Goodbye, Lil’ Buddy

SmokeyThis is a sad day in our home–we’ve lost an old friend. Our fourteen-year-old Persian cat, Smokey, had to be put to sleep today.

About one year ago, he began to develop some weakness in his hind legs. He was evaluated and found to have some lesions in his spinal cord, which were originally thought to be a parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis. The diagnosis was never confirmed for certain, and several courses of antibiotics were of no avail.

Nonetheless he remained stable over the past year, and was comfortable, although he sashayed when he walked, and had increasing problems with incontinence. This morning he awoke quite ill, unable to eat and with total incontinence. The vet confirmed that he had a severe bladder infection and a paralyzed bladder. We all knew the time had come, and he was put to sleep at noon today.

Mopey–as we always called him–was a special cat in so many ways. Possessed of the laid-back disposition so common to Persian cats, he spent the better part of his life sleeping on his back, and virtually all of the remaining hours looking for food. His culinary tastes were eclectic, to say the least–he loved vegetables, especially green beans, chickpeas, and broccoli. His few athletic moments were in such pursuit, stretched to full length to get at the butter dish on the top cabinet shelf, or trying to open the cabinet latch to get at his cat food, just out of reach. Unlike many cats who self-regulate their eating, Mopey was positively Bacchanalian in his dining habits–watching him eat was like witnessing a Roman orgy. Thus engorged, he would stagger over the to furnace intake vent, where he would loudly meow, the echo amplifying his voice as he envisioned himself the great hunter on the plains of Serengeti, roaring his satisfaction at the kill to impress the pride. Then he would stagger off to sleep in some bizarre configuration, spine twisted, legs in the air.

His pursuit of food was legendary. There was the morning I left my lunch in a paper bag with cord handles–the type Starbucks uses when you buy coffee beans–as I went to brush my teeth. On return, I found him with his head in the bag–not the easy way, mind you, noooo!–but stuck through a handle. I yelled at him, and he took off–racing through the house, me chasing close behind, dragging the bag along with him, enleashed by its handles. Screaming at him to let go of my lunch as I chased him was to no avail, as his normally-ponderous frame leapt forward at a pace to make a cheetah proud. Only a torn handle saved my repast from his ravenous appetite.

Cats are meticulous in their cleanliness–but personal hygiene was not Mopey’s bag. Too much work. He had a spotless area on his chest–the only area he could reach with his tongue without straining; everywhere else was the domain of the great unwashed. His oddly-misaligned teeth reminded one of a scene from Deliverance–you half-expected the banjo to start pickin’ in the background. And then there was the nightly holler: locked away in the laundry room for the evening, he began howling in a rising crescendo, sounding somewhere between a brain-damaged infant and a demonic Dantean vision. Strangers were startled and typically headed for the doors at the sound, politely excusing themselves with stories of children to bed or an early rising which loomed. It was an unsettling sound, even after hearing it for years.

But we will hear it no more, and the loss brings tears to the eyes and a tightness to the throat. He was a friend, a companion, a member of the family, a source of many laughs and the particular aggravations which domestic animals seem uniquely able to inflict on their keepers. Our animals are our friends, God-given gifts to entertain us and foster our most affectionate and protective impulses. They are a blessing–but a blessing which departs all too quickly, their candles extinguished to remind us of our own mortality and the power of love and loss.

We love you, Mopey, and will miss you greatly. May your feline heaven bring you endless meals and long naps in the sun.

Update: My daughter, who is in vet school, sent this video along to lift our spirits.

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