On paper this never should have worked. Carlos was managing an animal hospital in Miami and Tuxedo was the “transfusion” cat there, after being dropped off by his last owner for being mean. And mean he was; once, when he got out of his cage, he climbed to the top of a cabinet, pushed back an acoustic ceiling tile, and pulled himself up inside the celling to hide. Carlos had to find him, then grab him, and then get him down; which he did. But as he was setting Tuxedo down on the counter, the cat wrapped all four legs around his calf and he shredded Carlos with his claws.
That was my first time hearing about Tuxedo.
A few months later, Carlos asked if wanted another cat; we had four other cats, down from the original seven, and we didn’t really need another mouth to feed, so I said:
“Let me meet him.”
At the animal hospital, they brought him out and set him on a counter, and I instantly scooped him up, flipped hm on his back and started scratching his belly. Carlos’ co-workers were stunned that Tuxedo was allowing this to happen and so, yeah, we took him home.
And he was not happy. We kept him in the den downstairs so he could get used to the smell of the other cats and the smell of us, before we let him out. See, Tuxedo had been adopted out many, many times, and always brought back within a day or two because "he's mean and hides all the time." The last time, before we saved him, he was returned to the animal hospital and one of the doctors decided to declaw him so he might be more adoptable.
Never a good idea; mean cat .. hides all the time. What to do? What to do? I know! Cut off his fingers! See, declawing a cat isn't taking off fngernails, it's actually removing their "fingers" down to the first knuckle. So they can't scratch themselves, protect themselves, play. And it doesn't make them nicer, it turns them into biters.
“Maybe we should take him back.”
But I saw something in that cat.
“No, everyone takes him back and maybe that’s why he’s so mean. We’re not taking him back.”
Every day for over two weeks I went in the room where we were keeping him, and I sat there. And every day he came closer, sometimes close enough to bite me and run off; then close enough for me to pet him. And for him to bite me and run off. I threw a ball on a string and he’d chase it; I fed him and talked with him, and touched him when I could, and soon he sat in my lap. It took a good month or so, but Tuxedo became the sweetest cat, the smartest cat, the most playful cat ever.
He started sleeping with us—something he did every night after that until last night—and he took over the house. Scruffy, one of our tabby cats, had been the Head of Household when Tuxedo arrived, and Tuxedo took to following Scruffy and seeing how things worked; when breakfast came, when dinner was served; who went out in the mornings, and who stayed in. When Scruffy passed Tuxedo was Head of Household … again, until yesterday.
Sidenote: the night before he left us, I was holding Tuxedo, and Consuelo came into the room; I ran a hand along her back and told her that she would have to take over being in charge and Carlos muttered:
Y’all know Tuxedo was diagnosed with kidney disease and went on a special diet. Late last week he wasn’t too interested in his food and would only nibble at it. By the weekend, I decided he was done with that special food and started giving him his old food, and he loved that. But he was still losing weight and his back legs were growing a little more unsteady; he lost some muscle mass back there and was wobbly on his hind legs.
By Monday it was clear he wasn’t planning on being around much longer, but we wanted to wait and see; he was still eating a little, and was still drinking water, which kept him and his internal organs hydrated, and we hoped he would slip away quietly at home. Wednesday morning we knew that wasn’t going to happen, and so we once again made that call, and we took him to the vet that afternoon, where he passed quickly and quietly and peacefully with both of his Dad’s petting hm and kissing him and saying our goodbyes. Then we brought him home and buried him in the backyard alongside MaxGoldberg, his best friend.
Sidenote: I have always called him The Great Tuxedo, and Carlos has always muttered, “He’s not so great.” As we stood there crying in the backyard, Carlos said:
“He really was the greatest cat.”
I turned and said:
“Eighteen plus years and you never once said that!”
“I always told him, but didn’t tell you, because you’d get a big head.”
Last night we sat and talked about Tuxedo and the things we’ll miss: the way he loved us was tops, then came the way he welcomed people into our home. He never hid from strangers, he always met them and sat with them. Once time, a guy was here working on the dishwasher and Tuxedo sat right by his head as he lay on the floor working, and the man laughed about his ‘apprentice.’
I’ll miss the way he met me at the back door when I came home from work, and then walked with me not the bedroom to ‘talk’ while I changed clothes. I’ll miss the way he would play fight and bite me; the way he galloped down the hall when you called him to dinner. I’ll miss that face; oy, the punim on that cat. I’ll miss the way he made himself comfortable everywhere, from a windowsill to a kitchen floor to a spot against the wall.
We’ll miss the way he loved being outside with us, walking along the deck railing or just lying on the table and soaking up the sun. I’ll miss him sleeping n my lap, sleeping on the bed between, and sometimes on top of, his Dads.
I’ll miss every single thing about The Great Tuxedo, but I’ll remember what we learned from him: that if someone seems a little mean, a little shy, maybe even, oh I don't know, a bit of a biter, sit with them, hold out a hand, and maybe, after a while, they'll come to you and become one of the sweetest greatest friends you'll ever have.
We’ve lost a lost of pets over the years, but this one is really doing me in. I’ll be back sometime next week.
Thank you all for your kind words.