On Friday, I was teaching a class when I got a call from my girlfriend Katie. I couldn’t answer it right away, but when she called again after the class, I realized I should take it. The day before, she had taken her cat Mr. Peterson to the vet when he began acting listless, and I assured her that it was probably just something minor. I excused myself from the meeting I was in and walked into the hallway. It was there that she told me that he had been diagnosed with kidney failure, and she had put him to sleep that morning.
Some of us are cat people, some are dog people; some are pet people, some are not. If you’ve never had a pet before, the sick, heartbroken feeling you get when they leave your life may not be relatable, and that is one of the redeeming features of not having a pet. When you have a pet, you are wholly responsible for its well-being. You are the key factor in that pet’s quality of life, and good pet owners are as giving as they are able to their pets. When that pet dies, no matter what the circumstances and no matter how much you cared for him or her, you can’t help feeling that you let them down; after all, the pet didn’t let itself down, and there’s no one else around to shoulder the burden. It’s a crushing grief and guilt, even though it’s a skewed perspective on the matter.
Mr. Peterson was an incredibly sweet orange tabby. He was polydactyl, meaning he had a few extra toes. For him, they came in the form of thumbs on his front paws, which simultaneously made him look like he was wearing mittens, and made it seem like he could hold a pen or pencil to write a manuscript. Sadly, that manuscript is left unfinished. If you think you’ve never heard of him, you might be wrong. If some delightful (and random) woman has ever come up to you at a party and told you “my cat has thumbs,” then odds are good that the story of Mr. Peterson has become a part of your life also. This has happened more times than I can count, as it was Katie’s favorite ice breaker.
Mr. Peterson came into our lives when Katie noticed him following people up and down her street yelling at them. Apparently he had been recently abandoned, and was looking for a new home. I only witnessed his antics on the street once before Katie decided to adopt him. One day she saw him on the sidewalk, scooped him up, and brought him inside.
I slept over at her house his first night there. He still hadn’t decided who to imprint on, not realizing that I was just a visitor at the house. That night, he slept in bed with us, finding a spot right on the top of my head to lie on. His diet from the street differed greatly from his new one, and consequently he spent the night farting on my head. Actually, about an hour in, I threw him out of the room. Fortunately, his gastrointestinal issues improved over time.
Mr. Peterson and Katie quickly formed a close bond. Whenever I would call Katie, I would ask her for the “Peterson Report.” Here is one such report that she had emailed me:
Mr Peterson, the attractive feline resident of [Redacted] Road, could be found today curled up on a cozy sweater leaving a thick layer of orange fur. He then licked his genitals, got up, stretched, yawned and jumped down. Once on the floor he spotted an irresistible temptation: a wire. The wire had no chance. My Peterson defeated it quickly and humanely. He then placed the wire in his food bowl with some kibbles.
In addition, I left at least one phone message singing “Here’s to you, Mrs. Peterson.” Because Katie may have been my girlfriend for many years, but I had no doubts that she was really Mrs. Peterson.
Some of the things I loved about Mr. Peterson: He was very good-tempered. He was friendly, but wouldn’t take any unseemly behavior; he had no problem batting people (mostly loud children) with his paws if they bothered him too much (claws sheathed). He was very sensitive to noises. He announced his entrance into any room, usually multiple times, with his signature “Blau.” When someone got into the shower, he would stand outside the curtain and yell until they got out. He kept great company for anyone fortunate enough to use the bathroom at Katie’s house.
Mr. Peterson was so expressive. His pupils were almost always dilated, and he seemed to have a perpetual look of curiosity mixed with concern. His personality was huge, but in a very humble and dignified way; a genuine way that a lot of other cats could have learned from. He was a very very special presence, and the hole that he leaves in my heart feels bottomless.
I am so sad that we only got to know him for about four wonderful years. His kidney disorder took his life when he was only about five years old. This was a cat that I wish I could have gotten to know better over the years to come and to see the quirky and warm guy he would have become. I am overwhelmed by the unfairness that that will never be.
In lieu of flowers, balls of string, or odd sock puppets, Katie asks that you wait for some time to bring him up to her. The pain of loss is still raw and tender at this point. We all move on, but we do it in our own time.
So now the wires that he used to attack and then store in his food bowl are safe from harm. The Turkish rugs, his favorite receptacle for vomit, now have a reprieve. The wooden dresser is freed from the tyranny of being licked, and let’s just say that it is a good day for pieces of crinkly plastic across the world. As for those of us who knew Mr. Peterson; his warm, kind, gentile, orange, dignified, and loving soul will be in our hearts forever.