(Originally posted December 2, 2011)
Our cat Fur just died.
He was a foundling, a rescue cat we got 15 years ago. Our youngest son picked him up at the vet’s—we have a wonderful picture of him holding a young Fur in his arms, Fur cuddled against his chest and looking at him adoringly. And that adoration continued for years. In many ways, Fur was more real for him than people were. They were inseparable.
One day Fur caught a mouse in the garage. Being a little kitten, he had no idea what to do, and just batted the mouse around a bit. We rescued it, and took it to a nearby field and let it go. Fur meowed a bit, but then got distracted when our son bent down and scratched his neck.
When we moved, the boys helped us by loading their toys into a little red wagon and pulled it over to the new house, about a mile away. They did this several times, and about a week before the move, Fur disappeared. We didn’t know what happened. We scoured the neighborhood, put up signs offering a reward, and called friends. No luck. We couldn’t find him. So we moved. Our son was calm believing that Fur would return home.
As we hadn’t sold the old house, we went over at least once a day to look for anything we had forgotten—and to see if Fur returned. After we had been in the new house in 8 days, I was getting ready to take some laundry back to the old house to wash (our washing machine and dryer for the new house hadn’t come). Our son was in bed, and when I went to kiss him goodnight, he looked at me and said “Dad, I don’t think Fur is coming back.” All I could say is “I think you’re right—but we should never give up hope.” Then our oldest son and I went to the house and did the wash.
As I was loading the clothes into the dryer, our son came running and yelled, “Fur’s at the back door!” I ran, and indeed saw Fur. I went outside to get him; he ran, but slowly (the poor guy was clearly very weak), and I grabbed him and drove home. We put him in our son’s room and woke him; he hugged Fur, Fur licked him, ate a can of cat food, and snuggled up with his buddy.
When our son went away for a bit, Fur was lonely. He snuggled with us—never much of a snuggler with anyone except our son until then—and whenever he came home for a short stay, Fur was ecstatic. He was still our son’s cat. Fur was there for him always. Even in Fur’s terminal illness, when our son came over, Fur greeted him and let him stroke his fur, and licked him. That cat tolerated us; he adored our son.
He died slowly, not understanding what was taking him from this world. His meow deepened to almost a growl; he became weak and thin, and instead of coming inside on his own schedule, he would sit on his favorite perch at the garden fence and let us carry him in. He’d cling to us and snuggle up as we moved him. He slept in the pantry; he slept in cabinets on plates; near the end, he slept on a towel we put by his food on the kitchen counter. He couldn’t eat much, and lost weight; he could barely drink; but still, every morning he greeted us with a loving look, and purred madly when we stroked him.
But he bled from his mouth during the night. I cleaned it up this morning, and we took him to the UC Davis Veterinary Medicine emergency room. Our son was with us. Fur was in pain, and they saw the cancer was untreatable. Our very brave son thought Fur should be put to sleep (a gentle way of saying euthanized). We agreed, and we spent 15 minutes cuddling Fur and saying goodbye. Then it was done.
Our other pets knew, somehow, and miss Fur. So do we. I think I see Fur peeking around the corner, looking at me; but it's Puff. We close doors rapidly to keep Fur inside; then realize it doesn’t matter now. I hope I’ll see Fur in my dreams tonight, rubbing his little head against me, letting me scratch his neck, licking me. I may see him with his buddy Stripe, who died when Fur was 2, showing Fur around his new home, being with him they was he was when Fur entered our lives and our home. And maybe, just maybe, that will begin to fill the void in my heart.
The ancient Greeks said death was a mercy, because it ended our lives in this imperfect world. I don’t see that. I see an imperfect world made better by the love we have for friends, be they human or other, and for the love they have for us. “The death of any man diminishes me ’ And the death of those animals we love, and think of as people too.
So it goes.
I think the best epitaph for Fur would be from The Martian Chronicles by that master poet of prose, Ray Bradbury:
“Night after night for every year and every year, for no reason at all, the woman comes out and looks at the sky, her hands up, for a long moment, looking at the green burning of Earth, not knowing why she looks, and then she goes back and throws a stick on the fire, and the wind comes up and the dead sea goes on being dead.”