We lost a member of our family yesterday, our gray tabby Charlie. He was 17 years old, almost 18, and he was the best cat I ever had (and I've had many). My sister got him from a shelter and gave him to my mother, who loved him. When my mother was hospitalized with terminal cancer, she worried about that cat more than anything. When I took care of my mother during her hospice at home, I bonded with Charlie. When mom was on her deathbed, Charlie jumped onto her and sniffed her, and he and I both kew he was my cat from that point on. After she died, I stayed in her house for a summer, getting it ready for sale. Tamar and I were married, and she spent as many weekends with me as she could, so she got to know him as well. Charlie had unique and annoying methods of waking us when he was ready for breakfast: he would bat our faces (nice way of saying he would slap us), or turn his paw palm up, extend one claw, and hook one of my nostrils...
My friend Nelson (who's allergic to cats) drove all the way from NYC to Fredonia to drive me back with Charlie, who yowled all the way. In the bathroom of our Manhattan studio apartment, Charlie climbed up the shower curtain onto the rod, then sprang on an unsuspecting Nelson... Tamar and I moved to a one bedroom apartment in Queens, which Charlie loved. We got a second cat, Tango, to keep him company, but Charlie did not love Tango. Tango had a neurological disease which caused him to lose the use of rear legs, and when the disease spread to his lungs we had to put him to sleep. That was 13 years ago; we still have his ashes.
Everyone would comment that Charlie was a handsome cat; he was one of those animals who carried himself well ands seemed conceited. Tamar's nephews used to carry him around the apartment, holding him under his front arms so his body hung. Because my mother had operated a daycare out of her home, he was used to kids and permitted it - with a humiliated look on his face.
After he developed plaque on his teeth, and had to have his teeth cleaned, I switched hime to a dry food called Dental Diet, which he loved. When we moved to our house in Buffalo, I used to take Charlie outside on a leash, and he was really happy. He loved to chew on grass. Sometimes the stores would run out of Dental Diet, and he wouldn't eat anything else, and I'd drive all over until I found some. He was a little spoiled. Evenbtually the food was discontinued, and he had to adapt.
After Tamar's brother died, I brought home another kitten, Starbuck...who looked a lot like Tango. Charlie didn't like Starbuck, either. As a kitten Starbuck kicked Charlie's ass. Over the years, they developed an odd relationship: they woukd play with each other, especially at night, but never showed affection to each other. I think the event that brought them together was the birth of my daughter Kaelin: neither one of them wanted a baby in the house, and Charlie had a panicked look on his face the instant we brought her home - he knew what this meant. But he got used to her, and eventually he loved her. Until he got old, he would sleep in bed with us at night. When one cat was upstairs and the other was downstairs, they would call to each other, and eventually they took turns trying to wake me up.
Charlie had another weird habit: he preferred to drink warm water, I suppose because he'd been an outdoors cat and a hunter before the move to NYC. He would jump into the bathtunb after we got out to drink the dirty bath water... and thenlater he would jump in while we were bathing or showering.
He wasn't just a house cat, he was a set cat: we shot DRY BONES, GAVE UP THE GHOST and KILLER RACK in my house, and the crewsd got used to him. The "making of" DRY BOINES on the DVD featured outtakes of both cats wandering into the shots, and me throwing them upstairs...with love. The casts and crews of these films, and my friends, got used to both cats, who were so friendly; Charlie especially used to home in on people who were allergic to cats.
During KILLER RACK last year, Charlie became emaciated. When I noticed, after the shoot, I tried every variation of cat food I could think of, and eventually I started blending his meals, three times a day. He bounced back and put on weight, but never reached his "fighting weight" again. He stayed well for a good eight months, until about a month ago, when he became emaciated again. We gave him table scraps, whatever we could. I took him to the vet two weeks ago, because I noticed hewas having some trouble with his hind legs, and was surprised to learn his teeth were fine. The vet found a tumor in his stomach,a nd told me all we could do was make him comfortable. He gave us some high calorie prescription food, and Charlie LOVED it. Until the end, he would spend every waking hour begging me for more food (he was only supposed to have half a can a day, but I gave him more). I thought he would bounce back again, and we'd have him around for the summer. Every morning, both cas would wait for me in the upstairs hall. But Charlie started havinbg trouble jumping onto the bed, and then the love seat. Then he stopped going upstairs, and waited for me to come downstairs before he'd beg me to feed him.
After a week, even though he loved his food, he failed to pout on any weight, and he was eating a lot. He started peeing and pooping around the house, and he was a clean cat, so I knew the end was coming, and I brought his litter box upstairs from the basement to make things easier for him. All of him babied him when we could. I realized he wasn't going to make it through the entire summer, but still thought we'd have a few weeks with him. Saturday night, he was stable. Sunday morning, the same...for a couple of hours. After he ate, he went to sleep. Tamar said there was something wrong with, bu I'd already noticed the deterioration. Then he tried to stand up, and fell right over, and I knew it was over. Kaelin started crying. I carried him into the kitchen, but he didn't want to eat. Kaelin held him. I called the emergency vet clinic and made the cal l'd been dreading. Then I took him ouside, in light drizzle, and carried him around the deck, and we had our moment - I saw in his eyes he knew the end had come, and he was ready to go. Back inside, I set him on a towel, and let Tamar and Kaelin spend time with him. Kaelin said "I can't live without him" over and over, and I told her just to love him while she could, and she settled down. We tried to give him food and water, but he wasn't having it. He started shaking, so I cut our gioodbye time short, and drove him to the vet's alone. I didn't think he was going to make it to the clinic, and pulled over once to make sure he was still breathing. He whined a little when I took him out of the car. The office manager at the clinic thought he was dead, but I saw him breathing, so they put the tube in his arm. He went peacefully - not even a cough. Everyone at thecinic was nice. I spent a couple of minutes with his body, getting myself together, then went home.
Tamar told me that when I drove away, Starbuick went to the window, then ran upstairs. He was clearly dstraught the rest of the day; cats are such interesting creatures. It is very weird now, having just one cat. Weird going into the kitchen and not having Charlie bother me for food, weird to sit at the desk in my office and see him sitting behind me wenbever I turn around. He was a special cat; until he went deaf, and started meowing incessantly, I honestly believe he thought he was a human being. For me, he was a special connectionb to my mother, whio died in 2001. She had him for three years, and we had him for 15, and we will truly miss him. Our house will not be the same without him, and it will be interesting to see how Starbuck changes now that he's our sole pet.