Friday, February 7, 2014

Goodbye old buddy

I returned from the veterinarians today with an empty carrier. 

I wrote this last night.


I'm sitting on my couch in the same spot I sit on most nights. And next to me, in the spot he's in most nights is Bart, my cat.

I'm running my fingers through his fur which is as dense like I imagine a polar bear's might be, but so soft, especially around his belly. He purrs off and on. 

Lying here, he looks as he always has -- fluffy, filled out, content. But underneath my fingers are the prominent bones of his back and a hard, marble-sized tumor just above his back leg. One of his front paws is limp, but puffy and hot -- inflamed from arthritis. His eyes are sunken. A growth in his nose makes him sneeze. I used to swear he knew his name, his head would pop up and his ears would twitch whenever I said "Bart." But now, he doesn't hear the click of my keyboard or even the dog barking at the window. 

He's in pain. I can see it in his weeping eyes. And he's 14 -- which is the same as 80 human years.  

I'm sitting on my couch in the same spot I sit most nights. And sitting next to me, in the same spot he's in most nights is Bart. Only tonight is the last night he'll lie next to me. The last night I'll run my fingers through his downy fur and listen to the carmel drip of his purring. 

Tomorrow morning I'm taking him to the vet to be put to sleep. He shouldn't have to spend another day suffering so that I don't have to feel the weight of deciding. 

Bart's impression of a throw pillow.
I adopted Bart from the Fairfax County Animal Shelter 12 years ago. I was a junior in college and depressed -- I thought a cat might cheer me up.

My sister Laura and my niece and nephew came with me to help pick the perfect companion. I was quickly overwhelmed by all the possibilities. But Laura zeroed in on a plump, white 2-year-old with a gray tabby toupee. He was sleeping with his paws over his eyes. He refused to wake up when we talked to him and looked rumpled and annoyed when the shelter volunteer took him out of his cage for a meet and greet. He swatted and hissed at my nephew and received scratches under the chin with an air of expectant haughtiness -- it was clear my petting him was not viewed as a welcome act of affection but demanded by an exacting taskmaster.

I took him home anyway. The shelter employee said he'd been there for a really long time and allowed me to fill in the blank of his future. 

I kept the name Bart because it seemed fitting and I thought it would be confusing to give him a whole new home and identity all at once. I didn't know much about cats.

Bart blossomed in my care. And by blossomed I mean he got a bit paunchy. He made a loud thump each time he jumped down from the couch. Laura renamed him Barge. He stood sentry in the kitchen in the hours leading up to meal times. Meowing loudly anytime I moved in the vicinity of the food bin; scrambling underfoot when at long last the promised hour had arrived. He'd gorge himself, then sit near his bowl for awhile, cleaning his ears as the kibble made it's inevitable journey. 
Jabba the Cat.

Eventually, he'd make his way to his litter box. More often then not he made his solid deposits next to the litter box. If Bart was displeased with something -- either the food wasn't distributed promptly or the boxes weren't immaculate, he'd poop right next to the person who was failing at their duties. 

Poor Brad was often on the receiving end of this fecal retaliation.

After we had children he made mornings especially tricky. Starting at 4:30 or 5 he'd stand outside our bedroom door meowing at increasing volumes for breakfast, which would often wake one or both of the kids.

And he never did warm to children. My nieces and nephews learned to avoid him. He'd bite my girls when he felt threatened, which was often as my girls love four-legged creatures. He'd been declawed before I adopted him and biting was his primary mode of self-defense. Last year I asked around half-heartedly trying to find him a new home where he could live out his golden years free of the obsessive attention of toddlers. I think his well-documented litter box aversion prevented anybody from offering him a new home. I joked about shipping him to Laura or sending visitors home with cats (we have three). We never do get much company.

So Bart stayed. We kept him in the basement to avoid any run-ins with the kids, opening the baby gate at night for him to come up and socialize. 

It seems like he went downhill really fast, but in reality I'm sure he was just overlooked in the bustle of life with two young children and freelancing and attempting to maintain order in the house and keep everyone fed. 

One day last fall I picked him up, shocked at how light he was and how bony and delicate he felt. He limped when he walked, and seldom meowed -- when he did talk it was soft -- not like the tremendous yowls of his famished youth. 

He still loitered around his bowl as breakfast and dinner neared. Still came upstairs to sleep on the couch next to Brad and me. Still engaged in games of finger-paw with his good front paw (the game is you put one finger on his paw and he put his paw on top of your finger and then you put your finger back on his paw and he put his paw back on your finger -- his show of dominance was always both subtle and lazy). Still intimidated the dog who, if Bart were already on the couch, would only come up if Brad or I were there to serve as a barrier. This meant every night we'd all have to reconfigure the seating arrangement to accommodate the wimpy beagle and alpha cat.

He was still Bart. But only half-hearted. 

I got Bart because I wanted company and I was feeling down. He did a lot of things that drove me crazy. In fact, he was kind of a pain in the ass a lot of the time. 

But when you're down, you need to be around things that are demanding. That are in-your-face and bossy. Bart would sleep right next to my head each night and rouse me early in the morning. He'd crawl on my lap and glare at me when I stopped petting him. 

"What the hell is your problem?" he seemed to say with this glowering peridot eyes. "I'm here. Doesn't that make everything better?"

God's gift to humankind.

He was fodder for ongoing jokes among family, friends and coworkers. Anyone familiar with Bart knew all they had to do was mention his weight and I'd offer a loud and impassioned speeches defending him -- saying admittedly ridiculous things like that white was an unflattering color and made him look larger than he actually was or that he was just big boneded (which was, in fact, confirmed by at least one of his vets). I proudly displayed a weight chart that showed a dramatic loss when he was 7 or 8. It was short-lived. When I left my job two of my colleagues created a book in his honor as a going away gift.

Well played work.

Even Brad, who so often had to deal with Bart's horrid bathroom habits, liked having him around. For awhile he was convinced of the cat's abilities to turn around a football or baseball game in favor of the Eagles or Phillies just by sitting next to him. If Bart wasn't nearby, Brad would carry him to the couch for insurance. 

And Bart was the frequent champion in the March Madness pool at work, a source of pride and no small amount of smugness on Brad's part. 

Here's one of the many times Bart made it rain.
"He's a buddy," Brad sometimes says. And he is. Or was. 

We're all only granted a brief stay on this little spinning sphere -- and on the scale of the all that ever was and all that ever will be, it's the same for cats and people -- so I'm not embarrassed to compare the two. Bart was a force in my minuscule neighborhood of the universe and he will be missed. 

I'm always trying to assign meaning to things. And so what I take away from my once-fat cat is that no matter how much of a pain in the ass you might be in life -- no matter how many floors you shit on and babies you wake up and people you attempt to smother in their sleep, when you're not here anymore there's at least one person who will wish you were still there to keep them company.

Today that person is me. 


  1. Sue,

    I'm sorry about Bart. Thanks for writing about him in this way -- the good and the ... more interesting things about him.
    "Bart was a force in my minuscule neighborhood of the universe and he will be missed." I think everyone among us who's had (or has) a cat or dog or other companion knows exactly what you mean and how you feel.

  2. im sorry Sue and Brad for your loss. my heart is really sad for you.

  3. Sue,
    I am so sorry for your and your family's loss.

  4. Thanks so much for your thoughts. They're making a bad day a little better.

  5. So sorry to hear of Bart's passing, Sue. Hugs to you. Thank you for writing so beautifully about it here!

  6. Sue,
    I'll never forget the day I met Bart. It was at the farm. I was early for what would be one of the best parties ever in that lazy, hectic time after college graduation and before we were real adults. We were in your downstairs kitchen and he was there, too, demanding food. The next morning, after the bonfire, boat rides and beer, he woke me up with his yowls. It was hard to be mad at a cat that looked like a marshmallow. I have always loved cats.
    A few years later I moved to York to take a job there. And I got to keep up with him through jokes at work and Facebook. I thought he was awesome.
    Hugs to you. Your writing is amazing. The end was perfect. :)

  7. Great essay on the power of pets to change our lives.

    I enjoyed reading it, susan. Condolences on your loss.


  8. So sorry for your loss.
    We had a cat, Meisha who would get ticked off at Scott for having band practice in the basement. She couldn't get to her litter box. So to retaliate she would go up to our bedroom and per at the head of the bed on his side of the bed.
    Putting her down was sad and I miss her still but her pain and suffering ended

  9. I meant pee. Damm auto text! Sorry.

  10. My daughter sent this to me not knowing who the author was, as I was reading the further I got in the story things started to click. I remember you talking to us about this cat and I realized before I got to the end that it was you writing this very sad story. I’m so sorry for your loss but you gave him a life he probably never would have had. Take care and give all of your animals a big hug because we just don’t know how long they will be with us.

  11. Mary Beth, I'm sure Bart and Meisha now have ideal litter box accommodations so they're not forced to take such drastic measures to call attention to our inept pet care. And Nicki thanks so much for sharing your Bart memory -- he never did have an appreciation for hangovers. Our four-legged friends have so much more of a hold on us than we ever know.

  12. Susan,
    I enjoyed your article and I'm sorry for your loss.. It's great you rescued Bart from his cage 12 years ago and gave him a life..since he was there so long..who knows how long he would have been there. I can't imagine life without my black cat, Curlin, named after a famous race horse, who I found on the street. I'm sure the white fluffy snow falling as I write this is in honor of your white fluffy Bart !

  13. Whenever I had the honor of feeding Bart (and PB), I always knew I was in the Presence of a Most Prestigious Being, whose gratitude was my reward. B. was a great cat, and he will be missed.

  14. I'm so sorry to hear this, losing a cat is never easy but it sounds like you gave him a good home for a long time.