I’ll admit that I have never been much of a cat person. It’s because I am a little selfish, I guess. When I come home at the end of the day, I like to have a pet who is happy to see me. When I come home at the end of the day, my miniature dachshund goes completely mad. He’s happier to see me than a teenage girl seeing Paul McCartney in 1964. In other words, he adores me, and I like that.
That’s just not how cats roll. In fact, cats don’t roll at all. They don’t roll, and they don’t do tricks, at least not the tricks you want them to do. They do what they like, especially if they are older, as accustomed to wielding power as an old mafia don. You keep company with a cat for very long, you eventually come to realize that you are actually more his valet than he is your pet. You live to serve your cat.
Maybe it is just my history with cats. I had one aunt who had a cat that mauled me when I stepped on her tail as a toddler, and another aunt who had a Siamese cat named “Princess” (of course) who was said to eat children. My aunt brought the cat home from Winston-Salem once and told us, “I’m sorry, kids, you can’t really touch or even go near Princess. She’s temperamental.” If we even ventured into the same room with Princess, she would arch her back and hiss menacingly, then crouch like a cheetah getting ready to pounce, causing us to dive over furniture like little soldiers avoiding gunfire.
With all of this as context, you can imagine how pleased I was when I met my wife years ago and discovered that she owned a cat that she had curiously burdened with the name “Bubbie Thomas” (pronounced “Toe Moss”). I had two dogs, an enormous lab/shepherd mix and a pit bull, and now a cat was going to be introduced into this environment? How was THAT supposed to work?
“Is he temperamental?” I asked her. I figured I had learned my way around cat euphemisms the hard way.
She told me that Bubbie was a pretty laid back cat. I had never heard of that and didn’t really believe her. I will never forget the first time I saw my two-year-old daughter reach over and lift Bubbie off the ground as nonchalantly as picking up a sack of flour and then stand there proudly with her pudgy little arms locked together just under his front arms. It looked as if she were about to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on him. Poor Bubbie had the look you sometimes see in the eyes of people who have been held hostage for a long time, a look of pure resignation with just a drop of hope, a look that said, “I’d sure like to escape, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon, is it?”
I had never seen anything like this in a cat before. I would come to understand eventually that Bubbie was kind of the “anti-Princess,” a cat that would never harm a child, even if the child pulled on his tail, tweaked his ears, or dragged him around in a wagon with a heavy towel covering his entire body, save a whisker or two. “Time to take baby shopping,” my daughter would say, and Bubbie would be off on an imaginary shopping trip. He would probably be trying on jackets, necklaces, and hats soon, and these indignities he would endure as patiently as any monk.
A few years later, when my son was born, the entire cycle began again, and then a few years after that, we brought home a miniature dachshund puppy who, the minute he was first able to pry his own eyes often after having been born, perceived that everything he saw was part of his new kingdom. Though he was no bigger than a cigarette, he was an alpha dog from the start, and within just a few months he and Bubbie began waging a three-year war for control of the home.
Though my general preference for dogs is well-documented, I was heartened to see Bubbie stand his ground against “the black menace,” as we came to call our dachshund. The dog would come racing around a corner or lunge from the sofa, dive-bombing poor Bubbie, who would react surprisingly quickly, considering his advancing age and slowing reflexes. He would hiss and raise a paw like Muhammad Ali fending off a Joe Frazier jab, then throw a rapid fire series of his own jabs.
Eventually, these two worked out an inexplicable truce, and each night they would wind up sprawled out next to each other like a couple of tiny dead cowboys on the sofa while my wife and I watched television or worked on our laptops.
As Bubbie continued to age, he began having some difficulty jumping on and off furniture, and lately he had been losing some weight. We took him to the vet last Friday as a precaution, thinking they could give him a steroid or something to increase his appetite. He was 14 years old, but we figured that with some love and care, he had a few more golden years left in him.
I was on my way to a meeting when my daughter called from the vet’s office and said with a voice choked with trembling bravery, “Daddy, I have some bad news. They’re putting Bubbie to sleep.”
I wheeled around immediately and sped as fast as I could to the vet and got there literally just in time. Bubbie was laid out on the table, barely conscious. My wife, barely able to hold back deep, heaving sobs, was holding and stroking his head. I held her with one arm and petted Bubbie with the other. His eyes were open, but he was completely limp, completely at peace, ready to go.
“He has a terminal disease,” said my wife. “They said it’s just going to get worse and worse.”
When it was over, my daughter could not be consoled, and I could do absolutely nothing to help her except sit on the bed and watch her whole body shake with wave after wave of the first pure grief she had ever had to endure. Memories of Bubbie swarmed the room; we couldn’t wipe them away, couldn’t find comfort in them, not yet. I knew that day would come, but she didn’t, and I couldn’t find the words to convince her.
“Why does it have to hurt so much, Daddy?” she said.
“Because we loved him so much,” I said. What else could I say?
“I never want another pet,” she said, and then screamed, “NEVER! NEVER! NEVER!”
One day, she will. Her broken heart will heal, as broken hearts must. One day, we will be able to talk about all the times she carried Bubbie around in her little arms, her head smushed against his, smiling and holding on for dear life. But not today. Today, we just manage to navigate around that big hole in our home where Bubbie used to be, trying not to fall in.
Godspeed, Bubbie Thomas. We’ll thank you for the memories as soon as we are able. Holding you tight, never letting go.