For the first time in about 13 years, I don’t have a cat living with me. It feels a little weird.
Our family cat lived with me during my first 2 years of law school and after he passed away during the summer of 2000, I headed straight to the local humane society and found Wally (named after former Minnesota Timberwolves player Wally Szczerbiak – go ahead, laugh, I know you want to).
A blue-eyed Siamese, Wally knew he was beautiful and expected everyone to shower him with affection. After dragging him from Minnesota to Chicago with me, I started to feel guilty over how much time he spent alone while I was at work or out with friends. So in November 2003 I decided he needed a friend.
Enter Leo – named after Leonardo DaVinci since I was reading the DaVinci Code at the time. As an orange tabby, it was love at first sight. And to my great relief, Wally and Leo soon became best buddies. I could spend hours watching them wrestle, fight, cuddle and clean each other. It was hard to imagine I would ever be without them.
Then I started dreaming of my big trip. For a long time I didn’t even think about the fact that I would need to give them up; it was too hard. But as time went on and my plans started to take shape, I realized I would have to find new homes for them.
And then fate or destiny or some force of nature stepped in.
A few months ago, I realized Wally was not his normal self. I was changing the litterbox much more frequently. I was refilling the water bowl multiple times a day when it used to never run dry. Wally felt a lot lighter when I picked him up and I could feel the bones of his spine jutting through when I pet him. Finally, to knock myself out of denial, I stepped on the scale with him and realized he had lost about 5 pounds. Something was definitely wrong.
A trip to the vet confirmed my worst fear: Wally had diabetes.
Even if I wasn’t leaving on this trip, that would’ve been a hard diagnosis to take. But my plans made it even harder. Sure, I could try to take care of Wally for a few months, but what would happen when I left? It was going to be hard enough to find a new home for two older, but healthy, cats. Who was going to take in a 13 year old cat with diabetes?
I talked to my parents and cried. Then I talked to my brother and cried some more. I knew deep down that the logical thing was to put Wally to sleep, but I felt like I was a horrible, selfish person to even consider it. My dad reassured me that, while I may have done some selfish things in my life, this would not be one of them (thanks Dad!).
I talked to the vet and explained the circumstances. He very kindly, but unsuccessfully, tried to find someone to foster Wally. And then he called me at 8:00 p.m. on a Friday night (seriously, how many vets do that?) and concurred that it was best to go ahead and put Wally to sleep.
I spent one last weekend with him and then took him in on Monday afternoon. The tears started rolling before I even got to the vet’s office, but the staff was wonderful and it was almost a relief when it was finally over. The vet assured me again that I did the right thing.
And then I went home to Leo, my sweet orange tabby who didn’t understand why his buddy for the last 8 years wasn’t coming back. Seeing his confusion and loneliness was almost as hard as saying goodbye to Wally.
I hoped that the silver lining in putting Wally to sleep would be that it would be easier to find someone to take just Leo when it was time for me to leave. Luckily, I was right.
When I sent out an email to friends, looking for a possible home for Leo, my friend Patty responded almost immediately, saying that she and her boyfriend Brian had been thinking of getting a cat to be a companion for their dog Jack once their baby came. A few weeks later, I took Leo over to Patty and Brian’s place to test the waters. To our great surprise and relief, there was no hissing, growling or snarling – just some tentative stares and curious sniffing. So a couple weeks after that, I packed up the litterbox and the cat food and pushed an unhappy Leo into his cat carrier to make the trip to his new home.
It seems like the ideal situation. Leo has been starved for animal companionship since Wally left, so I am hopeful that he and Jack will get along well over time. And I am relieved that I was able to find a friend to take Leo instead of resorting to a random person on Craigslist or, even worse, leaving him with a shelter.
I am sure once I hit the road, I will barely give Leo a second thought, but while I am still here, sitting in an apartment that gets emptier every day, it feels very quiet and lonely without him.