down. I looked up at John with a pleading look in my eyes. He gently told me “it’s too soon.” We continued to walk home, and the little orange cat followed us. He walked straight through the side door, sniffed the litter box, nibbled on some more food, and hopped up on the sofa. I looked at the clock. It was 1:30.
More like this:
- A Dog's Tale — May 31, 2011
- South Park Cat Tales: A Note To Mica About the Great Indoors (#9) — Feb. 28, 2010
- A Pretty Pickle — Dec. 19, 2009
- And then I didn't — June 6, 2009
- I Played God — May 29, 2009