The Big Orange Cat — that’s his name — that my wife and I adopted eight years ago spent last week wrapping up his time here on Earth. He was 18, but he got old all at once: no sign of aging until two weeks ago. Up till then, he was the same cuddly fluffy curmudgeon he’d been since the day he adopted us. (He lived in our yard when we rented the apartment and mounted a months-long campaign to charm his way inside.)
I’m aware of the cliche that small-town newspaper columnists write about gossip, religion, and cats, but yesterday is making it hard to be funny about anything else. It’s hard to even think about anything else, honestly. So I’m going to tell you my favorite story about this character instead.
After we adopted him, and against everybody’s better judgment, we boxed him up and took him to the vet for a distemper shot and general inspection. (Prairie State Animal Hospital in Oak Park, about whose staff I could not possibly say enough nice things in the 700 words with which I have to work. There are no superlatives sufficient for that crew’s kindness.) He was fine in the carrier, he was fine in the car, he was fine in the waiting room. (We have to wait while they review his file, which has “NOT PERMITTED TO BOARD W/US” scrawled on the cover in red ink. At least, I hope it’s red ink.)
The fun began in Exam Room Two.
He didn’t start growling right away. The two orderlies, the doctor, Emily and I discussed the best way to shuck him from his shell in ominous silence. Then they put him, still in the carrier, on the scale, and the room filled with the sound of angry bees. One of the orderlies produced a bright blue Velcro canvas funnel-thing, which turned out to be a combination blinder and muzzle. I dumped him onto the exam table. The bees increased in volume and incorporated a noise like a helium-powered car with a bad starter. I put my hand on his back, pinning him to the table like a butterfly. (I saw the vet do that once, and it worked reasonably well.) One of the orderlies slipped the hood over his face. She Velcro-ed it behind his ears, and the noises … intensified. This is where Emily had to leave. (“He didn’t sound like my snuggly kitty. He sounded like a velociraptor.”) The vet weighed the cat carrier while two orderlies and I held the cat down. Then she stuck him with his distemper shot, and everything went to hell.
Do you remember the moment in Lethal Weapon IV, during the fight at Murtaugh’s house, when Riggs briefly gets the drop on Jet Li, and Jet Li disassembles Riggs’ gun with one finger so fast that you can’t figure out what he did? The cat, Jet Li fast, ripped off the muzzle/mask and his collar with one hind foot while simultaneously scratching one orderly and slashing the other with the front two. I opened the door to the carrier before he could flee the premises or take a hostage, and he got in so fast I didn’t see it. One second he was on the table and a blink later he was in the carrier, back to the wall and screaming epithets.
The discussion in the waiting room as we settled the tab and left:
“He ripped off the MUZZLE. I’ve never seen anything do that before.”
“Me neither! My God. Just tore it off?”
“It was on, and then it was on the floor, and he was in the carrier.”
“That can’t be possible. How did he do it?”
“I don’t know — it was so fast.”
“What was so fast?”
“The cat in that carrier ripped off the muzzle when we gave him his shot.”
“He ripped off the MUZZLE? The BLUE one? I’ve never seen ANYTHING get one of those off.”
Etc. He achieved a measure of local fame in that office afterwards.
Now he is gone. He will never be forgotten.
We will miss you very much, big kitty. May we’ll see you down the road somewhere.