Actually, the box of cereal I bought was the one I wanted, it's just that the wrong cereal was inside the box, and it was the kind I didn't like. No, I'd never had this happen before either, not in cereal or canned fruit or anything for that matter, and to top it off - it had dried dates in it which I didn't like as they annoyed me by getting stuck in my teeth. Miffed, I decided to exchange the box at the grocery store on my way home from work that evening.
I was working as a riding instructor in those days and it was common to head home from the barn about 9 pm after the last student left and the horses were cared for and put away. Cereal box night was no exception. Being the Pacific Northwest in summer, even that late it was still light out. Walking through the store's automatic doors, I noticed a teenage girl sitting near the entrance with a box on her lap. I don't recall if she called out to me, or was talking to someone else, but somehow I heard the word "kittens" and turned on my heels - just to have a look. Inside the box were two teenie kittens: one black and gray tabby with a white nose and tuxedo and an even tinier white one with gray patches. They were each smaller than my hand. She explained that they belonged to her neighbor who had already drowned their mother in a bucket and was planning to do the same with the kittens. The girl saved them from this vile man and took them to the grocery store to hopefully find them homes. But now it was after 9 pm, she had to get home and there were two left. Her parents forbade her from keeping them. I explained that I already had two little kittens and I certainly couldn't keep four. Thankfully she was persistent and convinced me that if I just took them that night, tomorrow I could take them to a pet store where she was sure they'd be happy to have free kittens to sell, but she just couldn't bring them back anywhere near that horrible neighbor.
I think you know what happened. Minutes later with a new box of cereal in hand, I took the box o' kittens and drove home.
|Toby and brother Froggy soon after we met.|
The next morning I began to call local pet stores who let me know politely, but firmly, that it just doesn't work that way. They'd be over run with kittens if they simply took in litters that people couldn't give away. Call a shelter. Or hey, adopt them out yourself.
Knowing they were still too young to be separated, I decided to foster them until I could find them proper homes. With a schedule full of riding students - there had to be someone who would take one or two darling kittens. I can't remember how long it took me to name them, but the little white and gray became Froggy because he was kind of bullfrog shaped with itty-bitty bowed legs and a bigger body. The fluffy tuxedo with his anime eyes became Toby as he was so sweet and I'd had fond memories of two horses I'd known over the years named Toby. But anyway, they were just a placeholder names until their new families were found. It only took about a week to see they weren't sick, and the little two were incorporated into the pride and instantly accepted by the "big cats."
Shortly thereafter, I found a future home for Toby. The grandmotherly baby sitter of two of my riding students decided she'd adopt him when he was just a bit bigger and I agreed to keep him a few more weeks. She said he'd be called Sylvester and I was happy to know that the little girls I'd see each week in lesson would also be with him each day and be able to give me reports.
|Just try to tell me that's not the cutest kitten you've ever seen. I dare you.|
His personality grew along with his unusually large paws and his luxurious coat. Soon, there was no size difference between the three of them and they got along marvelously. Toby's penchant for sleeping in what I called "kitty porn" poses resulted in a series of centerfold photos spanning his whole life:
|Toby the Kitten Pin-up Boy|
|Have some shame man, really!|
|Teen Toby and his magnificent stripey belly|
|Even as a geriatric kitty - he couldn't resist.|
|Post-Thanksgiving dinner? I don't remember him quite this... fluffy.|
|Let me tell ya' 'bout my best friend...|
As each of the other Tabbies did, Toby also collected a list of nicknames. For a while he was "Tub-pee" for self-explanatory reasons. My husband figured if he was going to "think outside the box," the tub was the best place to do it and we just rinsed out the shower before stepping in. Later he was Tobias T. Cat, Toblerone, Hoss or Big Beef (because of his big boots), Buddy and T-Bone after a particular Seinfeld episode. Over the years, he and Dodger became the best of buddies. In fact, the whole clan got along famously; Daphne mothering the boys and each one taking turns cleaning the others' hard to reach spots.
The three of them were already 13 years old when we signed up for a Foreign Service life and packed them off first to FSI (just the boys with me, and Daphne stayed behind with my husband for six months), then to Bogota, FSI again, Juarez, FSI again and finally Bucharest. By their teen years they were no longer shy, no more hiding under beds when company came and while I can't say they liked it - they traveled very well and adapted to their new environments quite quickly.
But last Christmas, around the same time we lost Dodger, Toby's health changed. It started with occasional incontinence, then regular incontinence. We removed the apartment rugs and invested a king's ransom in doggy pee pads, paper towels and Nature's Miracle. In June, around his 19th birthday, my husband gave Toby his last nickname - Captain Underpants - and he became a true Pampered elderly gentleman.
|Captain Underpants in his de-luxe bed.|
|Diapers? Why not! Toby never ever complained and just pulled his rabbit-thumper paws up to his ears when it was diaper-changing time.|
Late this summer, the cancer progressed and he began exhibiting visible signs of the disease. Despite a strong appetite, underneath his still-luxurious coat his muscles were wasting away. Then the seizures started. My husband was home with him for each one and comforted him through the fits and the single yowl that punctuated each episode. We tried anti-seizure medications, but they made him too groggy and wobbly to walk well and unwilling to eat, so we stopped them. Two Fridays ago and sleeping in our bedroom, he had three seizures in the course of one night. By morning, my husband and I knew that it was time.
|Two buddies hanging out on the balcony, October 2017.|
|Toby's last day on my lap, as relaxed and beautiful as ever.|
So much of my adult identity had revolved around these three - heck, look at the name of this blog. I've always been that cat lover. Picking a cat-themed gift for me has been a sure bet for two decades. I still hear myself saying, "Oh, we have cats, too!" in conversations, and at home catch movement out of the corner of my eye when it's actually just slippers.
I do know that we gave them the best lives they could have had in terms of love, care and attention. I am proud of that. And I know we'll have cats again; I can guarantee that.
But not now. Not for a while. My husband and I need time to just be able to walk out the door, get in the car and go away for the night without planning for their care and fretting over how they're doing the whole time we're away. I feel a little sad for the next kitties that come into our lives, frankly. They'll have huge shoes to fill and I can't imagine they'll ever be as funny, sweet, loving, cuddleable as Dodger, Daphne and Toby.
As for the title of the blog? We remain Tabbies in Tow; these three will never leave us.