My first cat, Bean, started to exhibit aggressive behavior when he was a little over a year old. We quickly came to the conclusion that it was because he was alone all day and needed someone to keep him company. In desperation, we called up the same Tonkinese breeder that we adopted Bean from and asked if she had any kittens available. She said she just had one kitten left from her last litter that no one had adopted yet. He had the same mom as Bean, was 6 months old, and was a “natural solid” (brown).
It wasn’t a color I particularly liked and the fact that no one had adopted him in 3 months since he was eligible for adoption was a red flag. But, if we wanted another Tonkinese now, this was our only choice. So, Beth and I hopped in the car and drove the 3 hours from Nashville to Atlanta to check him out.
When we got there, Roo was hard to find in a house full of about 20 cats. I remember him running away to his food dish and climbing up the bookshelves to get away from us as we tried to hold him. Not promising. If we had any other option, I don’t think there’s any way we would’ve chosen him. But, we were desperate, and decided to take a chance.
On the car ride home, Roo had a distinct odor and a very oily coat. Beth’s hand smelled from holding him in her lap on the ride. He didn’t like being pet on the head and wouldn’t look us in the eyes.
We thought we might’ve made a mistake.
Once we brought him in to meet Bean, he quickly endeared himself to us.
Bean wasn’t happy to have a kitten in the house and attacked Roo almost immediately. Roo would lay on his back and stretch out his paws toward Bean in a gesture of good will. Bean would respond by using his paw as a club and whapping him repeatedly in the head. Either that or he’d bite him in the neck to hold him down and kick him with his “rabbit feet”. This went on for weeks, but Roo never got upset nor fought back.
Roo’s fur became incredibly soft and his odor went away within just a few days. Bean’s behavior issues disappeared as soon as Roo came in the door. At first I think it was simply because he was able to take his aggression out on Roo, but ultimately they became good friends. Taking a chance on Roo paid off.
Roo was the opposite of loyal - he loved everyone. He wanted to be in someone’s lap at all times, and had a knack for sneaking into laps without the lap’s owner noticing. He was so small and sneaky that you’d be watching TV and look down and notice that there was a small cat in your lap without any idea of when he got there. If you took him off your lap to get up, he might slip back on before you had a chance to stand up, not willing to believe that his lap time was over for the evening.
I would often joke when I went to sit on the couch, “Are there any little kitties that want to sit on my lap?” Roo would usually be in my lap before I’d even completely sat down. Roo was a constant companion. In 10 years, not a single TV show or movie was watched in my house without Roo in someone’s lap (usually mine).
I had to warn visitors that he might jump from the ground up to your shoulder to snuggle with you. I never quite broke him of that habit (I secretly thought it was pretty cute).
He learned to use the toilet in just a month (though Bean was a good mentor). He fetched like a dog. He liked to be grabbed under the armpits and dragged across the carpet on his back.
He loved food … maybe even more than laps. Most days when I’d bring him his food, he’d greet me with a loud meow and then flop on his side (sometimes actually getting all 4 feet airborne), and wait expectantly for a tummy rub. He was always a happy little guy. As long as he had food and people, he was happy.
It took a couple years of work, but he finally started looking us in the eyes too. He came a long way from the shy little kitty that no one else wanted to adopt.
A little over a month ago, his belly started to get noticeably larger and he was hacking a lot, as if he had a hairball he couldn’t get up. I scheduled a vet appointment, thinking that they’d be able to prescribe some medicine to help him get the hairball up. Worst case, I thought he might need surgery to remove the obstruction. Days before the appointment, his breathing became noticeably labored.
At the vet, they took an X-ray, which showed that his belly was full of fluid … and so was his chest. His lungs were about 1/4 of the size they should’ve been, crowded by the fluid. His breathing was too ragged to get a 2nd X-ray on his back, so they sent me to the emergency vet across town where they could put him in an oxygen chamber.
Once at the animal ER, they rushed him to the back, pausing only to ask me if I authorized CPR if his heart stopped beating. I was not prepared for this. I stammered, “Um …” I glanced at the waiting room full of pet owners.
About ten minutes later, the vet called me back and gave me the prognosis. It wasn’t completely clear because the fluid obscured his organs in the X-ray, but the most likely cause was cancer. The other possibility was advanced heart disease. In either case, we were looking at 3 months to a year at most with constant care. She said I’d need to decide between submitting him for more extensive tests overnight or to “let him go”.
As she was explaining this to me, I was listening intently, but my brain was slow to process it. I remember the “let him go” line washing over me, but not sinking in.
I asked her to repeat it. After hearing it the second time, I got lightheaded and had to sit down. She clearly wasn’t going to tell me which choice to make. This was my decision. Although the tests would be expensive to get a definitive diagnosis, money was not the issue. I was trying to think of what would be best for Roo.
Roo would have to be kept on oxygen at least overnight while they sedated him and drew the liquid from him to send away for tests. We might not find out the results for several days more. They may have been able to relieve some of the fluid to allow him to breath unassisted, but he might also have to be brought back in if his breathing degraded. I didn’t want to put him through all that just for my own piece of mind to know that I’d done everything I could. He would’ve been so scared and the outcome would’ve been the same.
I called Beth and told her the situation. She said the decision was mine and she’d support me in whatever I chose. She assured me that money was not a consideration.
I asked to talk to the vet one more time and have her walk me through the options again. Although his diagnosis left some small room for doubt, the decision was clear. I told the vet I wanted to put him to sleep. Saying the words out loud was devastating. I barely finished the sentence as I started crying for the first time. Although she wouldn’t tell me which choice to make, after I made the decision she affirmed it by saying that’s what she would’ve done if it were her cat. That was a small comfort that meant a great deal to me.
I called Beth back and told her my decision and asked if she wanted to say goodbye and be with him in his final moments. I cried in my car as I waited the 30 minutes for her to drive from work.
Once she arrived, the vet brought him in to us, wrapped in a towel. He seemed weak, but happy to see us. They gave us time alone with him. I held him in my arms and he rested his head on my shoulder. Beth and I pet him and told him how much we loved him and what a great cat he was. He purred.
After a couple minutes, we rang the bell for the vet to come back in. I held him on my shoulder and stroked his head while she slowly injected the pink fluid. He struggled briefly, and then died in my arms. I handed over his limp, lifeless body to the vet.
My little buddy was gone forever.
I am heartbroken. This has been the hardest week of my life. I knew Roo wouldn’t be in my life forever, but he was taken far too soon. He was only a few months past his 10th birthday. He was so small and energetic; he still seemed like a kitten to us.
Two days after he passed, I gave Bean his food and then turned to feed Roo out of habit, and broke down and sobbed.
My tears, my sadness, are beautiful because they are the consequence of love, and my grieving makes me love the world and life all the more.
– Norman Fischer
After a week, I still have moments of sadness, but they’re starting to be crowded out by happy memories. His last gift was to make me think about the things and people that are important in my life. I’m fortunate to have such great friends and family who have provided support for me this past week.
I’m thankful that I got to say goodbye. I’m thankful that I was able to comfort him in his last moments. And I’m thankful that we took a nice, long nap together the day before.
I was lucky to have such a special little guy in my life for almost 10 years, and Roo will always be in my heart.
So long, little buddy.