Our sweet Leo has crossed the Rainbow Bridge. His estimated birthday was May 2004 as he came to us in July 2004 at our West Kendall apartment in Miami. It was the middle of the night and Chris and I were awoken by what sounded like a baby bird chirping. It chirped and chirped, annoying me enough to get out of bed and walk around to the back porch to see what was going on. I could never find anything but the next morning Chris woke me up because he had found the culprit—or rather, Samson had found the culprit! It was a scraggly kitten at the back sliding door, pawing and wanting in! Samson was aloof but kind of entertained by the fact this cat wanted in. Of course I went around and tried to pet it and we gave it some food and Chris and I decided that if it was still there when we got home from work that we would keep it.
Chris got home before I did and by then Leo had been given a rinse off in the sink and had found his way to the litter box! And that was it, he was part of the family! This two month old squeaker was young enough to still try to nurse on Samson! Which, Samson let him do! That was a good cat, too. I wish I could hug them both right now. And then they would meow for treats or try to barge their way into my lap for a nap. Yep, I would be ok with that happening.
Instead we are faced with an empty house of pets for the first time in nearly 18 years. We adopted Samson at the end of December in 2002, Leo came to us in 2004 and its been cat city around here ever since. But on Monday evening that ended.
Leo had been dealing with hyperthyroidism for several years. We had been giving him thyroid pills in his food during this time after he lost a bit of weight sometime after Forest was born. With that he had been mostly thriving with some periods of old age setting in but he was in it for the long haul. Then in July he lost some more weight, stopped eating much, had some vomiting issues, and I noticed a bit of hair in his poop in the litter box. More than what was normal for him. So off to the vet we went and after some x-rays and blood work it was determined he likely had a tumor in his intestines and possibly his lungs. Honestly, we thought he was going to die then because his behavior really changed. We braced ourselves and at the same time started him on some anti-nausea medicine and an appetite stimulant. Both of those helped and we eventually weaned him off the anti-nausea medicine until recently. The stimulant got him eating and his mood and attitude changed for the better, or at least better than it had been. We knew that this wasn’t a cure and things were going to get worse, especially when he still lost more weight and you could feel changes in his rib cage. Something was definitely wrong.
And then last week things went off the rails with avoiding the litter box entirely and bigger behavior changes, hiding in different places, not able to get comfortable, more labored breathing. I wasn’t ready to face it then but Chris was. But by the weekend I changed my mind because the litter box issues weren’t one-off and the silly hiding places got worse. I mean, he climbed into the pantry and on top of some of the stuff we store on the floor—this was never a thing he did.
So, we spent the weekend cuddling, loving, and hugging him. I took a bazillion photos on my phone and some videos and Forest even recorded some stuff on his tablet.
Leo really evolved over his years. He started off as the spry and feisty cat, being fairly particular about who he liked, but he came into his own as he got older and mostly liked anyone he met. I was worried how he would be with Forest but he was only ever nice unless Forest pestered him too much. And even then it was only one whack and a warning to leave him alone! Of course, Forest wanted to love on him too much and we were constantly telling him to be more gentle, especially in the last year as Leo aged more. But Leo was the cat who played fetched with toy mice, loved a pile of catnip, would steal greens from the garden on the counter if I left them out, would be the bug hunter if needed…he was such a good cat. And he always loved to cuddle and would seek you out to find a place on your lap. If there was a computer out there was a good chance you wouldn’t be able to work because there would be a cat on top of it. He and Forest became my coworkers this spring when the pandemic started. I have a lot of photos of a lazy cat sprawled up next to me while I worked. Oh, how I will miss that. I already did this week–even the grouching about “Leo, move, so I can work!”
At our apartment in Miami, where we found him, Chris and I didn’t use our kitchen table at that time. It was in the dining room but pushed off to the side and was mostly used for storing stuff. It was near a window and of course Leo became used to going up there. Eventually we moved to a town house and then a house and started using the table and it was too late to try to convince Leo that he didn’t belong on the table. So for 16.5 years we’ve had a cat at meal times on the table. He had his spot, off to the side so there wasn’t cat hair flying into our food, and he would sit or lay there while we ate, a constant companion. That was one thing about Leo, he enjoyed human company. Samson did too but I think Leo even more so. Of course he went off to take his naps during the day but if you called him he would usually come unless he was especially lazy.
It’s been hard to get used to not hearing him move about the house. Knowing that when Chris got up in the morning, Leo would to. A jingle of the collar because he would stretch and shake, then trot down the stairs and begin meowing for breakfast. I’ve anticipated it all week and it doesn’t come. Or I’ll turn my head and hear a phantom jingle and realize my brain is tricking me. I’m having to stop myself from wandering off to the laundry room to check the litter, or stop the impulsive reflex from looking at the spot where his food and water were to see if anything needed to be picked up or re-filled. It’s hard.
Forest took it especially hard. We’ve been harping on it for months, that Leo was at the end of his life and he would die sometime soon. When Chris and I knew last week that it was coming up quickly we started talking to Forest about it. But it wasn’t until Sunday evening, with Leo cuddled up on the bed with Forest and me as I was getting Forest to sleep, that the grief overtook him and the tears poured out. He’d kept it at arms length, trying not to tear up when he saw Chris or I crying or getting sad about the situation. Forest would say he was sad or that he would miss him but he was holding it back. And then seeing it all let out, it was heartbreaking.
I went alone to the vet on Monday evening. Thankfully our vet is letting those pets with end of life situations to allow their humans to come in and be with them. I was worried about this back in July because otherwise everything is curbside, you leave the pet with a tech and wait in the car or come back to pick them up. But I was able to go in. Chris stayed home with Forest, though Forest was begging me at the end to go in the car.
I don’t think I’ll write about being in the room other than to say it was beyond difficult to do and there was wailing involved. I mean, constant companion from kitten to grandpa cat for 16.5 years…what else can you do but wail?
And so, Leo crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I look at photos and I can’t believe he won’t come around the corner and purr and meow and want some pets. Forest and I were flipping through photos of Leo and Forest when Forest was a baby and then I flipped to the photos I took last weekend and I saw it. It was hard to see when he was here because there was some parts of him that were still there, but now I could see the pain and weariness he was in compared to the photos from a few years ago, or even just earlier this year. It was time.
We will miss him terribly. He was one of the best.