My father just called me to inform me that our cat Shadow, who lived with him, was put to sleep today. The news doesn’t come as a great surprise; just a few weeks ago, when I went to visit, I discovered that Shadow was getting very skinny and weak, and when we took him to the vet, she advised that it might be time to end it right then and there. But he wasn’t in any pain or anything, and she was able to “jumpstart” his system with a subdermal fluid injection to compensate for his failing kidneys, or some such thing, and he seemed to rally for a while. So while I knew this was coming, I wasn’t expecting it so soon.
So I kind of already said my goodbyes to Shadow. I knew it might happen when I wasn’t around. Still, it feels kind of unreal.
But maybe that’s for the best. It was rough for me when we said goodbye to Tasha, Shadow’s sister, back in June ’08. She’d become very ill and was in considerable pain when we took her to the vet. She also lived with my father instead of me (since my building doesn’t allow cats or dogs), so it came out of the blue for me, and I had to deal with suddenly having this awful choice thrust upon me. I stayed with Tasha right until the end in the hopes that it might bring her some small comfort, though I’m not sure she was even aware of anything at that point.
At least this way my final memory of Shadow will be of a time when he was alive and reasonably comfortable. And maybe in the back of my mind I’ll be able to pretend he’s just vanished into the night, returned to the primal darkness he embodied so magnificently.
Shadow was so very good at being scary. When I was a kid, we had a black cat we called Spooky, but stereotypes aside, he was a nice ol’ chubby guy. Now, Shadow was really spooky. Sometimes he would stare at me and I’d have this shiver of primal fear run through me. He was that good at it.
And he was a mighty, cunning predator, a master of stillness and calculation. When he and Tasha would go after cat toys, she’d be the Tasmanian Devil, a whirlwind of claws and teeth flying every which way, but Shadow would bide his time, wait for his moment, then BAM! His claws and teeth would snap like a sprung beartrap.
My father, Tasha, and Shadow, June 1991
He was smart, too. In the house where they first lived with us, we had a back door with a cat door in it, but it had a cover so we could keep them inside at night. But the cover was loose so we had to put a chair in front of it, or actually more of a highchair/ladder/stool sort of thing with a seat high enough for the cats to stand on their hind legs and see out the window. Now, once I saw Shadow pawing at the deadbolt knob, trying to unlock it. He’d observed that we used that knob to lock and unlock the door and had deduced that if he wanted to get out, he should do the same! He didn’t have the leverage to turn the deadbolt, let alone work the stiff knob and open the door, but he’d reasoned it out. (And I’m not fooling myself here. It’s well-documented that cats are skilled at figuring out how to open doors by watching and emulating humans. Which is a far more genuinely intelligent behavior than simply learning a trick through stimulus-response conditioning.)
Of course, Shadow didn’t always like going outside. At first, we had to get him and Tasha used to the idea. We’d try taking them out into the backyard in their carrier and letting them out, and they’d usually make a beeline back to the house, the carrier, or us. So we’d take them farther out into the grass, let them out, and walk away. Once when we did that, Shadow promptly ran over to me and climbed clear up to my chest level before I could get a hold of him and get those needle-sharp kitten claws out of me. I was laughing and in pain at the same time. That was Shadow all the way. He didn’t make it easy, and he was always quick with the claws and teeth, but he was worth it.
And we were lucky we had so much time with him. One night when he was just a couple of years old, my father heard him racing through the cat door and into the living room, and then we didn’t see him at all the whole next day. We found him huddled under the couch, very quiet and still, and when I moved the couch and picked him up, I realized one of his back legs was hanging limp. Apparently he’d been hit by a car and broken his leg, and had done what cats do, secluding himself to wait for death. But we had other plans. We took him to a specialist (though we had to wait a couple of days until the guy was available, something that wouldn’t be tolerated with a human patient), and despite the wait, the doctor did amazing work. Shadow’s femur was shattered into little pieces, but the doctor managed to reassemble them into a functional bone, supported by wires. All that work to train the cats for outdoor life proved moot, since we were told that Shadow’s leg would never be strong enough for outdoor survival again and we had to keep him indoors — and we couldn’t let one out without letting them both out, so Tasha had to become an indoors cat too. Shadow was in a cage in the living room for weeks before he was well enough to regain normal activity, and the whole experience left him kind of neurotic (well, more so than usual for a cat). But despite what could’ve been a crippling injury, he managed to regain nearly full mobility, certainly enough to keep up with Tasha, who was the fastest, most hyperactive kitty I’ve ever known.
I guess we got lucky with Tasha too, since she developed a serious medical problem a few years later, lymphoma or something, I think. She had to be shipped to Columbus for special treatment, but she came back okay. And ultimately they were with us for a very long time. Tasha lived 17 years and 4 months, Shadow 19 years and 1 month. Those are records for me. The previous longest-lived cats we had were Mia and Spooky, two of the first cats I ever lived with. Mia, a beautiful blue-eyed white cat with a grey forehead mark like an inverted Y, started showing up in our backyard shortly before my seventh birthday, i.e. somewhere around June 1975, and we soon found that she had a litter of kittens including Spooky. When my mother passed away not long thereafter, Mia and her brood kind of filled the void, and we got kind of carried away letting her and her offspring breed; we had dozens and dozens of kittens over the course of a few years, though what with giving them away and losing some of them, the most felines we had in the house at any one time was seventeen. But eventually we got Mia and the junior matriarchs fixed, and the number of cats continued to dwindle, because we gave a lot away and because outdoor cats have short life expectancies or sometimes just run away. Eventually we were down to just Mia and Spooky. Spooky left us after 15 years, and Mia, who we estimated was about a year old when we found her, outlived Spooky by another year. Ironically, our first cat of that line was also our last.
It was a week after losing Mia that we adopted Shadow and Tasha. They were two of a litter of eight belonging to a coworker of my father, and they were about six weeks old when we got them. The litter was a mix of black cats, grey cats, and a couple of multicolored females. That family had named the eight cats Rocky, Bullwinkle, Boris, Natasha, Larry, Moe, Curly, and Pizzaface (who was a mottled female, kind of a tortoiseshell). I took one look at Natasha and it was love at first sight — she was the most beautiful kitten I’d ever seen. My father was drawn to the one who became Shadow, who was the most beautiful shade of grey I’ve ever seen. No grey has ever been so colorful. As a kitten, he had kind of a nebulous, shimmery quality as if he wasn’t entirely there, or as if he were made of fog. It was remarkable to see.
I don’t know which of the names listed above was given to the grey kitten we adopted. I wanted to keep Natasha’s name because it reminded me of Natasha Yar from ST:TNG, but whatever name her brother had been given, we didn’t want to keep it. (I’d like to think he was Boris, since it would’ve been fitting given what a menacing figure he was. On the other hand, I kind of hope he was Bullwinkle or one of the Stooge names, because it means we saved him from being saddled with such a monicker.) I wanted to call him Kiri, the Japanese word for fog. But since I decided on Tasha’s name, my father got to choose the other, and he went with the basics, so Shadow became Shadow.
I guess it was always that way — Tasha was closer to me and Shadow was closer to my father. Though I’ll miss Shadow a lot, my thoughts right now are more with my father, who’s lost his best friend.
But we had over 19 years with Shadow, which is a really long time for a cat. As the vet said a while ago, he’s been in “bonus” time for a long time. I guess you could say everything since his car accident has been bonus time. We’re lucky he and Tasha were with us for as long as they were.
But I still miss them.