My cat Po was my best friend.
By Kimberly Gerry Tucker
I have exactly one picture (that I can locate, anyway), of him as a kitten. Since he was born early 00’s, cell phones with cameras were not in-pocket and at-the-ready, to capture every kitten nuance.
My husband was diagnosed with 5 years to live and ALS had him confined to a chair, paralyzed, and with a feeding tube at that time. A solace I had at the time was to make sure he was comfortable, put a baseball game on for him, put the baby monitor in my pocket so I could hear him (it had incredible reach, I could walk to the corner school bus stop with my then 5 yr. old daughter and could hear the monitor). Sometimes I’d visit a like-minded neighbor. My husband’s vocal cords were not functioning well, but if he made a sound, I could hear him and rush home.
It’s funny, I could hear the baseball game from my pocket and people must’ve assumed I REALLY liked sports.
My friend (since moved) had a lot of stray cats. One day she called me because a stray female cat had dropped two kittens in her yard and took off, abandoning them. I wasn’t surprised. I once had a cat who was such a terrible mother, she systematically killed off every kitten in the litter. Another cat I had, during the birthing process, spun in a circle till the kittens came flying out. I digress.
So, I put the monitor in my pocket and walked to her house, not far away from mine. Two scraggly orangey “twin” kittens were unmoving in a box with a towel lining the bottom. On her front porch. They didn’t look like they’d make it. In fact, they were wet looking and had the appearance of baby birds, newly born, blind and featherless, that had fallen from a nest. The kittens were incredibly tiny, and fragile looking, with closed eyes and heads that bobbled as if the strenuous motion of their neck trying to support their head was not possible.
“I can only give a home to one!” I said. How to decide? I did “eeny-meeny-miney-mo.” And I put the winner in my shirt and walked him home, with the other baby newborn kitten weighing heavily on my mind, perhaps I should take that one too? But even though my husband was dying, he was going to give me hell for taking this one. We already had one cat. I received a frantic phone call from my friend.
She was horrified to have witnessed a hawk from her kitchen window, swoop into the box, and pick up the remaining kitten. As it flew over the yard, it dropped the kitten in the grass, then swooped in again, and made off with it.
All I could do was love the one I was trying to save. My middle son immediately felt a kinship and named him Mister Po. My son was a twin too, but I lost the twin during the pregnancy. We took turns feeding Po pet store-bought ‘kitten milk’ with an eyedropper; and then a kitten bottle over the next few weeks, throughout the night every three hrs. or so, around-the clock. As he amazingly grew less wobbly, more ginger, and stronger, I actually thought he might live.
His hair was soft and I marveled that he was a long-hair. I found that Boost nutritional drinks (vanilla) which were covered by insurance, and which I had stacked by the case 6 feet high, that I used for my husband’s feeding tube, worked well for this cat. When I filled the plunger with it to inject slowly into my husband’s stomach, I would dribble the dregs from the can onto the coffee table and Po really looked forward to this. Perhaps the nutrition provided by this nutrient-packed drink accounts for his long life. But what accounts for his sweet nature? He was just that way.
Friends, other pets, even my husband, either moved, faded away or even died but Po was here with me, as I cried on him, and when I eventually met a new partner who would end up moving in…as my kids moved out and made families. Po was steadfast.
During a getting-to-know-each-other phone call with my future partner ten years ago, he asked “So what are you up to?” I remember replying, “Sitting here with a cat on my lap.” He replied, “I have a feeling that’s a pretty common thing for you to be doing.” He was right.
At the end of Po’s life, his spine was such that he was dragging his legs, and if you touched a certain spot, he would have a seizure or turn and bite the air. My finger got in the way twice and twice he bit me for the first times ever in his 19 year old life. It became infected, as cat bites on fingers are wont to do, and I needed antibiotics. I wasn’t giving up on him. Then he decided to spend ALL his time in a cat box. He’d bury his face in the litter and lay there like that, a certain sign a cat knows it is near the end. Still he cuddled me, burrowing into my neck, purring so loud and the decision I made was agonizing and painful. I am not the first person to have to make a euthanasia decision and I won’t be the last.
Here is a “painting” I made of myself and Po, around the time frame when I realized he wasn’t immortal, by cutting up paper. It’s technically a collage, but I like to think of this as “painting with paper,” although no actual paint is used, just lots of cutting/gluing.
Maybe some of you “get it,” he was my best friend, and my long term relationship. Just before the last trip to the vet:
My kids said goodbye (my oldest made a FB post: “Goodbye good boy” and people from my past, from over a decade ago, remembered him and posted pictures) and we gave him a last meal of tuna. I brought him outdoors (truly his longevity is also in part keeping him safe from disease-indoors.)
If you have read this far you might be a cat person. When I got to the vet office, I hadn’t planned on crying but I was a wreck. The vet, as he read my cat’s name from the paper I filled out, mistakenly called him “Poo” instead of “Po,” and that bothered me. My son asked, “Can we get his paw prints?” The woman at the counter informed me it was about $45.00 extra which I just couldn’t manage. I said I was sorry but we could not. That’s when a receptionist said, “Don’t worry, no charge, we’ll sneak in an ink pad ‘afterwards’ and no one has to know.’
Mister Po was the subject of memes and Photoshop and had a FB page I devoted to him just because I thought I might bore people on my personal, author, or artist FB pages with bombardments of pictures of him. My son made this one:
He played well into his elderly gentleman years. Even when his spine became bad and he was dragging his back legs, he moved so quickly! He would bolt forward all wobbly, hips askew, legs not working well. It was this resilience, determination to reach me to cuddle, the strong will to move and continue living that made “the euthanasia decision” so damn hard and yes, I am wracked with guilt and around every corner he is there but not there. The grief is enormous.
He was tolerant of his two-year old ‘sister.’
A long-hair cat, he shed a lot and one day after a brushing, I stuck his own hair on his head.
The dog felt my grief when I returned from the vet, red-eyed, bawling, she was all over me: Nurse Minnie the dog. And Po’s little sister, not so affectionate and kind of a loner, roams the house merrowring.
I got through this without crying, writing IS therapeutic! Bye, till we meet again.
Kimberly Gerry-Tucker resides in Connecticut with her significant other Al and with her beloved pets, where she works in QA, at finding bugs in software. Kim is on the Board of the Art of Autism nonprofit.