Today I had the gut-wrenching task of taking my cat to be put to sleep. Truth be told, it was time. He had been sick for a couple of months. He had been losing weight, with no explanation, and was down to about 6 pounds. He was no longer able to support himself with his hind legs. It was sad, but I was grateful that it was clear what decision needed to be made.
He was part of our family for nearly 14 ½ years. I still remember clearly the day I got him. Jason and I had just gotten married and I wanted a pet. I went to a shelter to choose one. They highly encouraged me to hold the kittens, so I held 5 or 6, but just didn’t connect with any of them. I was about to leave, near tears because I had my heart set on a kitten, when the owner came in with three new kittens. He put them in a cage and walked away. I peeked in and saw two huddled in the back and one at the front just staring at me. I looked at that cat and told the worker, “That’s my cat.” I didn’t bother to hold him. I just knew from the way he looked at me.
Jason and I put some serious thought into naming him. Jason is the one who came up with the name “Galileo.” I was a science teacher, so I liked the science name. And at Jason’s suggestion, he became “Leo,” like a lion.
Leo was rotten as a kitten. Perhaps rotten is an exaggeration, but certainly a trouble-maker. He had this need to attack, capture and then eat his dry food. He would use his paw to pull a piece of dry food out of the bowl. Then, he’d bat it around a bit, pounce on it, and then eat it. It was super cute, until he would knock over the whole damn bowl. CRASH! One afternoon, Jason beat me home from work and Leo had spilled all of his food. Cute, right? Jason cleaned it up, walked away and 3 seconds later heard the CRASH dry food being scattered all over the kitchen. Jason had a serious “talk” with the cat, and I think that may have been life #1 right there.
Our first Christmas was filled with joy, the joy of broken ornaments and destroyed Christmas Trees. We lived in a ground-floor apartment with giant sliding glass doors. The tree was right next to the doors, filled with beautiful, shiny, glass balls. Being dumb, or perhaps overly optimistic, we didn’t think a thing of hanging those shiny glass balls at the bottom of the tree. And then we’d be lying in bed at night, just drifting off to sleep and we’d hear the playful sounds of a kitten batting something around. And then we’d hear the sound of shattering glass as those pretty glass ornaments hit the sliding glass door.
As if breaking pretty glass ornaments wasn’t enough, Leo had to play jungle kitty in the Christmas tree. I would come home from work to find broken ornaments and the cat hiding in the tree, waiting to stalk whatever may come his way. He liked to get about half-way up and perch there, like a leopard, eyes all big. After a few times, he realized that he was in trouble, so as soon as I would get home, he’d launch himself from the tree to go hide. The worst day was when I came home to find him in the tree, minus the tree top (I have NO idea how he managed to knock that off.) I’ll admit, I may have lost my temper. I may have chased him through the apartment with a branch. I may have swatted him with the branch, hoping it would deter him from further tree escapades. It didn’t. Life #2.
During that Christmas season, we discovered that he wasn’t smart enough to avoid candles. We smelled a funky smell and then Leo came trotting over with decidedly shorter whiskers. Life #3.
Leo always seemed to be at the root of terrifying people in their sleep. One night, Jason and I woke from that space between sleep and wakefulness because we heard this terrifying crashing bashing noise. We discovered Leo, tearing through the apartment, with the string of a mylar balloon clenched between his teeth. Another weekend ,when my sister was staying with us, we were awakened by screams of terror. As in, someone-is-about-to-kill-me-with-a-giant-butcher-knife terror. We ran out into the living room to find my sister crouched under the desk, blanket over her head, sobbing in terror. All she could say was, “Spider. Giant Spider.” We never did find any spider. We are pretty sure the culprit was Leo, sitting on the arm of the couch, looking innocently down at her in her sleep, with his whiskers mimicking spider’s legs.
As Leo matured, he calmed down a bit, but was never what I would consider a typical cat. For one thing, he ate the most bizarre things in the world. He was known to steal black olives off of the relish tray at holiday gatherings. He was insane for string cheese. He loved Jalapeno Cheddar Cheetos. I know humans who can’t handle the heat of Jalapeno Cheddar Cheetos. He would snatch a McDonald’s french fry from your hands in an instant, if you weren’t paying attention. He didn’t like other fast food chains. He was a cat with preferences.
I am not sure that Leo ever understood that he was a cat. For one thing, whenever we sat down at a meal, he joined us at the empty chair.
He’d sit there and watch us eat, unless we were eating something he thought he needed. Then he’d join us on our chairs.
He was also more than willing to be held like a teddy bear.
I slept many a night with my arms wrapped around him. And if I wasn’t holding him, he’d squeeze in tight to me and sleep with his paw across my neck. Jason has a picture of him wrapped up around me one day when I was sick in bed with strep throat. Jason swears he is smiling.
Leo was an awesome cat. He begrudgingly accepted Newton and Einstein into his cat-family. He loved to be around the human family. He loved to bathe his human family. He could be annoyingly persistent in his need to be part of the family. He was under my feet every morning as I packed lunches. Every Christmas Eve, he stole seats so he could see what was going on at the table. Anytime we were heathens and had dinner in front of the TV, he was in someone’s lap. Anytime, I was sitting on the floor, he was next to me.
In fact, I am missing him terribly right now.
He should be wedged between me and my mouse.
He never would lie down on the left side of me.
Always the right, always in the way of my mouse.
I am sad to have lost him.
I know it will get better with time.