Legendary Pets

What the comedian on the radio said probably sounded funny. At least, the audience on the other side laughed, but I didn’t. Maybe the understated commentary about how the comedian grew up was funny, I don’t know. My emotion tank was empty and my sense of humor had run dry.

All over an asshole cat.

It took a while before I grew comfortable enough with Buck’s cats to really pay attention to them. Frankly, I can’t remember the first time I met BA, a tuxedo cat with all the bravado and brains of James Bond. 

BA didn’t take things personally, but he had a way of looking up at you, peering out from under his brows like nothing you could say really mattered to him. He was the first cat I knew that came when called.

He didn’t like being held for more than a few seconds. He absolutely hated car rides, but he liked laying out on the cat house porch and walks by the lake. No matter how cold it got, he’d be at the front door in the morning and evening when Buck left or came home from work.

Two winters ago, Buck started letting him stay in the house, reasoning that since he was getting older, he should be spared sleeping in the colder temps. Eddie, BA’s half-brother, took a year to warm up to the idea of being in the house. That finally settled the turf war between BA and Jose who figured she owned the house.

That was how I learned BA had strong preferences for water. He would sit next to the dish and stare at me expectantly until I rinsed it and filled it with fresh water. He’d “thank” me with a scratchy meh and then drink his fill. Ironically, he loved toilet water. It seemed he drank a lot. 

Then a few months ago BA started losing weight without apparent explanation and seemed sluggish. I took him to the vet, which entailed a 45 minute drive one way listening to him howl and moan threateningly in the back seat of my truck. 

The news wasn’t good. The vet figured he had less than a year to live.

Amazingly, BA didn’t sprint off and hide the instant I opened the door on the pet porter. He stepped out casually, gave me one of his looks of dignified annoyance, and sat beside me on the steps while I texted Buck about what the vet said.

Maybe that experience brought me and BA closer together. Maybe the reminder that all things are fleeting and finite, including pets, woke me up to an appreciation of him. Whichever it was, he swiped at me less and even curled up beside me on the couch more often.

Buck and I hoped BA would see one more fall, but we were wrong. That last week of his life hammered home how much he meant to Buck.

How many people can you count on to stick by you when your world falls apart? Most of us are lucky to count one human who would. Buck only had that cat. When everything else in his life desentigraded, BA still greeted him at the end of the day even when the temperature dropped into the negative 20s.

Even after I moved in, Buck would spend time playing with BA and Eddie when he came home from work. Looking back now, I understand how special those moments were. I feel like a heel for not realizing that sooner.

Then again, trying to live like you were dying makes good music and romantic stories, it can be depressing and exhausting. The trick is valuing those moments without obsessing on mortality.

The hardest part of losing a pet is the people who don’t get it. When you explain why your head isn’t in your work, they are the ones who shrug and say, “It’s just a cat.”

BA was the perfect example of being NOT just a cat. When the rest of the world turned its back on Buck, BA remained loyal in his unique feline way.

At the end of the day cats, dogs, birds and even fish, will still be there when your spouse or partner treats you like dirt. A coworker spreads rumors and gets you put on your final lifeline at work, your pet will still side with you. No matter how worthless your parents think you are, your pet still thinks you’re Daddy Warbucks!

During his last couple of days, I don’t know what drove BA to wander the house. I know he wanted to go outside in the mornings, and he hung out around the bathroom at night, following the same routines he’d known over the last couple of years as best he could despite growing weakness. This was his version of performing his duties to the end, being there for his human.

BA will always be a legend.

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