It’s never easy when a pet passes from this life. It’s even harder when the decision to end that life falls into your hands. Of course, you never think about that when a pet comes into your life.
I saw the black tuxedo cat for the first time when he showed up as an occasional visitor at our cabin in northern Minnesota. He came right up to us, enjoyed being petted, then went on his way. I figured he belonged to someone spending time at the lake, so I didn’t think much of it when he came and went.
Then, summer ended and the “lake people” went home. I came up on weekends to close up the cabin until spring. I didn’t see the cat, so I assumed he went home with his family. As fate (or whatever) would have it, he showed up the last weekend I was there before winter set in. He was thin, hungry, and his fur tacky with pine pitch. I fed him what I could find and told myself that if he was still around when I left the next morning, I’d take him home with me. He was. Meowing, and sticking to me like glue.
He slept the entire 1.5 hour journey home. I think he finally felt safe, secure, and grateful that I had rescued him from certain death – Minnesota winters are not kind to the unprepared. I took him to the vet who declared him underweight, but otherwise healthy. I had him neutered, and named him Viggo (my daughter’s suggestion – after Viggo Mortensen from Lord of the Rings). He came with me when I moved from Minnesota to Florida. Viggo would never be abandoned again – not on my watch.
I declared his outdoor life over, and although he escaped a few times, he was generally happy with his indoor life with me. He was a big cat, but his loving personality would put him on the losing end of any fight with the cats that roamed the neighborhood. He was happy watching the goings-on outside the window and regularly took his place on top of my bookcase in my office. While I wrote, he manned his post, sniffing the breeze and watching the birds splashing in the birdbath outside the window.
I kept life interesting for him with a mixup of toys, fresh catnip, and interesting places to hang out. The toys always seemed to end up underneath the couch.
I’d seen the behavior before, but my vet confirmed it. Strays that have gone hungry think every meal is their last, and if there is one molecule of empty space in their tummy, it must be filled. Immediately. Viggo’s cat food had to be kept under “lock and key,” and if I did not respond to his insistent pleas for food, a gentle, but attention-getting nip was sure to follow. Hunger satisfied, a stretch-out was next on his agenda. In a sunny spot, next to the patio doors.
Indoor living can wear a cat out. Life is exhausting with all of the eating, playing and going to the bathroom. I caught him on a Saturday afternoon when a serious power-nap was the order of the day. It’s serious sleeping when the paw is over the face.
Even indoor cats need baths, and I was afraid I’d have a real battle on my hands when it came to bath time with a big guy like Viggo. He voiced his objections loud and and clear, but I crooned sympathy with his plight and told him over and over what a good boy he was. He learned the sound of the “shampoo” cupboard door and took off like a shot, hoping to avoid the inevitable. Caught and soaped, he continued to complain and ran down the hall as soon as I set him free, but inevitably he’d come back and let me wrap him in his cozy blanket to warm up until he dried off. They were amazing, cuddling, purring times.
The years passed, and Viggo was my mainstay. No matter what, he was always there, greeting me every day at the front door when I arrived home from work.Whatever room I was in, so was he. He wasn’t much of a lap baby, but we curled up on the couch together to watch TV until he got too warm and moved to his part of the chaise. Viggo, my guy for over 14 years.
Then, the signs no one wants to see started to appear. My heart wanted to ignore them, but my conscience reminded me that if I loved Viggo, my selfishness in wanting to keep him with me just a bit longer wasn’t realistic, or humane. If I loved that black and white tuxedo I’d rescued, I’d have to find the strength to say goodbye. I conferred regularly with my vet. We talked about our plan for Viggo – how much to intervene, and at what point we would know the end had come. I spoiled him as much as I could, kept watch over him, and made life as comfortable as I possibly could.
Then the dreaded day came. I came home from work and he wasn’t at the door. He was struggling, and I didn’t have to wonder if it was time – I knew. I called the vet’s office to tell them I was on my way with Viggo. I kissed him goodbye on the top of his velvety-black head. I told him how much I loved and would miss him as his life with me quietly ended. I kissed him one last time and made a deal with him. “You look for me, because I’ll be looking for you.”