We lost a loved and valued member of our family yesterday morning. My 13-year-old orange tabby, Tash, died after his kidneys completely shut down and I had to make the very difficult decision of ending his discomfort and steepening decline. I held him in my arms, his favorite way to be held, as I felt him breathe his last breath.
Many of those who have visited our home knew Tash, because he really stood out. As one friend put it, he was a “presence.” Of course, he was a large presence, weighing around twenty pounds. But he was also loved by guests because he had a strong personality and was always inclusive toward everyone. Not everyone knew Tash’s story, though.
Tash was rescued in late 2005, early 2006 when his original owner, an elderly woman in Valdez, passed away. I have been told by those involved with his rescue that Tash was among thirty or so cats in the household. When his original owner died, no one found out about it for several days, as she lived alone and was rather isolated. Tash was one of two cats who stood guard over her body until friends and eventually paramedics arrived. He had sat there so long, his 28-pound body had left a depression in the carpet. When they took his owner’s body away, he tried to leave with the gurney.
I met Tash through someone associated with Friends of Pets. He was in foster care, and was in need of a new home. I had just moved from renting to owning, and I wanted to adopt a cat. During my first visit with him at his foster home, he was rather aloof. I went back for a second visit, and he was more engaging. Then I took him home to my condo for a day visit, and we really seemed to hit it off. I made the decision to take him home for good. (And along with him came the much younger, then only 10-months old, Harriet.)
I knew that Tash was an older cat, and I knew he was looking for a place to retire in a nice, quiet home. I had no idea of how attached I would become to him.
Over the years, he developed certain traits, certain habits, and certain ways of communicating. In particular, he had a voice that let you know that he meant business in no uncertain terms – after all, he was the cat and you merely the human, there to do his bidding. Early on, I came to learn that he had a thing for showers. Every time I would take a shower, he would sit outside on the bathroom rug and squawk at me, with this very insistent, loud voice he had. He would squawk at me with that voice pretty much any time I sang or whistled. I never knew if he was singing with me or telling me to stop.
Shortly after moving in with me, after he got over his uncertainty about joining me on the bed at night, he developed a habit of crawling up to sleep in my armpit that stayed until his final days. He always was the first to greet me when I came home, no matter what time of day (or night) it was. Sometimes I knew he was greeting me because it was that time of day to feed him his evening canned cat food, and he would be very persistent with that voice of his until he got fed. When I held him, whether he was in bed at night or sitting with me on the couch in the evenings, he had this deep, resonating purr that you could really feel and hear. (When he sat with me on the couch, he did not just sit on my lap, he climbed up and extended his forearms onto my shoulder – I called it “climbing the mountain”).
Tash also had a thing for the ladies – he was always in the middle of things when I would have members of the Alaska Wild cheerleader squad over to photograph their team head shots. He sometimes had to be in the photos, like one I took of a client, Stephanie, who wanted to produce a calendar for her husband in the 40s-50s pin-up girl style. Any time there was a female portrait client, he would find his way in there.
Tash almost always joined me in my office when I would sit and photo edit at the computer. He so liked sitting under the corner of the desk (I have a glass, wrap-around desk with a high top that is open below), that we placed a cat bed there for him. He would also sometimes sit behind me on the floor, so he could make sure to catch me as I am on my way out of the office. Most of the time this would be late at night, and I would have to tell him that it was time to go to bed. Shortly thereafter, I would hear his claws (he still had all of them, and dutifully used the scratching post to sharpen them) clicking on the hallway floor as he made his way to the bedroom to join us. In the last six months or so, he also took to sitting on my chair in the mornings. Perhaps he also knew this was a way to get attention, as I always went in the office to check email and web statistics first thing after breakfast.
In this last winter and spring, Tash also learned something new. We have a large picture window with a ledge bird feeder on the other side. We call it our Kitty Big Screen TV. All of the other cats had long realized this entertainment potential and had spent countless hours watching and chatting at birds. This last winter, we put Tash up there (he could not make that high of a jump), and he finally learned what the other cats had been doing there. We set down a dining table chair next to the shelf so he could find his own way up there eventually. At first, he would just squawk at the birds with a shorter version of his regular meow. Soon, though, he learned how to make the “bird chirp” noise that most cats know how to do. It was such a treat watching him learn about this whole new world at such a late age.
There are countless things that I will miss about my boy, Tash. He was stoutly loyal to me, and among our four cats, the one who always wanted to be with me and missed me the most when I was out of town on photo assignments. I will miss him sleeping at my arm pit at night, climbing up to be with me at the couch, miss his cranky sounding meow, miss the look on his face when you scratch the top of his head – his ears would go out and look like Yoda ears, and he would close his eyes. I will miss how, when I held him, he would scratch his jaw against my beard or corner of my glasses. I will miss that comforting purr that put me to sleep so many nights over the 3+ years he was with me.
As Michelle told me, you always lose the ones you love too soon. Based on his original diagnosis with a loss of kidney function, our vet led us to believe that with proper diet (which Tash went on immediately), Tash would be with us for at least another year or so. It took just less than a month. Such a sudden loss leaves me with a palatable tinge of regret, especially when I learned that I only had a handful of photos I had taken of Tash in the whole time he was with me, and none with just him in the shot. So much about being with Tash was being close to him, holding him; quiet moments that did not make me think of taking a picture.
I think now of all the many wonderful things that made him such a special cat. I think of all the things that I knew he enjoyed, that he will no longer be able to. I know I gave him a good home, and, if cats really can be aware of such things, I know that he knew he was loved. I will miss him, this wonderful cat who was the first pet that was mine as an adult, who found a home and helped me to build my own home for the first time. Farewell, Tash, my loyal and beloved friend.