I was thinking of pets that I have now and pets that I have loved and lost and I wanted to share a special story of how wonderful animals are, how heart wrenching their passing can be and how welcoming their comfort is. This story is one about my cat Colonel when we lost him due to the food recalls a year and a half ago.
The day we lost Colonel was a cold and miserable day in January.The year was only a few days old and somehow the magic left over from Christmas and all the promises of the new year ahead vanished as we gently lifted our small gray cat into the carrier.
His body was limp and his normally white beard was covered with yellow slime from the countless times he had vomited. The vet knew my husband, James, would be bringing him in and as I closed the door to the carrier, I stroked the slate-gray fur of his forehead. He looked at me, pain filling his eyes, and I knew that we were saying our last goodbyes. I looked at my beautiful boy, one last time; at his short slate-gray fur, his crazy white markings and the beard that had earned him his name, and tried to fight the tears sliding down my cheeks.
When James left, I busied myself with our two young boys of 2 and 5. We had a hockey game to go to that night and although the last thing I wanted to do was go and watch a game, I got the boys ready because it was a present from Santa.
I knew that Colonel wasn’t going to be coming home, but that didn’t stop me from praying that I was wrong, that Colonel wasn’t as sick as I had thought and the vet would be able to make him better. I didn’t want to believe that our young cat, not even two years old, was going to leave us. I had always thought that he would live to fill out his name and become the grouchy Old Colonel, much like our nine year old cat, Lobo was the grouchy Old Prince. It wasn’t fair that this cat, the same one that slept with my oldest son and allowed my youngest to use him for a pillow, was sick. It wasn’t fair that I was going to have to tell them that he wasn’t coming back.
Lobo was a wonderful cat, but he didn’t have the patience with the kids like Colonel did. Colonel was my son’s cat, more than he was anyone’s and I found myself worrying about what would happen to my 5 year old son’s heart when his cat died.
When James walked through the door, tears shining in his brown eyes, the handle of an empty carrier clenched in his fist, I knew that my prayers had gone unanswered, Colonel was gone.
In a voice filled with grief, James told me that Colonel had had liver failure; there was nothing the vet could do but help him along. Tears stung my eyes and I felt a lump form in my throat as I thought about all the chin scratches he would never have. I thought of my oldest son and the nights he would spend alone without his living teddy bear and the lump grew larger.
We told the kids and although our youngest didn’t understand, my oldest son was devastated. Tears choked his words as he asked us why and tears choked our hearts as we explained in a way that only a 5 year old would understand; that God had called him home.
We went to the hockey game, forgot for a few hours that our hearts were breaking, the kids cheered and clapped, but I kept thinking of the house we would be returning to, one that was slightly empty now that Colonel wasn’t there.
When we returned home, tucked the boys into bed, the reminder of Colonel struck my son and the tears started all over again. He couldn’t sleep without his friend, the gray cat that would happily thump-thump his tail to the rhythm of my son’s breathing. The cat that had befriended a boy and created a special bond with him.
As James and I tried to calm him, Lobo entered the room and sat in the doorway staring at us. His yellow gaze fixing on the small boy sitting in his bed, an expression of decision filling Lobo’s face before he stood up and crossed the room. Jumping onto the bed, Lobo did something that he had never done before; he laid down beside my son and started purring. We stopped and the sobbing ceased. I said quietly, “Lobo is here to sleep with you.”
My son laughed, a tear filled sound, and buried his face in the brown and gray tiger stripped fur. Lobo laid there, his purr deepening, the sound filling the room with assurance that all would be well. I scratched his ears and said a silent thank you to the grouchy cat that had sacrificed his space while bringing a little comfort to the boy he shared a home with. Although Lobo had spent the last five years with my son, he had never warmed up to the child that had filled his life with noises and smells. He would avoid the kids, preferring to come to James or me for the occasional scratch. The fact that he was laying there, child grasping him tightly, proved that he was a remarkable creature.
I knew that Lobo wasn’t Colonel for my son but on that cold night, my son was able to sleep and Lobo stayed by his side throughout it. The days continued and the heartache lessened. We didn’t forget Colonel or how much we loved him but we forgot the pain of losing him. Each night became a little easier and my son cried a little less. Each night, Lobo would sit in the doorway, watching the little boy in his bed before finally climbing up with him. Each night, my son would smile a tear-filled smile, curl up with one arm wrapped around Lobo and fall asleep. It’s been over a year since we lost Colonel and although we don’t hurt like we used to, we still miss him. My son can fall asleep without him now but every night, Lobo will still come into his room and curl up on his bed. He doesn’t hold him like he used to but Lobo’s strong purr still fills the room, his tail quietly thump-thumping against the mattress.
Lobo is a reminder to me of how special life can be with pets and I really believe that the night Colonel left, he came back to speak to Lobo. I think that his final words to his eldest friend weren’t ideal conversations between cats but one of a more serious nature. I think that that night, Colonel had whispered to Lobo about how he couldn’t be there anymore and that he needed Lobo to lay by his best friend each night. I think that Lobo, being the true friend that he is, honoured Colonel’s final wish and to this day keeps his promises and proves that cats truly are amazing animals.