The End of a Cat

a furry Eau Clairian has come and gone

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Joe Maurer

In January I added a weird thing to my daily to-do list. Right there between paying some bills and sending some emails, I’d added death. Yep, death. I needed to schedule some death. For my cat. Over the phone.

It was like making a dentist’s appointment. Is there an opening at 4:30 today? No? How about tomorrow? 3:15? OK, let’s do the 3:15. For the death.

Sometimes it feels like my life is an endless series of things that leak. Bathroom sinks. Washing machines. Pipes in the wall. Feline companions. But there was no video I could look up on YouTube to help fix Karl.

Our cat Karl had developed a fast-growing lump on his back and things were not going well. He was a mess. He was actually, leaking on stuff. Sometimes it feels like my life is an endless series of things that leak. Bathroom sinks. Washing machines. Pipes in the wall. Feline companions. But there was no video I could look up on YouTube to help fix Karl. I couldn’t call up my father-in-law or run out to the hardware store to buy some kind of putty.

After a few days at an animal hospital in town, the vet gave us a few options for Karl. But the best one was to put him down. Things had just progressed too far. My wife and I talked about it, then I made the call. I set the time.

And then we needed to tell our kids.

Since she was born, my daughter was more or less indifferent to this animal named “Karl” living among us. For her, he was kind of like the microwave – mildly interesting until you find out what it does. And much like the microwave, our cat Karl mostly sat in one place all day, except for very brief spurts of activity involving food. Even so, when we told her we were putting Karl down, she burst into some very loud, hot tears.

Her younger brother’s reaction? He immediately asked if we could buy a new cat that looked just like Karl. I guess he was still processing. But make no mistake, he was always very close to the cat, and I mean that literally. We were constantly telling him to be gentle with Karl, to stop picking him up, to please, please, please stop laying on top of him like he’s big hairy papasan chair. Luckily, Karl was a sturdy animal and he tolerated this little boy who’d invaded his home.

My wife and I went to The Appointment to be with Karl while he got his shots. I’m really glad Karl got to spend the last days of his life with a group of very warm, very kind pet care professionals. The nurse who brought him out even kissed him goodbye.*

He’d been living with us for about 13 years.

It’s strange having him gone. To be honest, Karl and I had grown apart over time. Most of our final interactions involved me desperately blocking him from sneaking outside to eat grass. Despite the voluptuous lines he cut, Karl was really good at slipping out the door to sample the lawn. Which is why I often had the pleasure of stumbling to the bathroom in the middle of the night, only to step into a cold, wet pile of grass-laden cat puke.

Yeah, he annoyed me. But now that he’s gone I’ve found plenty of things to miss. I miss the way he used to push his face across my knuckles every morning as I’d get ready for work. The goofy way he’d cock his head and watch the kids as they tried to play with him. His tiny little legs – which always seemed to scamper at double speed wherever he went. The familiar fa-rump fa-rump he made while climbing the basement stairs. His purr. Stuff like that.

As I was pulling myself out of bed early one dark morning, I felt Karl’s big frame leap onto the mattress and pad around a bit until he flopped into a lazy pile of fur and cat paws. This was after he was gone. As cool as it would be to have a ghost cat roaming the house at night, I don’t believe it was a phantom feline lurching about our bed. It was just a glance back at the comfortable nest he’d burrowed into our lives. It was a soft little notch in time and space left there in my mind. It was the shadow of something good dropping in to say goodbye.

*In case you’re curious, the place rhymes with Smorth Nide Schmet Hospital.

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