Saturday, February 18, 2006

Larry the Cat

1990 - 8 February 2006

One hot summer day in 1992, a boy cat crept into my yard and declared squatter's rights. I already had two cats. I didn't want a third, and I especially did not want one that would fight with old Phoebe and middle-aged Lily. But the squatter persisted. He slept every night in the grass by the deck and told me in other subtle ways of his intention to stay. Phoebe and Lily eyed him warily, but he did not aggress, so I took pity and started feeding him on the deck. He would not approach me, and slinked away if I approached him, but the handouts always disappeared.

As autumn came and dwindled, I began to worry about what would happen to the skittish little boy cat when winter arrived. I decided, reluctantly, that he would have to become a house cat and, as such, he would need to be vaccinated and neutered. I tricked him with food into a crate and hauled him off to the vet. He yowled like a banshee the whole way. He was wild with fright when the vet opened the crate - he literally launched himself across the room and threw himself at the screened window. The doc had to don gloves to handle him, and I left feeling sad and guilty. When I returned the next day to bring him home, a miracle had occurred: he was a changed cat, mellow and friendly, and for the first time I was able to touch him! I named him Larry. He was a lover boy, liked to cuddle and purr, never got into trouble, didn't climb on the counters or tables, needed no training. We lived contentedly...old Phoebe died...and Larry and Lily spent the next five years catching mice and lounging together in the gardens.

And then, in March 1997, 10-week-old Ruby Basenji came to live with us. (Soon afterward Lily had to be euthanized.) Ruby was such an upstart! At hers and Larry's first meeting, she thought we were giving her a new chew toy and went gamboling right up to try him out. Lightning Larry shot out a paw and gave her a quick swat across the chops. So surprised was the pup that she screamed, scurried beneath the kitchen table, and threw up! From that point forward she had a healthy respect for Larry the Cat and they soon became fast friends.

Through the years they basked together in puddles of sunshine, shared sleeping spots and toys and, on occasion, even ate out of the same bowl at the same time. They played thrilling games of chase, did the Dog & Cat 500 at break-neck speed, and went on long off-leash hikes in the woods and fields that surround our house. In fact, I had to make sure Larry was in the house before Ruby and I headed out for our daily walk down the road, as Larry was wont to follow. I flooded the basenji e-lists with stories and photos of their antics and adventures; in time Larry had his own fan club among subscribers.

This fall Larry ominously began to lose weight. Blood tests indicated that he had some type of liver disease. At his age, I opted to not put him through more intrusive tests to find out precisely which of the three it was, because all were fatal. I wanted him to enjoy whatever time he had left, and I made sure, as well as I could, that he did! Our mantra became "Whatever Larry wants, Larry gets." I fed him as much as he would eat of anything he favored. By Christmas he had gained back 2 pounds and I began to hope the vet was wrong about the diagnosis. But, sadly, he wasn't.

By mid-January, Larry's appetite had begun to flag again. I tempted him with literally every item in our fridge, cupboards, freezer, and supermarket that might possibly no avail. In the last week and a half he quit eating entirely. It was agonizing to feel his every bone and watch him disappearing. Thinking to save him an awful trip to the vet, I hoped that -- surely! -- he would expire in his sleep, yet he woke every morning. In the end I just couldn't bear watching him starve to death. I called the vet on the afternoon of February 8th, and got an appointment within the hour. I brushed Larry one last time -- he always loved being brushed -- and set him in the sunny window until my dad came to pick us up. He and Ruby nuzzled each other before I wrapped him up in a warm fleece blanket and walked out the door into the winter sunshine..

Maybe Larry felt very secure in my arms, or maybe he was just too weak to object, but he never made a sound during the usually-hated car ride; he just pressed his head to my cheek, and I cried into his just-brushed fur. The vet assured me that it was the right time to say goodbye, neither so soon that I deprived him of pleasure, nor so late that he was in pain; I can only hope he was right. Larry lay in my arms as the doc inserted the catheter, and his eyes looked into mine as the phenobarbitol was injected. He slipped away very peacefully, without protest or whimper. His were the only dry eyes in the room.

It has been a mild winter in the northeast and the ground was not yet frozen. I began to dig when we returned. Doug finished the job when he came home from work. After dinner, the three of us -- Doug and I and Ruby -- went out to commit his little body to the good earth. I made sure Ruby said goodbye to her old friend. Larry is buried beneath the flowering maple tree where lie our other cats. Someday, I pray not soon, Ruby will join them there.