I don’t discuss my personal life in my review journals outside of how my own life affects my reviews to some degree. But I felt the need to eulogize my cat Adolph, who died on 2/19/10. So if you come here for the books and only the books, that’s cool, just give this a miss. It is long, wordy and extremely picture heavy, but he was with me for almost 15 years and, frankly, writing these things out helps me put things in perspective.
Adolph was a cat larger than life. He was the first animal who lived with me, and I was 24 when he came into my life. I will be 40 this year – my entire adult life was spent with that incredible cat. I am not one to anthropomorphize my cats – they are cats, pets, and not my babies or friends or relatives. My relationship with them does not need honorary human status for it to be very special. Nothing wrong with either approach to animal companions – it’s just how I interact with my cats.
Not so with Adolph. He was not our pet. He was our peer. He was our gross roommate who refused to get a job. He was amazingly intelligent, knew us inside and out and understood that we were flawed and loved us regardless because he knew we loved him in spite of his flaws. He was insistent, needy, imperious, a bully, weird, gross and intrusive. He was empathetic, loving, caring, smart, adorable, silly, and loved all humans – all of them, big, small, scary, cute. There was no sensible person he could not charm, even when he acted up.
When he first experienced renal failure and had to spend a couple of days at the vet, they gave up keeping him in a cage during the day. He upset his water bowl several times and howled and howled, so they let him out during the day, letting him have the run of the place. He mocked the dogs in the dog run, greeted people at the front desk. Several people asked if he was up for adoption, he was so funny and interesting. So while I am biased, I know others saw his roguish charms and gave into them, too.
This is the first picture I ever took of Adolph. I don’t have many pics of his early days. No dig cams then and I was very broke. Film was a luxury that I now wish I had spent more money on since I have so few pics of our early days. It was 1995 and he was around 2 years old.
He came to live with me in 1995. I was reluctant to have a pet. I had just graduated from college, was flat busted broke, and was so bad with dependent living things that I could not keep a plant alive.
But my boyfriend, now husband, was an RA at College Inn, a dorm at the University of North Texas and he insisted that I take him because I had my own apartment that allowed animals. Adolph had shown up at the dorm one day and no one could find his owners. Many residents fed him, let him sleep in their rooms and doted on him. However, there were two girls from another culture in the dorm, women for whom cats were wicked spirits and Adolph scared them. They had called animal control several times and each time, Adolph managed to leave the area just before animal control arrived. Henry was afraid Adolph’s luck would run out. So he talked me into taking him.
When we took him to the vet to get him neutered was when we first found out his previous humans had declawed him. I think this frustrating amputation is why I cleaned up so much poo in his life. Later, I also discovered that he seemed to understand Spanish. His third or fourth day with me, he was complaining vigorously because I was not opening the can of food fast enough and I said, “Oh, pobrecito gato!” and Adolph immediately perked up, his eyes lively, expecting more. I only knew it because I had just read a book with the phrase. He seemed disappointed when I did not continue speaking Spanish. He always perked up when Spanish-speaking television was on. It was one of many tantalizing clues as to the life he led before he came to live with me.
Adolph was bad. I had never owned a cat before and had no idea the level of mayhem one cat could create. He would hide as a sport, and was excellent at it, despite the fact that I lived in an efficiency apartment and there were few places for him to hide. He would drag off my things and hide them, like keys, my wallet, my slippers. If angered, he would poop on my bathmat and roll it up tight like a burrito. He tore up a set of linen sheets one day when he got bored. He would kick and kick and kick in his box, getting litter everywhere, because he thought it was fun. I would make him dance when he was bad, to the silly version of the Blue Danube waltz I would sing to him (The Blue Danube waltz was written by Strauss, he lived in a house with Mickey Mouse…).
I was a moron when it came to cat care. He was so thin when I got him, with a near intractable case of worms, and I hated seeing him so thin. Fatty was his ironic nickname. So I fed him two cans of Fancy Feast a day, supplemented by the worst moist dry food ever, Deli-cat. I let him eat whatever he wanted of my food, giving him his own little plates of spaghetti, hamburger helper, ramen (I fed myself terribly too back in those days). Adolph often did not eat human food but he wanted to know that he could. He would sniff mournfully until I gave him a small portion of what I was eating, which he would give a cursory lick or two and would then settle down next to me.
In my tiny apartment, I would eat on a TV tray on my bed, watching television, and Adolph stayed glued to me, sniffing his food offering then sleeping with his head cradled in a large, half-empty tissue box that became a weird pillow for him.
He ate Original Flavor Crest like it was caviar to him. I came home from work one day to discover he had consumed the better part of a large tube and had either barfed it up or pooped it out, as little greenish mounds covered my carpet. To this day I cannot eat guacamole because of what he did on the carpet. I was so stupid back them. I should have rushed him to the emergency vet but I didn’t. He seemed fine, if a little gassy, so I let him be. Later, because of his appalling diet at the very least, he developed a UTI with crystals so bad he almost had to have the operation that would turn him into a she. Luckily that didn’t happen, I got a lecture on proper cat care, and Adolph ate premium food from that day forward. After I started feeding him better food, he developed an aversion to gooshy food, but not toothpaste. I had to change brands to a cinnamon flavor he didn’t like because even if I put my toothpaste in the medicine cabinet, he could open the cabinet door and get it out with those prehensile Fatty Paws of Doom of his and chew through the tube.
We moved from Denton to Austin when my spouse graduated from college, just him, Adolph, a tiny turtle named Joe (whom Adolph loathed and provoked at every turn – Adolph bore a scar on his nose for years, a memory of a time when Joe got him good – there was no place we could put Joe’s bowl where Adolph could not find him) and me.
We lived in a one-bedroom apartment. Here he is with Henry. They were both tadpoles then, Henry not even 30, Adolph 3 or 4.
In 1996, we sent Joe to a turtle refuge, and adopted a kitten we named Wednesday. She died in 2008. Adolph was in the process of training Wednesday to be as bad as him and would have succeeded had she not gone blind due to excessive exposure to anesthesia as a kitten and become less mobile.
He would get her to hide with him. He taught her how to overturn the water bowl and how to turn on the faucets in the bathroom and kitchen.
She was his adoring shadow for months.
I think she was the only kitten he ever really loved. She would groom him and he would get all slitty-eyed, a sign he was pleased, and would purr.
Like most Alpha cats, he had to be in the highest spot in any room.
I have a lot of pics of him on top of tall things.
Sadly, this habit ended when he lost a leg.
When we moved into an old house in West Campus in 1997, we encountered our first feral cat population and became involved in cat rescue. Adolph, never a fan of adult cats, had some patience for the younger ones, mainly because he saw them as his minions. Here he is with an adolescent Cicero, annoyed that we caught them up to no good.
He was bad-cat mentor to many, many kittens who came through our home over the years. Those we kept he tolerated as they got older, but he seemed to have a talent for turning a good kitten bad.
If there was mischief, he was at the center of it.
He was not so tolerant of older cats. This is Cicero’s dad and Tabby’s brother, a big, sweet cat named Charlie. He loved Adolph. But Adolph had no use for him and lost his mind the moment he realized Charlie had reached out to snuggle with him. He’d tolerate a kitten doing that, but not a full-grown cat, by gar!
We moved to a nicer house in 2002, and Adolph loved that place. We lived next to an elementary school. It was a slightly impoverished area, so there were not as many moms dropping kids off at school in cars as there were hoards of kids and moms walking back and forth in front of our house. He loved that. He loved human children. Halloween at the old place made him so happy. He loved all the kids coming to the door, all the smells, the excitement, the happiness he felt when they would talk to him. I recall one child so excited by him she toddled into our house to pet him, to the horror of her mother. He looked forward to Halloween the way kids look forward to Christmas.
We rescued a dog when we lived there. I was very allergic and we kept him only until we got him into the Humane Society. He was a lab-spaniel mix we called Ernie and he was a sweetheart but the cats were horrified. Adolph was the only one who stood him down (though Ernie only wanted to play – when Adolph hissed at him he ran and hid behind my husband). Adolph, if he wasn’t Alpha Cat by then, which he was, became the cat hero after Ernie.
It was when we lived at that house that Adolph developed his injection-site sarcoma. My husband and I, though our relationship is quite good now, had a tumultuous time for years and it was during this time that my husband noticed Adolph had the lump. Had we not been fighting, we might have missed it. Henry was lying on the floor, stunned after a terrible fight, when Adolph came over to check on him. Henry was at the exact angle needed to notice a slight rise in the muscle in Adolph’s right thigh. It seems strange to say it, but had we not been fighting, we would have lost him in 2007.
We took him to the emergency vet that Saturday, got him into the regular vet on Monday, specialists on Tuesday and Wednesday, and his leg was amputated that Friday (if my timeline is correct, and I think it is). Had we missed it by even a day he would have died. It went from the size of a grape to the size of an orange in a week.
An online cat pix community, journal friends and a large Amex limit helped us save him. A cancer specialist near us pulled strings at Texas A&M and got him in quickly and we drove from Austin to College Station back and forth daily for four days until the surgery was over and Adolph could come home.
They thought he was going to need radiation and chemo but Adolph’s sarcoma presented in a strange way, surrounded by fluid, neatly contained, allowing clean margins. The cancer was completely contained in his leg. But had we not have moved as fast as we did, that sac of fluid that contained the cancer was close to rupturing and had it ruptured, it would have been a completely different story. Even the surgeon could not believe how lucky Adolph was.
It was at Texas A&M that we discovered he answered to “Oreo.” He answered to “Adolph” when he came to live with me, but evidently, someone called him Oreo and he responded. Another clue as to his old life before us. (And yes, he bit, as the stupid orange sticker indicates. He had a large cancer on his leg. You’d bite too if someone was mashing on it like they did, investigating it.)
Adolph recovered quickly but we discovered that I was not the best person to care for an animal I loved so much when sick. Henry dealt with him so well, though, and Adolph knew that I was a little standoffish because I was afraid. He didn’t mind. He probably preferred Henry’s calm care to my nervous fumblings and he would come headbutt me when Henry was finished. But I spent hours in my office with him in his cage, talking to him, comforting him as he complained. I just couldn’t deal with cat-handling him to give him his meds. I was not good at it during the renal failure either, but I would hang around if he was in a mad mood, cheering him up while Henry did all the poking and prodding. Adolph loved us both but I was his primary human. Ultimately, it was good he did not associate me with the harder parts of his care because he could run to me and complain afterward and I would tell him what a good boy he was.
He recovered so quickly from the amputation it was hard to believe.
We later moved to our first real home, a home we bought, in 2007.
It turned out that our house was in front of a bus stop for the local schools. Fatty loved that. He would watch them through that little screen and from the front windows.
We stopped animal rescue as well, and he and all the other cats have been so happy here – so much space, so quiet.
Adolph got some backyard time, too. Closely supervised, even behind the fence. He was too smart by half and would have found a way out to find the kids in the next yard had someone not been there with him. He would roar like a lion, he was so happy.
He never turned down an adventure.
When his renal failure began, we didn’t let him out much because not only did the Texas heat dehydrate him fast, but his back leg weakened. So we got him a stroller and took him on walks during the more temperate days. We are across the street from a park with an excellent path and Adolph loved seeing the people, the kids, but hated the dogs. He jumped out of the stroller and ran and peed on a place were a dog had peed just minutes before, as if to remark the territory. We then zipped up the carrier every time a dog passed to prevent another pee-competition.
He loved going places. Even to the vet, even after all he had been through, because going out meant he got to meet new people. He never failed to crawl into an empty cat carrier because he thought maybe he would get out of the house for a while. He loved car rides.
Adolph also revealed to me in the last two years that he loved an actress, a Mexican actress named Silvia Navarro. When her show came on one of the Spanish stations, he would perk up when he heard her voice. Just her voice. No one else’s. (Just for the record, neither my husband nor I can speak Spanish. We tuned in to Spanish television for Adolph. We also suspected at times that Adolph figured out how to use the remote because the TV would be on when we got up – tuned mostly, at the time, to Telemundo. I am not making this up or exaggerating. I think that cat watched television in his native tongue after we went to bed.)
He also developed an affection for Lady Gaga. He would hear her sing and he would turn his back to us, swivel his ears and thrash his tail, sort of shaking his behind while seated. He loved her song “Paparazzi” the most. I never minded having Spanish language television on in the background, but I listen to metal, mostly. It is a sign of the indulgence we lavished on him that I played him Lady Gaga. Did he once know two women, one who sounded like Silvia and another who sang like Lady Gaga? I wonder about that. I like to picture an adoring Mexican family who loved him, who accidentally got separated from him when they had to move, with a mother who cooed over him in a voice like Silvia’s and a daughter who sang in the shower like Lady Gaga.
His last year with us was difficult. We both lost our jobs. I broke my leg and needed surgery. I was in bed for a while, in pain and whacked out on pain pills. He never left my side. I developed a prescription pill addiction that made life horrible but he never seemed to mind. He just stuck it through with me. My insurance would not pay for detox or rehab so I kicked my habit at home, with him watching over me.
Adolph was my constant companion as I recovered. If he was on the bed, he had a paw on me at all times. I take a lot of comfort knowing that his last six months were actually very calm, drama-free, and happy. There was never a time when there was not at least one adult in the house from August of last year until now. He had so much attention, so much interaction.
The only times he would worry was when I would worry. I was so upset back in August when we thought we were losing him for sure and he could tell. I sucked it up and stopped and the worry left his handsome fur face.
But you know, Adolph was still a very bad cat. The last year he was alive, I made him dance as punishment to “Bananaphone” so many times he would became visibly annoyed if he heard the song in any context.
I have not had a bubble bath in 15 years without him interrupting or howling miserably if I shut the door. I have had to clean up so much poop – soooo much poop – when he would crap in rage because I prevented him from eating string, rushing outside into the street, attacking Noodle, etc.
He would not let us sleep through the night, aggressively waking us every hour or so. But since he was sick we just endured it. We didn’t know how many nights we had left with him so it was okay, never sleeping. I’ve been waking up the last couple of nights, tense, waiting to be jumped on, but it never comes. It’s a strange thing to miss, his one paw with claws raking over my arm, his full weight landing on my stomach.
He headbutted my books as I tried to read, when anyone tried to read really. This was problematic.
We are book people and he resented our books, sometimes even peeing on them if we didn’t give him the attention he felt was due. He cultivated a snort and a whine that drove me insane. Oh god, he would make that whine and know I would chase him – he did it just to aggravate me, you could see it in his eyes. He acted like a complete butthead when provoked, and it often involved poop.
We have no regrets. This is the one time I know there was not a damn thing we could have done differently. He was old, sick and weak. He was almost 18. He had beat cancer, but had only three legs and his kidneys were getting worse and worse. His heart failed and even had we done the ultrasound the day we took him to the vet, it would not have changed a thing. There was no treatment for him that would not exacerbate his other conditions with his kidneys and his seizures.
We built our life around that cat. He was our buddy, our friend. Real friends lean on you when you are strong and comfort you when you are weak. Adolph was a real friend.
I think my only regret is that I never knew him as a kitten.
I have his favorite toys – the airplane that was his first toy, Mr. Penguin and the Pink Fuzzy Ball in my drawer.
My husband remarked that when he dies, he wants part of his ashes mixed with Adolph’s and the two of them will get a burial at sea. My husband is a former Navy man and Adolph was the captain of the U.S.S. Toucan. I’m not wholly sure if he is joking or not.
This is my Fatty as I remember him best. Oldish, but with all legs. Eyes slitted, contentment on his face. Happy. Secure. Safe with a view.
The Rainbow Bridge, if such a place exists, better have a janitor because I know Adolph stopped to crap in the middle of the bridge. Then he noticed that he had four legs, all his claws and could run as fast as he wanted and he zoomed the rest of the way across. He can climb trees now. He is hopefully training dozens of kittens how to wrap poop burritos and how to shake it to “Pokerface.” I hope he isn’t thinking of this earthly place at all, even if it means he never thinks of us. I hope he went to his reward and never once looked back.
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