Not with a Bang but a Whisker

Well, after forty years of continuous cat ownership (not all with the same cat), we are now bereft of any feline companionship. Our tuxedo cat, Nate (short for “Concatenate” – it’s a joke for you spreadsheet nerds), succumbed this week to old age, with a gentle assist from a compassionate veterinarian.

During that four-decade span, we have owned – or, more accurately, been in servitude to – these kitties: Felix and his littermate Oscar, Sophie and her partner in abandonment Chlöe, and Sammy and his aforementioned brother Nate. We also served as long-time grandparents to Miles, our son Josh’s orange tabby-and-then-some. Miles came to stay with us “temporarily” while Josh and a friend were settling into a new apartment. That was fifteen years and three moves of our own ago. Our son has since moved back home, also “temporarily” — when he walked into the house, Miles looked at him as if to say, “I knew you’d be back, Buck-o.”

Felix and Oscar (with those names already affixed) came to us via our neighbor, Nancy: one of her girlfriends was about to get married to a fellow who was allergic to them (the cats, not the girlfriend and neighbor). Nancy brokered the adoption, and we welcomed them (again, the cats) into our apartment shortly after their first birthday. Long story short: the cats far outlived the marriage.

We later moved into a larger unit in the same building, as my wife Carol was pregnant and we wanted space for a nursery. We took a week to move our belongings from one floor to another and then brought the cats into their new home. Felix was indifferent to his new surroundings, whereas Oscar was completely discombobulated and would Not. Stop. Howling. He wailed throughout the day and evening and into the wee hours. We had a small stash of cat tranquilizers on hand from when we first adopted them – in case they had any rehoming anxiety – which, up until that night, we had no reason to administer. At 3:00 A.M., having had more than enough of his literal caterwauling, I gave Oscar one of the pills. An hour later, I gave him another when he still hadn’t stopped. He continued to wail, but with an impaired undertone to his voice and while staggering around the apartment, clearly under the influence of narcotics. It wasn’t until well after sunrise that he finally crawled into the cabinet under the kitchen sink and fell into an exhausted sleep – still making wispy, pathetic croaks with each exhale. (Not to worry; he fully recovered and seemed fine with his new surroundings going forward.)

A few years later we bought our first house, in Peekskill, New York, living there with our toddler and the feline odd couple (I had to use that phrase at least once) for three years until a job relocation resulted in a move to Greenville, South Carolina. We brought the cats along with us (as well as our son, who had managed to ingratiate himself into the brood by then), spending our first year in a too-small apartment while trying to sell our house back in New York before moving into a more spacious home in our new town. Felix and Oscar settled in quite comfortably, with Felix passing away years later due to unexplained causes at age 17. Once Felix was gone, Oscar became the cuddly lap cat he never chose to be while his brother was still alive. He spent several years as our pampered one and only – until the morning we spied two cats huddling together on our front porch. Opening the door scared them away, but they returned the next day and the day after; using cans of food, we eventually lured them into a box wedged in the open doorway, whisking them to the vet for examination. Sophie was a sleek, all-black beauty and quickly became quite friendly – whereas Chlöe, a grey tabby, remained skittish around us for all the years we had her. She was, however, completely smitten with Sophie, spending most of her time wrapped around her vagabond sister.

Sophie and Chlöe’s arrival coincided with a noticeable slowing-down for Oscar, and he died a few months later at the impressive age of 21. His absence went unnoticed by the girls, who then had the run of the house for about a year – at which point Carol learned from a friend who volunteered with a cat rescue organization that a trio of newly-weaned kittens were being showcased for adoption at a local pet store. We rushed to the location, intending to adopt all three siblings but, by the time we arrived, the girl and one of the boys had already been placed. The remaining kitty was a teeny black-and-while fellow, whom we quickly scooped up and took home. We named him Nate (which is short for… oh, right – I already mentioned that), and had cuddled him for barely an hour when our friend called to say one of the other cats had been returned by the prospective parents and asked if we still wanted him. We sped back to the store, returning with Nate’s not-so-long-lost brother, whom we called Sammy.

Sophie and Chlöe were a unit, as were Nate and Sammy – the pairs largely kept their distance from one another, remaining detached but civil whenever they crossed paths. Within months of introducing the kittens into the brood, another change in my employment status meant we would be moving to Boston. For this move, all four cats came with us – but our son, who had graduated from high school two years before, decided to remain in South Carolina to work and share a small rental house with a friend.

I went up to Boston first, getting started in my new job while scouting for appropriate digs for two adults and four cats. I found a loft apartment in Boston’s South End neighborhood, convenient to the T and with just enough room for our assemblage of human and animal occupants. Six months into our Boston residency, Josh called to let us know he missed us and was thinking of moving to Boston and could he stay with us until he found a job there and a place to live? Of course he could, we told him – at which point he told us that was great, since he was now unemployed and flat broke. I made the 15-hour drive from Boston to Greenville and back – twice – to help our son pack and dispose of non-essential belongings (including his very used Lincoln Town Car, for which he received a meager $225), and then bring him and his remaining stuff to our now-crowded loft apartment. Fortunately, in short order he found a job and made new friends with whom he moved into an apartment a few blocks away from us. At some point, Miles – the orange tabby-and-then-some – came to live with Josh and his roommates. That crew, in various configurations, moved into a few other apartments as leases expired. In the midst of one such move, Josh asked us to take in his cat “until I get settled” — which turned out to be for the rest of Miles’s years on the planet.

We spent ten years in the Boston area, giving up the cool loft apartment for one across the river in Cambridge that afforded more room for people and cats to wander through. Four years later we were asked to move out of that lovely space because our landlord needed a place for his adult son and new wife to live. We found an apartment in Dorchester that was very close to Carol’s job and, more significantly, would accept tenants with four cats. The apartment, however, was not to our liking for a variety of reasons; after a year there we decided we didn’t want to renew the lease. In the midst of our time in Massachusetts, we were able to purchase a modest lakefront home in Maine, intending to use it as a weekend getaway before eventually settling in permanently once we retired. Rather than trying to find yet another leased space that would accept multiple pets, we decided it would be better to take up residence in the perfectly nice house we already owned. My company graciously allowed me to work remotely, and the move served as motivation for Carol to give notice to an employer who was causing her anxiety, allowing her to take a break and reset before finding new employment. We rented a moving truck, schlepped our belongings up to Maine, came back to gather up what were now five cats (with Josh remaining in Boston), and re-established the clan at our idyllic lakefront location.

I’ll now speed through most of the next nine years as succinctly as possible:

  • Carol took a year off, becoming a certified yoga teacher during that period.
  • She then secured a new position that she absolutely loved – which was a good thing, since I was laid off from the job that allowed me to work remotely.
  • Chlöe got sick with an undefined intestinal illness, which led to her demise.
  • I found another job, which proved to be a poor fit; due to a then-booming stock market I was able to retire a few years ahead of schedule.
  • Sammy, who was without question the sweetest and most expressive of all our cats, and was clearly Carol’s baby his entire life with us, developed a tumor and attendant complications, which led to the difficult decision to end his suffering.
  • Sophie began to exhibit some sluggishness, so we dropped her off at the vet’s one summer day for some tests, planning to pick her up in the afternoon. While out on the lake in our kayaks, we got a call: the vet had diagnosed her with feline leukemia, for which there was no treatment. The vet strongly recommended we consider euthanasia, immediately. We paddled back to shore, dashed to the vet’s, and tearfully agreed to put Sophie down.
  • As mentioned earlier: Josh later joined us in Maine, again “temporarily” – then came Covid. He’s still living with us and has been working from home since the pandemic’s onset. We’re happy to have him under our roof, and will be ecstatic when he finds a home of his own to purchase and moves the hell out.

For those of you who have been keeping count – this left us with Miles and Nate. As he aged, Miles developed chronic congestion and, later, diabetes. Nate experienced some seizures, but they were controlled with thyroid medication. Miles had passed through several living situations before landing with Josh, and then Carol and me; while never certain, we presumed he and Nate were roughly the same age. In the final months of 2022, Miles’s various ailments overwhelmed him; he became frail, and his end came in December. Although Miles and Nate had never been close – Miles harassed Nate in some manner every single day – once Miles passed, Nate seemed uncharacteristically out of sorts. He quickly experienced a series of behavioral and physical challenges, all of which led to another heart-wrenching decision to let him go peacefully, two months to the day after Miles’s last moments and just one week before what would have been Nate’s nineteenth birthday.

So, here we are – sans chats for the first time in decades, and not quite sure what to make of it. I still wake up thinking I need to feed the cats, administer medicines, and clean the litter pans. We look reflexively toward their usual hiding places, expecting to spy them under the sideboard or behind the couch (for years Miles used to open a cabinet door and snuggle contentedly behind a cache of mixing bowls). We jokingly used to call Nate Josh’s “brother” – Nate enjoyed hanging out in Josh’s bedroom and would frequently leap up and wrap himself around Josh’s shoulders. Toward the end, Nate would let me cuddle him like a baby and stroke his chin as he wrapped his front paws around my forearm, and Carol’s lap became another favored spot for him to rest as she gently scratched his head. Despite our pleas, Josh remains steadfast in his refusal to allow either of us to cosset him in a similar manner.

We all have travel plans coming up this spring and summer, and it will be easier to make those arrangements without having to worry about cat care – but I strongly suspect we’ll be back in the cat business once fall settles in.

Or, I should say – perhaps we’ll be deemed worthy by a few new kitties to provide them with the luxurious surroundings and haute cuisine they unquestioningly deserve.

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