Saying Goodbye To An Old Friend

It’s a terrible thing to lose a beloved pet. Sometimes I think it’s more terrible than losing a human friend. Maybe it’s because pet friends live such a short life. We know, going in, that our time with them will be finite. We shower them with affection and they return it a thousand-fold. It’s just what they do.

People, not so much. We’re constantly having to compromise in order to keep our relationships vital. We have too many expectations of each other. Too many preconceptions of what will and won’t make the relationship work. Too many second thoughts. Ultimately, too many regrets. Friends come and friends go, but a pet will always be there, so long as we allow it.

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My buddy.

On Wednesday, September 12th, my husband and I said goodbye to an old friend. I am far more heartbroken than I thought I would be. Rusty was Donny’s cat when we first met, eleven years ago. In fact, he’d been around for years before I came along. He was Donny’s “little buddy.” I thought he was an asshole. He was fat and aloof and way too quick to bite and scratch when he’d had enough of the love he demanded. Typical cat, I thought.

But if I was going to make a go of it with his human, we had to come to an understanding. That truce basically went like this: 1) I am the alpha cat now. 2) You can very quickly become taco meat. 3) Bite me and there will be hell to pay. No scritches for you. Ever! It took a while, but he eventually came around. And in the process, became my almost constant companion, when at home – despite the fact that we pretended to ignore each other, for the most part.

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He was always there…

Rusty was never my cat. I don’t think he was Donny’s cat either. Personally, I think he chose Donny during a moment when the young man needed the kind of affection a fat, aloof, but secretly very affectionate, fuzzbutt could provide. Donny says he rescued Rusty from the pound, but I believe that rescue was mutual. He was definitely his own cat and I don’t know if he approved of me, right away. He’d seen Donny hurt a few times and was wary. He didn’t give over the mantle of alpha cat graciously.

I guess I grew on him. He grew on me, too. His love for leather shoes and purses was a constant source of amusement. When I was in the kitchen, cooking, he was always right at my feet, waiting for something to drop “accidentally” to the ground.

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My favorite photobomb, ever.

His favorite way to sleep was sprawled out on his back, all four paws suspended above him. I took to telling Donny, “Your dog is dead.” It was a weird joke, but it always made us smile.

His photo bombs were always a riot, though he always managed to look even more disgruntled than I usually do. That’s pro status, right there.

Mostly the two of us would just sit and ignore each other, me on my laptop, him either on the arm of the chair, draped across the back or stuffed onto the seat next to me, all elbows and bristly fur.

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Me, trying to ignore him…

His little sister, Imogene, was soft and adorable and she chewed cords. She was also Donny’s favorite. She was introduced because Donny felt Rusty was lonely and needed a pal. It wasn’t exactly a match made in heaven. They barely acknowledged each other and, when they did, it usually involved lots of hissing and spitting. At least during the eight years we all lived together. Donny would like me to believe things were different between them before I came along. Maybe, but when she died two years ago, and Rusty became an only child, I don’t think it bothered him much at all.

Maybe it was because he was an asshole, or maybe he just had other things on his mind. He’d already been sick for quite a while before her time came. First he began to lose weight and was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. Which meant pills that would need to be given daily. Then he was diagnosed with kidney disease, which meant more pills. He grew skinnier and, eventually, bony, but he never lost his sass. And he outlived his much healthier sister, which surprised everyone.

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He always seemed to know how to play to the camera.

He also gave up on the biting and scratching and, as a result, received far more loving from every person who walked through the door. Women gave him their old purses and let him defile their shoes with drool. He insinuated himself into visitor’s laps and lavished them with love. It always worked, whether they were “cat people” or not. He became that kind of cat and I think he was much happier for it. It pays to listen to the alpha cat…

The end came quickly for the little guy. One day he was his old, crotchety, 19-year-old self, pissing several times a day and transferring cat litter to every soft surface in the house. The next he was puking and dehydrated. He was taken to the vet and diagnosed with advanced bladder cancer. According to the doctors, he was in a lot of pain, though he never showed it. He just became weaker and disoriented. He stopped drinking water and his last few hours were miserable for all of us.

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What makes this New Year’s Day picture work? One guess.

Toward the end, he barely moved. Just lay there like an ancient Sphinx, his spine a ridge of knots, his haunches hollow and his ribs prominent. We knew it was time. So, we said our goodbyes to our old friend and released him from his pain. He never uttered so much as a sound. I think he knew it was his time. His job was done.

It was different when Imogene died. She was sweet and personable and, as I already said, she was Donny’s favorite. I was sad for Donny when she left us and I helped him bury her. There was a noticeable absence, but life went on. This time the absence is palpable and my heart is broken. Rusty was my pal. He may not have missed Imogen when she was gone, but I know I’m going to miss him now that he is. Little bastard found a way to get under my skin. What an asshole…

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I’m really gonna miss that little bastard…

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