Goodbye My Friend
– by David Matthews 2
This past weekend I had to do something that all pet owners dread.
I had to have my cat put to sleep.
Boris had been with me for sixteen years. He was my friend and companion since he was a kitten. He had been with me through three different homes, through the best and worst times of my life.
Cat owners love to joke about how their cats really own them, but in Boris’ case, he literally adopted ME.
In 1994, I was not in a condition to adopt a cat. I had just lost a young kitten that I was very fond of. I had spent four months taking her through vets only to have her be put to sleep due to kidney failure. I was still in miserable shape because of it. I was depressed. I felt like I was poison.
That was when I attended a county fair, and I came across the local animal shelter’s booth. This worker was trying to comfort this tiger-stripped kitten who did not want to be held. I said hello and immediately he leaped out of the volunteer’s hands, crawled up my chest, perched himself on my shoulder, and stuck his nose in my ear.
This volunteer was taken by surprise. She had never seen him do that to anyone ever before.
Well, I wasn’t there to adopt a kitten. I was there to enjoy the fair. So I handed the kitten back to the volunteer, and I said I would be back later on.
Later that night, with other volunteers watching, I returned to the shelter’s booth, and once again this little kitten leaped out of the volunteer’s arms, climbed up my chest, perched himself on my shoulder like a parrot, and stuck his nose into my ear. That sealed the deal. I may not have been looking for a new kitten, but he was determined to make me his new human.
Boris stayed by my side for sixteen years. He would be there with me at the start of the day, letting me know it was time to get out of bed, and he would let me know when it was time to go to bed at the end of the night. He was there for me when I was bored, when I was depressed, when women broke my heart, when institutions let me down, he would always be there for some needed love and attention.
He wasn’t perfect. There were times when he would be a pain. He chided me when I would come home, even if it was just to run a quick errand. He hated to travel, unless it was in my arms. He hated the pet carrier and the trips to the vet. He wanted whatever I ate, no matter what it was. If I sat at the dining room table, he wanted whatever I was eating, even if I wasn’t eating anything at all. And yet despite his faults, he still was a little kitten at heart, even if he was getting older and bigger and heavier. His favorite hiding spot was the laundry basket. He loved anything that had my smell on it.
Let’s get brutally honest here… Boris was the best companion one could ever expect from a pet. He gave me a reason to keep going even when nothing else did. Even when the world conspired against me, he was still there for me.
And the hardest time for me has been watching as he gradually went from a kitten that won’t grow up to an old cat preparing to leave. It was agonizing to watch this transformation. On the last day he knew that it was time. For the first and only time in his life he didn’t fight being put into the cat carrier. He didn’t complain all through the journey in the car. My last words to him were “I’m sorry,” followed by a rub of his belly as the veterinarian took him away. There was nothing more I could do. I wish there was.
There have been other pets in my life, and they were all unique friends in their own ways, but it’s never easy to lose them, no matter how long they’ve been with me. This time was no different. In fact, it was all the more difficult, because I know he won’t be there for me when I need him the most.
Some people do take pet ownership to an extreme. Some will treat them as their children. Some will treat their pets better than they would their own children. But for me Boris wasn’t a child. He was a friend and a companion. He moment he first saw me, he knew I would take him home. I needed him, and he knew that, even if I didn’t. That is the best example of a companion if there ever was one.
And what comes next is just as hard as watching him leave. It’s actually saying the word that need to be said. The word that closes that part of my life. A life that was made just a little bit brighter, just a little more tolerable, just a little more bearable, simply because he, with all of his little eccentricities, was in it.