October 22, 2018

Shadow (2001-2018)

Shadow (2001-2018)

I am a dog person. I would never have chosen a cat.

But back in 2001, my roommate and I lived in an apartment that didn’t allow dogs, and when my then-girlfriend, Michelle, moved in, she wanted a pet. She sold me on the Maine Coon (so named for their lion-like maine when adults) as a breed because of their dog-like nature. So reluctantly I agreed, and we ended up with a few-month old kitten who came from show cats but was the runt of the litter we named Shadow (then later “Viking Shadow,” because we thought the Maine Coon resembled the Norwegian Forest Cat).

I suppose the fairy tale version of this story goes that I instantly fell in love with his slightly naughty but basically wonderful antics. But life isn’t like that. Shadow’s kitten antics were sometimes extremely frustrating. His yowl was like fingernails on a chalkboard, and would continue all night. And after surprising me by leaping on my back and kneading the hell out of it, Michelle was more than vaguely worried that I might just kill him.

I didn’t kill him.

Shadow and I reached a truce; he didn’t surprise me like that, and I didn’t get so angry at him. And then something strange happened. Even though it was Michelle who doted on him, Shadow started wanting to spend more time near me. Then on my lap. Then he’d follow me around and greet me when I came home. And somehow, I have no idea how or why, Shadow decided he was my cat.

He loved to sit on my chest and purr, which I found calming. He’d sit on my keyboard, my musical equipment, and never seemed to mind the loud aggro noise coming out of the speakers. And when my day would be over and it was time to watch TV or a movie, he’d always kick the dogs out of his way and take his place as my lapcat.

He could be bitter and cantankerous and ruled our giant schnauzer, Luna, with an iron paw. Eventually, he ruled Reilly and Drax as well. But he did like people, and loved to meet and greet people as they came over, and was very friendly as far as cats go. Even non-cat people agreed that he cut a striking figure, being larger than the usual cat (even as a runty Maine Coon, he still clocked in at nearly 14 pounds at his heaviest). In fact, to my amusement he actually freaked out a couple people, one who was afraid that he was a Lynx.

He did have one achilles heel—he was never a good eater, and was extremely thin. Despite tests, vets never found anything wrong with him, he just had no extra weight. And we knew that meant that when he did start to shut down, he’d go fast.

The average lifespan of a Maine Coon according to maincoonexpert.com is 11 to 13 years. Also according to that site, Maine Coons are prone to Polycystic Kidney Disease, for which there are no symptoms in their youth, and no treatment available other than a low protein diet. In his 17th year, it became clear that his health was fading. He could barely see. He had severe arthritis in his back legs and couldn’t straighten them or jump high anymore. Shadow definitely began to exhibit symptoms of PKD, with a very poor appetite, vomiting, and peeing all the time. But he still had energy, loved spending time with me, and was still cantankerous when displeased.

But after he turned 17, things changed. His energy waned. He stopped being cantankerous. All the fight was gone. He stopped meticulously grooming himself and we had to bathe him more and try to get out the mats that he no longer cleaned out of himself. But he didn’t whimper or seem like he was in pain, even as he didn’t move around much, except to explore the back yard, which as an indoor cat he rarely did–as if he was looking for the right place to rest. But he still responded to my voice, and to my company.

This weekend, as fast as we feared it might happen, his health collapsed. On Saturday, he seemed a bit sluggish, and worryingly was whimpering. By Sunday, he was barely able to move. Monday I spent as much time as I could just stroking his back and talking to him, until after work Darcee drove to the vet and I held Shadow, barely breathing, in a towel in my lap one last time. There really wasn’t any decision to make—Shadow was finished here, and just needed to rest. So at about five o’clock on Monday afternoon, we said our final goodbye.

I am a dog person. I would never have chosen a cat.

But I’m glad Shadow chose me.