Pet Talk: It's hard to let go of a friend

Rene Knapp

At our very first cat show about 13 years ago, my husband, Clint, fell in love with the Abyssinian breed. He talked about wanting an Aby for himself so much, I finally decided to get him a kitten as a Christmas gift one year.

We went to Las Vegas to visit a friend who raises Abyssinians and I picked out this little, bright-eyed ruddy boy with a look of mischief in his eyes. Four weeks later, Royalty Merlot of Pentaclecats arrived, and from the moment he stepped into our home, Merlot was my cat — and only my cat.

There was something special about Merlot and I knew it right from the start.

If I was working on the computer, Merlot was helping me. If I was watching television, he was on my lap. When it was time for bed, he was the first one on the pillow purring away. And what a purr he had —it reverberated through the house. If I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, he led the way, protecting me from danger.

Playing a game

On my windowsill there are two little wooden cat figurines, and Merlot decided they belonged to him. He would carry one around in his mouth, talking to his little friend. When he was done, he would return the cat figurine to where he found it. He would climb to the top of the cat tree right next to the window and meow at me.

As soon as I turned and said his name, he gave me a grin and, with his paw, sent the two figurines flying. Then he would stand there and wait. I was well trained and picked them up and replaced them so he could do it again. And again. And again. Even though it could get annoying, I had to laugh.

Merlot quickly became my favorite cat and my little soulmate. I commissioned a painting of him and his little wooden buddies, as well as a chalk drawing. There were professional photographs taken and I began to show him.

My goal was to keep him whole and breed a litter of Abyssinians. But Merlot’s testosterone level was extremely high and he smelled worse than any whole male cat I had ever come across before. I could take him to the vet and clear out the entire office within two minutes.

It was so bad that I couldn’t let him into our bedroom any longer. So I made the decision to alter him.

Merlot was first and foremost my beloved pet and there was no way I was not going to share my room with him (or the rest of the house for that matter).

True showman

As an alter, Merlot was second best nationally two years in a row. He was an absolutely amazing cat and a true showman.

Close to his third birthday he started to get a bit heavy, so I retired him from showing. When I decided to get my first tattoo at the age of 50, I thought long and hard about what I wanted. It was between my husband and my cat. Because Clint was my third husband and Merlot would always be my cat, I went for the cat. I have a beautiful tattoo taken from my favorite picture of him.

While I was showing Merlot, I did start to breed Abyssinians, and I did become a show judge.

While they all love me, they love Clint equally, and that special bond with only me just wasn’t there. Once in awhile, one of the other cats would sneak onto my pillow before Merlot, but that didn’t last long. Merlot would sit next to them, giving them kisses and purring away, and when they least expected it, WHACK! Off they went and he settled in for his night’s rest.

Tolerated other cats

Merlot was wonderful with kittens. I figure it’s because he knew they were not going to stay and he would not have to share me for long. He tolerated other cats as long as they did not try to take any of his spots when I was home.

About a year and a half ago, I noticed he was losing weight. But it didn’t look like good weight loss and I figured he had a bad tooth that needed to be taken care of. I will never forget the call from my vet. When they told me Merlot was in kidney failure and his levels were dangerously high, I burst into tears. I refused to accept that my best friend would die.

I did a lot of research and got Merlot into an experimental drug program. For 10 months, Merlot kept his weight and acted like himself. And while I was congratulating myself for figuring out how to beat a terminal disease, the drug stopped working.

I took Merlot to the vet twice a week for IV fluid therapy. He lost weight at a slow pace and continued to do well. But at that point I knew I was on borrowed time and every weekend I had to be away to judge a show, I didn’t know what I would find when I got home.

Turn for the worse

I returned from Denmark just before Merlot’s eighth birthday. I knew there had been a change for the worse the moment I got home. We went to the vet for a check-up. Merlot had developed sores in his mouth and couldn’t eat. I wasn’t ready to let him go and we decided on series of shots.

That day, Merlot thought he was a kitten again. He played laser with me — he knocked the little wooden cats off the window sill. He ate two cans of food and followed me everywhere, talking constantly. He had so much to say, and that night he curled up on our pillow, held my arm with his paws and purred in my ear.

When I came home from work the next day, Merlot was not the same cat I had left that morning. He could not eat the baby food I had bought  and he just huddled on the kitchen table. His eyes were no longer focused and he started to cry.

For the first time, I knew he was in pain and he was too good a friend to allow it to go on. So that evening, Merlot and I (and Clint) made our last journey together.

Merlot had lost his purr and was ready to leave. He had spent the previous day giving me all the memories of our life together and telling me his stories and that he had to leave — I just hadn’t understood the message. That night I set my best friend free and took all of his pain and transferred it into my heart.

I grieve for this little soul cat of mine, whose life ended the day before his eighth birthday. This morning I looked out my window and from the corner of my eye I noticed two little wooden cats. I smiled and waited for the little paw to appear.

It never came.

Rene Knapp writes Pet Talk, which appears in the Norwich Bulletin. Reach her at helpingpaws@sbcglobal.net