To be honest, I never really wanted a cat. I was a dog person. Cats were too independent and just convinced you to feed and pamper them without giving much back. But our daughter had recently left for her first year at college and my wife was suffering a bit from empty nest syndrome. Even our old retriever, Jessie, wasn’t scratching that itch. So I relented, and Tina and our son, Steve, headed off to the animal shelter. They returned with a handsome, buff-colored male that was a ‘teenager’ in cat years, maybe about nine months old. Ironically, Andrea had always wanted a cat, and never lets us forget that we got one as soon as she left for school.
We don’t completely agree on who named him. Tina says it was the name of a character in a book she was reading, and I contend I thought of it, as it rhymed with another word that was fitting if he didn’t work out well. Either way, neither of us wanted another pet name that ended in ‘-ie’. So we named him Tucker, and it seemed perfect. We kept him inside for a few weeks, where he quickly took to curling up in our bathroom sink, but we eventually let him become an inside/outside cat and he allowed us to open the doors for him as he chose.
We lived in cat heaven – a Pennsylvania neighborhood of 3/4 acre lots surrounded by fields and hedge rows, with no shortage of mice, snakes, hiding spots, and other cats to make Tucker’s life quite the adventure. And it didn’t take him too long to settle into the role of ‘property guard’ and would walk the grounds frequently, keeping us safe from all things. The only down side to this was taking our little soldier to the vet four to five times a year to get him patched up from his most recent scrap with whatever dared cross our perimeter, including a fox.
Tucker never became the cuddly cat Tina wanted but would make five-to-ten minute visits to our laps before getting antsy and jumping down. He would also consent to being held for a bit, so long as we didn’t overdo it. A minute was long enough. He preferred to curl up near us on the couch, on a night stand when we slept, or under the tree at Christmas, his all-time favorite place.
Twice over the years he just disappeared. Once for three agonizing days when we had resigned ourselves we’d never see him again, and once for twenty four hours shortly after we’d moved to Oregon. We’re pretty convinced he’d gotten himself locked in someone’s garage or shed during the three-day stint, and maybe gotten lost in the new neighborhood the other time. Both times he returned home famished, had a meal, and curled up on the couch to sleep like nothing happened. We took days to recover.
A couple years after getting Tucker, a small, sickly, and recently pregnant young female wandered onto our deck and adopted us. Somehow she knew we would save her and we obliged. Tucker and Leah never became best friends, but humorously tolerated each other. Leah, being smaller than Tucker, was the only thing he was afraid of, and he gave her a wide berth to avoid the frequent playful ambushes she became famous for.
In the ensuing years, Jessie passed on and we adopted yet another kitty, this time Steve’s black cat, Pepper, when Steve moved to Oregon. Andrea had moved there years earlier for graduate school, and he wanted to see why she liked it so much. Pepper was a young, strong, large male. Tucker immediately saw him as competition, and Leah was happy to have yet another boy to pester. They semi-peacefully coexisted and provided significant entertainment for us. They were our retirement kids.
During the end of summer last year we finally followed our real kids to Oregon and successfully transported our feline gang cross-country to our new home. They survived the trip amazingly well, surprising us all with their ability to adapt to life on the road. Tucker got the prize for best traveler, though, simply hunkering down in his open carrier, peacefully waiting for car purgatory to end, and curling up under hotel night stands.
It is now fifteen months later and only Pepper remains with us. While Tina and I were away last December Leah suffered a sudden blood clot in her hind legs. Thank heavens Steve was there checking on the gang when it happened or she would have suffered horribly. He rushed her to the vet but there was nothing they could do. She was thirteen.
And now I sit here with tears streaming down my face again. We had to give Tucker the final ‘gift’ from us a few days ago. He was sixteen. His age began leaving its mark last year, when his kidneys and thyroid started acting up. We were able to control those problems for him until a couple months ago when we learned he had cancer.
All pets leave a void when they depart, and it’s no different for us. We miss Leah terribly, our little goofball. While the boys slept, she would follow us around all day long, getting into whatever we were doing.
But losing Tucker has left this huge gaping hole in our hearts. He was our first. Mister independent. Our handsome little soldier. … The one who turned us into cat people.
The house seems so empty. I guess I’m still not done crying.