Monday (3/12/18), I drove my cat, Dexter, to the vet. He had been lethargic for a few days and the last 24 hours saw him throwing up seven times. He couldn’t hold food down and barely drank water. As I sat on the floor in our guest bedroom, trying to get as close as I could, he looked at me with eyes that told me that he wasn’t well. My wife Laurie asked me to get a vet appointment, which I did.
I took Dex to see “Dr. Heidi,” one of the most talented and emotionally sensitive veterinarians I’ve ever met—and I’ve known a few. She did a brief “touch and feel” diagnostic and suggested some things she should do to get a better handle on Dexter’s distress. I sent a text message to Laurie and we agreed to proceed. I ran a few errands and returned to the vet’s office. Dr. Heidi entered the exam room, but this time, she had a grim expression on her face—and I recognized that look immediately. She showed me x-rays that revealed a tumor, and a rather aggressive one. This would explain the speed of Dexter’s health decline. As a vet is required to do, Dr. Heidi explained that the next courses of action would border on the heroic, with no assurances that it could extend Dexter’s life. I knew exactly what she was telling me. Already on the brink of tears, I told her that I wanted to take Dexter home while Laurie and I discussed the obvious. As I was leaving the vet’s office I sent a simple text message to Laurie, “Please call Dr. Heidi.” As a sidebar, Laurie worked for a veterinarian for 5 years, so she—more than I perhaps—understands these things.
Laurie came home. Mercifully, she was at the end of work as this news was unfolding, so she was able to escape before the emotion overtook her. We were back in our guest bedroom, talking to and petting Dexter, trying to rationally deal with the flood of emotions racing through our heads.
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We were not ready for this. Dexter came to us by happenstance. Laurie first found him sleeping in a patio swing we had covered. Later, he actually found his way to our bedroom window—on the second floor of our home—and he would sit outside and holler until we let him in the house. He was very friendly even then—he picked us—and we were immediately hooked! When he needed to go outside to do “his business,” we obligingly let him out. You see, Dexter was always an indoor/outdoor cat, and his litter box was the great outdoors. He wouldn’t allow himself to use something as pedestrian as a real litter box! That’s how it started. By the way, we created an entrance—including a pet door—to the house so Dex could come and go without us having to let him in or out!
Over the years, our affection for this little guy grew—even tolerating him being skunked seven times!! He loved to show off and when we were in the back yard, he would meow to get our attention and once he knew he had it, he would race to and up one of our trees to show us just how fast and agile he was! He had us wrapped around his paw and he knew it.
Dexter’s “extended” family included the people who fostered him from birth, the McDaniels family, their neighbors across the street, affectionately known as “Grandma Rita” and “Grandpa Harold,” and, of course, Laurie’s mom, Marge. Marge lived with us and Dexter was her protector, right up to her passing in September of 2017.
Dexter had permanent wanderlust and despite our desires, he was always going to be an indoor/outdoor guy. As a result, he had a number of dust ups with neighbor cats. His ears were pristine when we adopted him permanently, but over the years, his battle scars included the aforementioned ears that now looked like they had been hit with pinking shears. But we loved him dearly and he loved us.
As a professional videographer, much of my work involves editing. Dexter, feeling that I didn’t have the best grip on the task at hand, insisted on helping me. First, he sat in a guest chair next to my work area, but then he took up residence on my desk, so I had to look over him to see what I was doing! The many hours I spent in my office were always better when Dex was keeping me company, hence his designation as my “official associate editor!”
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We returned to the vet’s office Monday afternoon and were met by Dr. Heidi’s vet tech assistant, Debby. Debby has the same sensitivities as does Dr. Heidi and they are a perfectly matched pair. They explained the procedure (which we knew as we’ve had to say goodbye to other four-legged family members before). I knelt down on the floor and held Dexter as close to me as I could as I whispered to him, “I love you…I’ll miss you.” Laurie was right next to me. As Dexter left us (we believe to go be with Marge), I started sobbing as hard as I have in years. In a separate story, Laurie talks about the three or four times she’s seen me cry. I can assure you it’s been more than that—more often than she might imagine. Those moments after the procedure are agonizing because you don’t want to leave, but there’s no reason to stay, and you just don’t want to interact with anyone else. Thankfully no other clients were in the clinic when we left, and the staff couldn’t have been kinder.
Monday, we drove our cat to the vet. And then we drove home alone. Good bye, Dexter…we love you.
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Post Script: Among the many gracious comments on our social media posts about our loss came this one, “It is incredible how you get so attached to a furry, arrogant, demanding, narcissistic and yet wonderfully sweet, loving and enjoyable feline.” Couldn’t have said it better.
Cats have always had a bad rap…they aren’t affectionate, they are too aloof, and others. And then there are the less-than-sensitive types that would say, “it’s just a cat…get over it.” Here’s a news flash: Cats ARE affectionate and loving and Dexter was a clear example of both, and only a fool would dare say that to my face.
Writer’s note: This story presents my perspective of my relationship with Dexter and is nowhere near the full story. To read another take on our wonderful friend, I invite you to read Laurie’s blog here: https://theferalcatblog.wordpress.com/2018/03/13/dexter-buddy
I also want to send a note of thanks to Jeff Haden, who wrote a moving LinkedIn article in 2015 about “His Best Coworker” that inspired my story. I started and ended my piece in a similar manner as Jeff did.