One morning a few years ago, Anne walked out into our garage to put some towels or something into the dryer. I heard the door close, and a minute of so later, she called out to me, "Wil? Can you come in here? Quickly?"
There was a tiny bit of urgency in her voice, so I jumped up from the couch, ran through the kitchen, across the breezeway, and into the garage. She stood next to the dryer, a pile of wet clothes in her hands.
"Is everything okay?" I said.
"Shh!" She said, and pointed to the middle of the garage. "Listen!"
I did, and after a few moments, I heard a very soft meowing. Both of my cats were indoor cats, so I called out, "Biko? Sketch?"
I turned to Anne. "How did they get out of the house?"
She shrugged. "I don't know, but —"
A sleek black cat came walking out from beneath one of several piles of crap we have out there (putting a car into our garage is about as likely as one of us building a rocket in the backyard and colonizing the moon). He had bright yellow/green eyes, a white star on his chest, and little white "socks" on his front paws. He had no tail.
"Hey, Kitty!" Anne said, "what are you doing in my garage?"
She shoved the clothes into the dryer, and crouched down on the floor. The cat began purring loudly as he walked over to her. She extended her hand and he rubbed his little face up against it.
"You are such a little Bear!" She said, as she scratched his ears.
I've seen this from her before: she was in love. She looked up at me, like a child. "Can we keep him?"
"We already have two cats, Anne," I said, "and what if someone misses him?"
"We'll wait a week, and look for signs around the neighborhood. If we don't find signs, and he's still here, we'll take him to the vet and make sure he's healthy."
I've also seen this from her before: her mind was made up.
For the next week, he stayed on our patio, and we looked for signs in our neighborhood. We called local shelters. pet stores, and vets and asked if anyone had reported a missing kitty. Nobody had. As far as we could tell, this kitty had just shown up out of thin air; if anyone missed him, they weren't being very vocal about it.
The first few days of that week, I tried not to get too attached to him, but whenever I walked out onto the patio, he'd talk to me a bunch. If I got close to him, he'd start to purr and rub up against my legs. He was so affectionate, it took about three days for my him to win me over. I started counting down to the seventh day, when we would take him to the vet and know for sure if he could officially become a member of our family.
At the end of the week, we took him to the vet and had him checked for diseases and stuff.
"What's his name?" The receptionist asked us.
Anne and I looked at each other. Over the week, we had both loved this little guy a lot, but we'd never thought to name him.
"Oscar?" I said.
She smiled and shook her head. "No." She turned to the receptionist and said, "His name is Felix."
"Yeah!" I said, "Felix the cat!"
While we were there, we saw a picture on the wall of a cat that looked just like him, and we found out that he was a special breed called a Japanese Bobtail. Over the next few years, this would lead to us calling him "Stumpy," and referring to his activity as "just stumpin' around in the yard." His blood work came back the following day: he was free from all diseases, but his kidney levels were a little high — probably the result of him being just a little dehydrated. We know now that it was much worse, but at the time we were blissfully ignorant, and the Wheaton household grew by one.
We brought him home, and introduced him to our cats. Biko was indifferent, but Sketch cranked at him right away. Ever since he was a kitten, Sketch has been a daddy's — then (and now) a momma's — boy. He didn't like that there was a new kitty in our house who would be siphoning away some of the attention and affection. For the next week or so, there was a lot of peeing on the furniture, but eventually, Biko and Sketch accepted that this new kitty wasn't going to leave, and his arrival didn't diminish our love for them.
Felix loved us, but always on his terms. There's a saying, "Dogs have masters. Cats have staff" and so it was with Felix. He was always affectionate, but he made it clear that he wasn't our cat: we were his people. We didn't mind at all.
A few years passed, and Felix brought all kinds of joy into our lives. He had his "rotation," where he'd sleep on Ryan's bed for a week or so, then Nolan's, then with me and Anne. Even though he was just a cat, when he chose to put you on his rotation, you couldn't help but feel special. Chosen.
We learned quickly that Felix didn't take any shit from anyone, especially other cats. In the first year that we were his people, he went to the vet several times for shots and stitches after fights with other neighborhood cats. When he went outside, Anne and I started telling him, "Watch for cars, and don't get into any fights!" He rarely listened, but he was an incredibly tough little guy who earned his nickname "The Bear," and as far as we know, he never lost a single fight.
About two years ago, we noticed that he spent a couple of days acting a little strange. He didn't want to be cuddled, he wouldn't eat very much, and he just looked like he didn't feel well. We figured it was the result of his latest fight, so Anne took him to the vet for more antibiotics. When she came home, her eyes were red and her cheeks were shiny with tears.
"What's wrong?" I said.
"The vet said that Felix doesn't feel well because he's having kidney failure. He could die within a month." She collapsed onto our bed and sobbed. I did my best to comfort her, while I processed the shock of the news.
"Is there anything we can do?" I said.
"We may be able to give him special food and fluids, but —"
"Then that's what we'll do," I said. And we did. We gave him some fluids every morning, put him onto special food, and gave him a little extra love. Within a couple of days, The Bear was stumpin' around the yard, chasing birds across the grass, and curling up in our laps whenever we sat on the couch. His sleeping rotation put him into our room, and I fell asleep for many nights listening to his soft purring.
The rest of that year, he had ups and downs. One terrifying weekend Felix was rushed to the emergency vet because the gardener sprayed weed killer in our front yard — which I'd specifically told him not to do — and Felix had walked through it. During that stay at the vet's, I visited him often. WWdN readers were really supportive of Anne and me, and I blogged a "note" from The Bear:
"Hi. ThiS iS FELix. My Mom AND Dad ToLD mE HoW MUCh WWDN ReADerS SupPoRteD ThEM whiLe I wAs SiCK, aND i WaNT to sAY ThANK you. ThEy LovE ME A loT AnD I KnOW THIS Was hard FoR thEM."During that stay, we found out that his kidney disease had progressed more rapidly than we expected. He was up to about 85% failure, and he was starting to become anemic. He had lost a bunch of weight, and was down to about 11 pounds. Again, we made mental preparations for the worst, and again Felix surprised us all by bouncing right back to life.
A few weeks ago, Felix started to look and act like he felt icky, so we took him to the vet yet again. This came on the heels of my cat Sketch's near-death experience, so my nerves were pretty frayed. "I wish I could get frequent flier miles here," I joked to the receptionist for the hundredth time. She politely pretended that I wasn't the most annoying pet owner in the world.
We ran some tests on him, and the results confirmed our worst fears: his kidneys were almost completely destroyed, and he had developed such a severe case of anemia his body wasn't able to get any nutrition out of his food. He was, quite literally, wasting away.
It was clear that if we didn't do anything, he was going to die within a few days. We talked it over with our vet, and she told us that our options were to put Felix to sleep, or give him Epogen injections three times a week, sub-q fluids twice a day, liquid vitamins and an aluminum hydroxyde suspension each morning. It seemed like an awful lot of stuff to do, but Anne and I talked about it, and tried to figure out what was best for Felix, we would not prolong his life simply because we didn't want to say goodbye . . . but if we could help him feel better, and have good quality of life, then we would do whatever we could afford to do. We talked it over with his vet, and decided that we'd try this out for two weeks.
"What are the odds of him bouncing back?" I asked his vet.
"If it was any other cat, I'd say very slim," she said, "but Felix is one of the toughest kitties I've ever seen. Honestly, his kidney values are so high, any other kitty would have died by now."
"Is there anything we should watch for?"
She told us what I've heard from hundreds of WWdN readers: "Your cat will let you know if he's ready to go, or if he wants to stick around and try to feel better."
That was two weeks ago. For the first week, Felix perked up, but he didn't bounce back the way he always had before. He stopped being reclusive, but he wasn't as affectionate as he'd always been. I hoped against hope that he'd miraculously recover, like he always did, but it just wasn't happening. I realized that I was watching him die.
A few nights ago, I sat in my dining room and read my book. I felt something brush up against my leg. I looked down and saw The Bear. He was so skinny (just over six pounds) his spine stood up on his back like Mr. Burns.
"How are you feeling, The Bear?" I said.
He let out a slow and quiet meow, and walked into the living room. He wavered when he walked, like he was unsteady, or uncomfortable, or both. When he was about fifteen feet away from me, he stopped, crouched down on the floor, and flicked his little stump.
"Your cat will let you know if he's ready to go . . ."
I got up from the table and walked over to him. I felt a lump rising in my throat as I got down next to him on the floor.
"Are you done?" I said.
He flicked his stump, and looked up at me. His eyes looked a little cloudy; his third eyelid was closed about a third of the way.
"Okay, Felix. Okay." I scratched his little bony head. He purred weakly and tightly shut his eyes.
I knew this moment would come, and I hoped that I'd be prepared to face it, but I wasn't. Huge sobs shook my body. Giant tears fell off my face and ran down my nose.
Ferris cautiously walked over to me from the kitchen. She stopped about three feet from me, sat down, and cocked her head to one side.
"Felix is dying, Ferris," I said. "I'm okay. I'm just sad."
She sighed, and laid down on the floor with her head between her paws. She watched me while I sat there and cried.
Later that night, Anne and I had The Talk. We decided that we've done all that we can to help him, but it's just not enough. He's not really living now . . . he's just staying alive. We promised each other, and we promised Felix, that we wouldn't keep him alive just because we didn't want to say goodbye. Yesterday morning, I called the vet and had The Talk with her. We made an appointment to bring Felix in tomorrow morning.
I know I'm doing the right thing, but that doesn't make it any easier. As I've written this today (and it's taken most of the day to write — I've had to stop writing this several times just to get a grip on myself.) I have realized that Felix hasn't been The Bear for a long time.
I will miss seeing him stand up and stretch himself out on the trunk of Anne's car, before he jumps down onto the driveway and greets me when I open my car door. I will miss him jumping up into my car, and talking to me while he walks around and explores the passenger compartment. I will miss watching him sit in the grass and torment the squirrel in the tree next door. I will miss watching him stump around in the backyard. But most of all, I will miss being on his rotation. Even when he decided that four in the morning was when he needed to go outside, and the best way to accomplish that was to run across our heads until one of us woke up and let him out.