Sunday, October 22, 2017


The summer of 1998 found me living alone in my first own house with two little kittens.  Growing up, we'd always had cats and for years I'd wanted my own, but I was living the life of a young person: moving regularly for college, working abroad, and renting apartments.  I felt it wasn't a stable enough life to bring little ones into (and trust me, by that I mean the feline - not human - kind).  Months after buying the house, litter mates Dodger and Daphne joined me.  My home was complete. And then one month later, I bought the wrong box of cereal and it changed all our lives. 

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.
Not knowing if they were sick or how Dodger and Daphne would react to the newcomers, I set them up in a spare bedroom for the night.  I estimated they were about one month younger than my two, but they seemed to be eating and drinking on their own just fine. 

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.
Then suddenly Froggy went from frisky and boldly exploring the garden with the others, to puny and not eating.  I took him to the vet who told me he couldn't even draw blood from him because at his size - it would have been too great a loss to his little system.  In a very short time, and despite our desperate efforts to save him, he died on his own.  The vet simply said that some kittens were "poor doers" and there was nothing that could have been done.  It was crushing to lose the little guy after he had been doing so well. I buried him in the garden under the plum tree in a pretty little box and decided right then that there was no way I was losing Toby, too.  I told the babysitter lady that I was afraid she'd have to find another Sylvester and Toby became a permanent member of the family. 

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.
Although he was shy and headed under the nearest bed when company came, with family he was all about the on-contact purr as he melted into a boneless bundle in my arms or on our laps. 
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. 
 It was about this time, as our Romanian adventure was winding down, that he was also diagnosed with mesenteric cancer. There was a mass in his abdomen, perhaps in his bladder and lymph nodes. Even with this diagnosis, outwardly he looked great: maintaining his usual personality and strong appetite.  At his age, full exploration to treat the cancer was simply not something we wanted to put him through. My husband and I decided that he'd have palliative care for any symptoms that came along and we'd just love and nurse him at home, as he'd known all his life.  

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. 
We'd been referred to a service called Lap of Love that has veterinarians who will come to patients' homes to help pets through their last moments.  We made an appointment for 3:00 that afternoon and spent the day with him.  It was a perfect fall day so we took him out to the grass on the grounds of our apartment building and let him sniff around, feeling the sunny breeze in his fur.  He plunked down on his side and just hung out with us instead. After a bit, we gathered him back up and returned to the apartment for his appointment. The vet was delayed 15 minutes, and at 3:00 exactly, Toby had one last, bad seizure which erased any lingering doubt we may have harbored as to whether or not this was the right time.  Dr. Stephanie was exceptionally kind and patient, and talked us through the peaceful procedure as Toby stretched out on the couch between my husband and me.  We pet him and talked to him until his last breath.  The vet let us take our time in saying goodbye, then wrapped him sweetly in a blanket, put him in a basket and took him to be cremated.  His ashes arrived a week later. 

Toby's last day on my lap, as relaxed and beautiful as ever. 
The pain of having to put a beloved fur-family member to sleep has two sharp edges: the grief of their loss from our lives and the horrible second-guessing, guilt and doubt that comes with wondering if we made the right decision that he wouldn't be with us anymore.  With all three Tabbies, the sharp deterioration in their health helped ease this second part as we saw how their lives had become more about the disease than life.  (However, having said that, I still feel a stabbing "what if" about Daphne and guilt that her last week was spent at the vet instead of home with us.)  With the last one gone, what remains is the emptiness of not having their little furry selves at home.  For the first time in 19 years, I woke up the next morning, walked into the living room and kitchen, and simply didn't know what to do with myself.  There was nobody to feed, nobody to greet me entering the room, nothing to scoop or wipe up, no one to scoop into my arms and step onto the balcony to greet the day - nothing; it was just our furniture and a stack of unpacked cardboard boxes.  I walked aimlessly from room to room a bit, put the kettle on, and took a shower. That was it. 19 years as the Cats' Mother was over. 

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.