One of the first things Amy and I did as a couple was adopt two kittens from a shelter called Animal Kind in Hudson, New York. Amy had just lost her cat, Norton, and though I tried to convince her to wait until she’d moved in with me in our small cabin in Vermont, she just needed to fill that void in her life. Amy wanted two cats because Norton had been killed by a car and she was determined that her next cats would be strictly indoor cats. Two cats could keep each other company when we weren’t home.
I was ambivalent about the cats. I had never had a cat as a pet and I feared they’d just be a nuisance. Amy named them Henry and Angus. They were not actually brothers, but they were close in age, maybe four to six weeks old. The two kittens lived with Amy at first, and so developed a close bond to her. Henry was somewhat social from the start, but Angus was shy. One night he disappeared and we didn’t know where he had gone. Eventually Amy found that he’d crawled into the back of the refrigerator. It would take time for Angus to become comfortable around me, and he has never trusted strangers. We took to calling him Anguish.
About five months after adopting Henry and Angus, Amy moved north and brought our kittens with her. I saw the months ahead as me pretending to enjoy our pets when I was really just tolerating them for Amy’s sake. But one day I arrived home before Amy, as was the case then as she had a long commute. I walked in the door and Angus was waiting for me. He began to squirm on his back like he was actually excited to see me. I scratched his fuzzy belly and fell in love with him that day.
It’s been almost 10 years since the cats moved in. I don’t believe there has been a day when I haven’t been delighted with the two of them, but especially with Angus. He is continually surprising me and charming me and manipulating me. Our bathroom door has to be pushed hard for it to actually latch, so it usually isn’t. Angus learned that he could push the door open with his paw. You might think it is annoying to have a cat destroy your privacy, but it never has been. We called Angus’ ability to enter the bathroom through a closed door his super power, and we never latch the door, because that would be his kryptonite.
We live next door to my parents. Our ritual is to go over at 7:00 p.m. to watch Jeopardy with them and to bring my father coffee. On our walk back across our front yard, we would often see Angus on his cat tower in the picture window craning his neck to watch us come home.
Angus does not like to be picked up, but he likes to crawl into Amy’s lap on the sofa. When Amy isn’t home, he’ll often leap onto the armrest to my left and snuggle up on my shoulder. Mashing his soft, furry head into my face is part of this ritual, because he likes to have his forehead kissed. When the three of us are together on the sofa and I get up, Angus almost always slides into my spot. He’ll look at me when I come back from whatever got me up as if to dare me to move him. But then he slides over as soon as I start to sit down. He also likes jumping onto my spot on the bed when I am brushing my teeth before turning in. I kiss his head, and pet him, and then he’ll make way for me.
I will often find myself busily doing something in the kitchen only to feel eyes on me. I’ll turn around and find Angus looking at me from around the corner of the counter. That’s his way: coyly watching us from around the bend.
When Henry developed diabetes, Angus was our rock. We called him our champion because he didn’t get sick. Angus has the most beautiful fur. Stroking him is like stroking a rabbit. His fur has streaks of orange. Surprisingly, he smells nice, like the out of doors, even though we don’t let him outside. Amy came to call him Booboo, because he is much smaller than Henry, and because he is our baby.
I call him my best buddy. And why not? He makes me feel happy. He helps ease my daily tensions. I feel good when I’m with him. Amy and I talk about how much we look forward to seeing both our cats when we’re driving home after work. They have no agenda except requesting treats, which Angus can be quite vocal about (sometimes we call him Nagus).
About three weeks ago, we woke on a Sunday morning to find Angus sheepishly limping around, favoring his right rear leg. The next day, when it hadn’t improved, Amy brought him to the vet, who took an x-ray and determined Angus’ femur was fractured. First the vet put a splint on it and then two days later a cast. The little guy looks so awkward navigating the house with his blocky leg. There is no traction at the bottom of the cast, so when he is on the wooden floors or the linoleum, the leg just slides out from under him. He does better on the carpet, yet it is still somewhat unwieldy for him.
But he gets around, jumping and dragging himself up onto the sofa and even the taller bed. We were looking forward, however, to the day he could get the cast off and go back to his old self.
Last Wednesday, two weeks after the cast was put on, Amy brought him in for a second x-ray to see how the leg was healing. Well it wasn’t, and the doctor worried that Angus might have bone cancer. Two days later a radiologist confirmed the diagnosis and the vet told us our beautiful little boy doesn’t have long to live.
I am heart-broken. Since getting the news I have cried a lot. At work I wear my reading glasses in the office so my colleagues won’t notice my tears.
For a decade, Angus has been our constant companion. His presence enlivens our home and our lives in ways that stop making sense when I try to describe them. There are so many tangible ways he will be missed. I imagine never having him intrude on me in the bathroom again; never waiting for us to return from next door, never stealing my seat again. Worst of all, I know I’m going to feel watched, turn expecting to see his large eyes staring at me, and he won’t be there.
But there are also intangibles that will leave an even bigger hole when he is gone. Our house will be less of a home without him, like some sinister force has ripped an exterior wall away and exposed us to the rush of cold air.
As I write this Angus seems pretty much himself, other than the bulky cast. He hobbles around, and I want to cry when I think that our brave little boy is coping with his broken leg unaware that he has a cancer time-bomb ticking inside him.
If you’ve read this whole post, you’ll get the idea that we have lots of names for our dear pet. And I haven’t even written about some of the more outlandish ones. His infectious personality inspires all these names. But I continue to call him Angus frequently. It’s a dignified, solid name that he deserves.
Angus has a strong personality, proud and stubborn. His world was small — the interior of our home — but it was his oyster. Early on, Amy and I agreed that it was funny that the smallest member of our household was also the one who seemed to be in control. I hate the thought that this little force of nature will soon be extinguished and other than in Amy’s and my hearts he will have left no trace of his existence. That is why I am writing this celebration of his life, and why I am grateful that you have taken the time to read it. Thank you.
We’ve decided not to take any invasive measures. We want Angus’s final days to be filled with as much love and comfort as we are able to give him, not the trauma that would come with futilely attempting a cure. He deserves the best we can do for him at the end, because he has given us immeasurable joy over the past ten years. I hope he senses how much we love him.
And we are cherishing every moment we can spend with him.