Monday, October 19, 2009

Good-night, Sweet Prince

We lost our eighteen-year-old kitty, Clovis, early this morning. He’s been failing gradually for months, really, over a year. Decaying teeth gave him problems that led to a permanent throat infection which could be fought back, but never fully beaten. Bit by bit, he began tiring this summer, in spite of prescriptions, tonics, vitamins, and cajoling. He slipped away last night embraced in love, reassured that he was, indeed, the best kitty ever.

I say this about all my pets that pass. They are all the best ever. Clovis, though, was truly special.

I met Clovis on my first date with my husband, Stan. A man with a cat (and a vasectomy) gets bonus points in the dating world – well, to each her own scale. I actually thought that Stan had a dog by the way he’d described him. I was surprised to see a giant ball of Siamese-blend fluff greet me at the door. Clovis immediately demanded that I hold him. He had no use for idle hands, believing that they should always be petting and stroking him.

During our first few months together, Clovis developed a terrible allergy to fleas and began breaking out in hives and losing his luxurious fur. I had to take him to the vet for Stan, who was working so much overtime that year, and get him medication. Over the summer, as his fur grew back long and lustrous, he wrapped me around his paw and himself around my heart. Always cheerful and ready for love at the end of your most tiring day, he would melt away your cares with his loud purr and affectionate gaze. His love was so reassuring: everything would be okay with just a little petting and scratching. A rake of the brush through his beautiful mane would send him over the top and make you feel you’d accomplished at least one worthwhile thing that day.

He had his peculiarities. Clovis loved peppermint. We confirmed this one night when we caught him on the bathroom sink licking our toothbrushes. Nothing intrigued him more than freshly brushed teeth and the scent of toothpaste on your breath. If cuddling on the bed or chair, he would rush at your face and sniff and start to slobber with widened eyes.

Thus, I learned that I had to keep my mint plants up high – Clovis loved them like catnip. We’d occasionally snip off a strand and toss it in the grass. He’d rub his nose all through it and roll around with it - and slobber. He would always patrol the yard at Stan’s heels, never really much of a wanderer. When Stan first brought him into his pre-house apartment, Clovis, originally an alley cat, wouldn’t cross the threshold. He would kind of shake his head in a been-there-done-that attitude about the great outdoors. But he instinctively knew when Stan bought his house that the backyard was his domain and the front yard was to be guarded and kept free of strays. He would do his border patrol cruise every morning when let out – and would always be near when Stan worked the garden, silently observing and perpetually following him from the composter to the garden hose to the house.

Had he not been so well fed, he would have been an admirable hunter. He brought me a bird once, of which he was so proud yet very confused when I wouldn’t let him bring it in. He loved to play and chase, especially every morning when Stan laces his work boots. They would play the “shoelace game” where Clovis would dart back and forth and pounce on the fluttering shoestrings. It’s been several weeks now since he last chased much of anything, but he would still sit at Stan’s feet every morning and look up at his “Daddy” with that adoring face.

Simply put, Clovis was love in its purest form.

When strong enough to jump up on the bed, he’d nightly nose his way in to sleep between us, preferring his head on the pillow – or better, his head under your chin. While you were reading the paper, he’d climb into your lap and flop over with adoring eyes, offering up his belly for a rub. He would target the most allergic houseguest in the room and make a convert of them by the end of the evening with his insistence for affection, they with tissue in one hand, Clovis in the other.

When Stan and I first started dating, our two former alley cats were arch enemies. I tried a few times to get them together, but Clovis, with his claws, and Harry, with no claws, were never meant to bond. In their first meeting, although matched pound-for-pound, when Harry accidentally darted out of his confined area, Clovis took him to task with fur, feces, and urine flying. They could never be together after that. After Harry died in his sleep in August 2003, I thought, no more pets for a while; I’d just enjoy Clovis at Stan’s. Then, in November a friend who was moving to London burst into chin quivers and glistening eyes when I asked what she was doing with her cat. I heard the words leap from my mouth, “I’ll take your kitty,” and thought, oh, what have I done? Here we go again.

Maizie came into Stan’s house on a visit and immediately became Queen of the Mansion. Clovis took one look at her and his little heart nearly burst with love at first sight. She, on the other hand, was having none of it, à la Pepé le Pew and Penelope Pussycat. As he tired of her rebuffing him, he began to torment her, and she him. They would chase one another around the house, hide behind corners in ambush, and generally provoke one another. She would “torture him with her beauty” by rolling on her back and sides, slowly clawing her way on the carpet toward him. If she were under the coffee table, he’d be on top of it, tail switching, glaring at her and jabbing a paw down to remind her who was alpha cat. They were the worst of lovers but the best of playmates.

In his eighteenth year, perhaps nineteenth, he began to slow considerably. His teeth decayed to the point that each one had to be extracted. His system didn’t tolerate the medications well, and he began to lose kidney function. In his last days, he was crouching and wincing but always ready to sit in your lap and be petted. We decided to let him make his transition at home, surrounded with love instead of taking him to the vet. He went from sitting in an afternoon sunbeam on the porch to unable to raise a paw within six hours, uttering his last purrs around 9 p.m. We took turns holding him and stroking him until we both fell asleep. Sometime after 1 a.m., his labored breathing stilled to silence.

There is a little hole dug in the backyard by the plumbago bed beside the spot where we buried Harry – now they’ll have to tussle it out in the afterlife. This afternoon in the bright sunshine, we’ll set Clovis to rest with a few of his toys, like a pauper King Tut. There will be tears and hugs and sobs. In time, we’ll adopt another kitty and begin the journey all over again. Why? Because a pet’s unconditional love always surpasses the chasm of the loss. If a pet teaches you anything, it’s that you shouldn’t waste a single day of your life without loving someone.

We are rich in memories of our beloved.
Won’t you share a few stories of your pets, current and past? Your best pet ever?

Today is a good day to appreciate your creatures. Take a few extra moments with your furred, feathered, or finned pets and toss that ball or catnip mouse that you’ve been too busy to throw lately – well, maybe not with your fish – perhaps a little face-tank time will do. Just enjoy them while you have them – while they’re living to love you.