This weekend we lost our family member and shop cat, Huskey.
Huskey entered our lives one day, 3 months after we got married, when he was about 12 weeks old, so we have always romantically assumed that he was born on our wedding day. We marked the years of our marriage with his age. Valerie was visiting friends when a little girl came over with an armful of kittens that she said were going to the pound.
In picking out Huskey from the litter, Valerie applied the "kitten test" told to her by a great cat lady she knows: see which ones come over to you, then pick them up. They should enjoy being held. Then put them down, and they should wander away. The idea being, they have a balanced interest in people and self, they'll be loving but not so overly clingy that you have behavioral problems if you leave for a day or two.
He was a cute kitten, but we had no idea how special he was at the time. We named him Huskey because we thought he looked like a miniature Huskey dog with his blue eyes, but we later figured out that he was probably a Siberian / tuxedo mix. His dander didn't bother our friends who were allergic to cats even though he had fluffy long hair. He had a lot of the traits of a Siberian: friendliness, loyalty, intelligence, the ability to come when called, an interesting chirpy voice, but Siberians come in just about every color but tuxedo.
He was marked with love: he had a heart-shaped white spot on his backside and a beauty mark on his nose. And yet with us he was feisty and playful. He enjoyed playing catch with himself by tossing a toy straight up into the air - sometimes as much as 5 feet - and catching it. He would use his teeth in play but would never break the skin.
He was also fierce - when he was barely a year old he scared off two neighborhood pit bulls who roamed our street freely. He got into turf wars with cats and scraps with three raccoons in the country that required emergency trips to the vet. He was fearless and graceful and not afraid of heights.
He was a good mouser but he was quite polite about it - he usually left his "gifts" on the front doorstep, outside the house. Right when we moved to the country, he brought a full-sized rabbit into the house, but the more usual everyday "catch" was his favorite realistic-looking mouse toy. He would wander the house and yard with the toy in his mouth (a toy realistic-looking enough that scared more than one human visitor into thinking it was real!), yowling until he found us and then dropping the toy at our feet.
During his last year, he caught a chipmunk. Hilariously, he got into the house still holding the chipmunk in his mouth, who as it turned out, was only playing dead. As soon as Huskey put him on the floor, the chipmunk jumped up and ran under the fridge. Chaos ensued, but with the help of two closet doors, a chair, a blanket, a glue trap, and a handful of sunflower seeds, we managed to return the chipmunk back to the wild, scared but uninjured.
When he was young, he had wanderlust and fire, but after he was neutered, and the more he aged, the more he settled into the house. For a long time he refused to use the litterbox, choosing instead the mulch in the yard. But moving to the country changed Huskey. After the scrap with the raccoons, he seemed more afraid of the outdoors, and more alert to where we were. We carried him back and forth to the workshop in our arms, just the way he liked it. He loved being held, even in the oddest positions.
He was always waiting for us at the door when we came home, and if he was outside, he'd come down to the workshop to hang out with us, pawing at the workshop door until we let him in.
Every month or two, he'd pick a new "spot" where he'd lie most of the time. We tried buying him beds and cushions, but he liked finding his own spots - especially if they involved cardboard boxes or big piles of paper. Some of his more memorable "spots" were in an open sock drawer, balanced on the side of the bathtub, and right in front of the bathroom sink (causing us to straddle when brushing our teeth).
He was a great stretcher. He loved nothing more than to lay in front of a roaring fire, something we had for him in the city, in the country, and in the workshop. He had what we called the "superman twist" and the folded "viscacha paws". The first sunny day of every spring, we would sit on the porch in the sun and he would laze out, showing us all how to chill.
It was a blessing when he'd pin us down when we were trying to work or watch TV. We took the best naps when he was laying on our chests, and he'd sit on our laps when using the computer, sometimes placing a paw or a chin on one wrist. He'd even jump up onto you in the hammock, somehow managing to sleep while the hammock rocked away.
He was a masterful cuddler, and the most important thing we learned from him is the importance of slowing down, taking naps, and enjoying a good liedown together.
Sunday morning we noticed he was drooling, which we learned was an indication of oral pain in cats. We noticed he wasn't eating a lot so we gave him soft food thinking he was having some tooth pain, which he gobbled right down. Monday we made an appointment at the vet's. Wednesday we took him in, the vet said he looked great, healthy, but he needed some dental work, which was scheduled for Friday. By Thursday afternoon, something felt different. He wasn't finishing the soft food, and seemed to be oddly licking the plate rather than eating the food. His meow sounded different, croaky, like a cry of pain, and he was mostly being quiet. He didn't seem to be drinking much water.
That morning, as soon as we woke up, he went straight for our feet in an odd way and gave that croaky cry. We picked him up, and he gave us the tightest cat hug he could possibly give, his paws curled around our shoulders like a baby, and purring loudly. We hugged together, all 3 of us, Huskey in the middle, the way we sometimes would. After a long while, he squirmed to be let down, and Geoff brought him into the vet for his dental work.
Several hours later, Geoff came back to say, "Huskey's not coming home. We need to go back to the vet to say goodbye." It was cancer of the tongue, very advanced. He was knocked out, tongue lolling out of his mouth, hooked up to a kitty IV in his paw. The vet lifted his tongue and showed us the large black mass that Wednesday's examination didn't reveal. He couldn't move his tongue. He couldn't eat, couldn't drink, couldn't vocalize, couldn't clean, and he was in a lot of pain. "It happens fast," the vet said, "A month ago we might not have found anything wrong." It was more humane to let him go while he was already under sedation, so that hug had been our last goodbye. We were crying, sobs lurching out of our lungs involuntarily. Geoff put his ear to Huskey's slow moving fully-sedated chest, and heard him purr through the pain, through the sedation. Our good little boy was such a trooper, and hid his pain so well, and still managed to show us so much love.
The heartbreak has been shattering. So much love that we now miss: the third member of our family, a companion soul in this big empty country house, the timekeeper of our marriage, and the best cat we've ever known.