Growing up, I was always a dog guy. Our family had several dogs, but never cats. I remember being bit on the ear by a cat when we lived in Dallas. I was maybe 8. So, I never liked cats. Mean critters. Bitey. Noisy. Unfriendly. And they use their claws in ways that dogs simply don’t. I prefer dogs.
Or, at least I did. In my early 30’s, I got married. And with the woman came cats. It was like a package deal. And, in my desire to please the woman, I learned to live with felines. Over time, while I never officially became a “cat person,” I did discover that some cats made good pets. But, some cats — not many , but some — can be good companions and beloved members of the family.
Some 20 years ago, when the kids were in daycare for a couple hours a day, a neighbor was giving away kittens and was down to the runt of the litter. No one was interested in him. He was unhealthy, tiny (with huge ears that made him look like a bat), and had no tail. The kids brought him home and I was, once again, talked into allowing another creature to join the household. For the next 20 years, that little tailless fellow became a fixture in the McClarty home.
Originally, James named the new kitten Hobbes (after Calvin and Hobbes). But, we rarely called him by his name. Early on, he became “Dude.” As in, “Dude, get down.” Or, “What, dude?” The name fit him. As he grew in size and strength, he strutted around, chest out, scrapping with the other cats, and basically ruling the roost. You know … dude behavior.
Other cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, a goat, and a chinchilla came and went in the interim. But, there was always Dude. In fact, in my darkest days, when the house was empty and I was at my worst, Dude followed me, room by room, checking on me and making sure I knew that he was available if I needed someone to pet. We became old men together. I used to tell people that Dude was basically “me in a cat suit.”
The last few months have been tough for old Dude. He’s been losing weight. This morning he was skin and bones. He weighed less than five pounds and really came closer to three. He’s been crying a lot, expressing his pain. Being a manx, his hips have always bothered him. He stopped eating. He was withering away. A few nights ago, after the kids were in bed and the house was still, I sat with him for a while. I looked him in the eye and waited for some sign that he was ready to go.
Well, this morning I picked him up and put him on the sink counter — his favorite place to drink. He could no longer jump or climb. He had taken to sleeping on the floor since he could no longer make it up onto the bed. He shivered at night because there was no more meat on his bones. In the mornings I’d find him doing his best to cuddle into any old clothes I’d left lying around. So anyway, I put him on the counter and showed him the water. His eyes have been getting cloudy, so he wouldn’t drink unless I swished the water and proved to him that there actually was something there. He put one paw in the water. Then he withdrew. He just stared at me. He was done. I cupped his sunken head in my palm and said, “I know.”
Today we said good-bye to Dude. It was a peaceful, graceful process. We wrapped him in a towel and took him to the vet. He was always fidgety when he was held. But not now. He settled into Megan’s arms and rested quietly. The vet said it was standard procedure to give the animal a mild sedative so that they don’t struggle when the needle is introduced into a vein in their hind leg. She gave Dude the sedative. I held his head and stared into his eyes. His organs began shutting down, one by one. I watched him drift away. When the vet returned to stop his heart, he was already dying. She commented, “That was such a light sedative. He was ready to go. It was time.”
The vet claimed that animals tell you when it’s time. You can see it in their eyes, she said. I believe her. I saw it in Dude’s eyes the other night. He was tired of the pain, the struggle, the cold. He had run his course. 20 years is a good run for a cat. But, he was out of steam.
As soon as she began to push the plunger, Dude succumbed. It was instantaneous. No struggle. No fight. Just quiet. Just sleep. Just life ending.
So long, Dude. Thanks for being a part of the family. Thanks for making my kids laugh when you ran in circles chasing the laser pointer. Thanks for keeping me company when I felt the most abandoned. Thanks for … well, for being a dude. You can’t do any better than that.