We hadn’t planned on getting a cat.
Oh, sure, we’d talked about it. But moving from country to country every two years like we did for the first eight years of our marriage wasn’t conducive to having a pet. It wasn’t until we moved back to the US in 2001 that we even gave adopting a cat a second thought. But even then it was something we’d do in the future, when the time was right.
As it turned out, the right time was May 11, 2002, when I went to a local PetSmart to see if I could find some equestrian gear for a friend. They were having an adoption event and I got to play with puppies and an adorable schnauzer before I went into the cat area. All the cats were all wonderful, of course—the huge gray Maine Coon, the equally huge orange tabby, the kittens, the long-haired gray tabby.
And then I wound up next to a cage marked “Cass.” A couple and their kids had been cooing and sticking their fingers through the bars to pet whatever was in there, but moved on to the next row of cages. When I peered through the grill, I saw a little black cat sitting there. He spotted me and blinked slowly at me. He wasn’t adorable, he wasn’t doing tricks or grabbing my attention—he just looked at me. I reached in to scratch behind his ears, and he moved his head until I had just the right spot.
When I pulled my hand back he stood up, carefully walked his front paws up the cage until he was balanced on his hind paws, then reached out through the bars and laid his paw on my nose.
“That is so sweet!” another customer declared. “I think he just picked you!”
I’m not one to miss a sign. I called Lyndon and told him how I’d been chosen. He was quite pleased and said, “I think you need to bring that cat home,” so I filled out the forms, paid the adoption fee, got all the necessaries, and brought Cass back to the apartment.
After some discussion, he was renamed J.J. Pussycat Fletcher, J.J for short, and for the next twenty-one years he would be my shadow and bodyguard (I’m serious about the bodyguard bit—if a repairman or some stranger came into the apartment J.J. would remain at my side glaring at the interloper until they left). He was extremely smart, would come get us if something was wrong (we started saying, “What is it, Lassie? Is Timmy down the well again?”), and loved being in the same room with me.
And he got big. I don’t mean fat—I mean long, broad, and muscular. We’re talking back yard panther. One time a Girl Scout came by to sell cookies and peered past me at J.J. who was lounging on the stairs. “That’s a BIG cat,” she said admiringly.
At the time Lyndon and I had office jobs and didn’t want J.J. to get lonely so we got him a black and white cat named Jordan as a companion. They got along well enough for a handful of years until I rolled over Jordan’s tail with my office chair. I don’t know what his yowl meant in Cat, but clearly he was calling me everything but a child of God because J.J. came charging into the room and launched himself at Jordan. The two bowled out of my office in a shrieking, spitting ball and I had to throw water on them to separate them. After that J.J. hated Jordan and would hiss at him any time he came near (which was often because Jordan kept trying to make amends).
In 2011 we got Jessica and Jeremy as kittens and the guys became Uncle J.J. and Uncle Jordan after a somewhat rocky start, taking care of the kittens like they were their own offspring. Jeremy became Jordan’s best buddy and Jessie was definitely Uncle J.J.’s girl, although I have pictures of both of them curling up with Uncle J.J. looking after them watchfully.
In 2013 we lost Jordan to GI lymphoma. Three cats were okay, but we liked having four of them so we adopted Jemma (the tortie) and Jasmine (the grey striped tabby) in 2014 from some friends of Lyndon’s who were moving and couldn’t bring the cats with them. Yes, I know that makes five—it’s a long story. For the last nine years we’ve been a household of five cats and two humans, said household definitely run to suit the cats’ needs.
Then medical problems struck again. In 2017 J.J. was diagnosed with kidney insufficiency and was given one to three years to live, which broke our hearts. Of course, he promptly ignored that and continued on with his life, cheerfully eating the special kidney food for a year before turning his nose up at it. We figured at this point he could eat whatever he liked so we fed him well in an attempt to keep as much weight on him as possible. Jessica and Jeremy became champs at hoovering up anything he left uneaten and turned into a pair of chonks. We tried to explain to them that once Uncle J.J. crossed the Rainbow Bridge the never-ending buffet would come to and end and they’d go on diets, but they preferred to live in the moment and enjoy the leftover treats and Lick ’n’ Lap.
In the last few years J.J.’s health problems increased. He developed kitty dementia and “cloudy window” cataracts, and started going deaf. He also had problems with peeing in the litter boxes (he would go up to the litter box, look at it, then squat a foot from the entrance) so we started adding pee pads under them so that he could pee (and poop) on those. Over the last few months we turned the futon in the living room into a hospital bed for him, putting a plastic tarp down and layering that with cushions, pee pads, and bedding that would get changed with increasing frequency. His last checkup was in December 2022, and apart from his assorted health issues he was in remarkably good shape—BP was normal, heart and lungs sounded fine.
So we celebrated Christmas and New Year’s with him, and January and February 2023 passed with me changing his bedding multiple times a day, giving him water, treats, and sponge baths (which he would demand by going into the bathroom and yowling until I came running), and cuddling him whenever he wanted. On 2/27 we noticed that he was very unsteady on his feet, and on 3/1 I picked up a banana bag from our vet so that I could give him sub-Q fluids. He stopped eating on 3/3 and showed signs of an upper respiratory infection.
I took him into the vet on the morning of 3/6. She said he was in end-stage kidney failure judging by the strong odor of uremia on his breath, and asked if I wanted him to be put to sleep. He’d been alert and active the day before, I explained, and had been on the cusp of death a couple of times before until he bounced back. We both agreed that she should treat the URI and give him meds and an appetite stimulant, and I’d keep giving him the sub-Q fluids every day, but that we’d hold an appointment on 3/8 for euthanasia in case it became necessary.
He spent the next two days being well and truly spoiled by everyone in the house, even Jemma (whom he didn’t like for some reason), and somehow pulled yet another miracle out of his furry behind. On the morning of 3/8 Lyndon burst into the bathroom while I was busy adding to the land mass of Texas and told me excitedly that J.J. had just eaten some kibble.
I cancelled the vet appointment and the Elderly Gentleman bounced back for a good week and a half, eating everything offered to him and snoozing happily in sunbeams. He also started developing constipation due to his kidney failure which required daily warm water enemas to help him pass the poop. But hey, I was already giving him sub-q fluids so what was one more medical procedure?
Unfortunately, this was just a brief surge interlude, not a true recovery. J.J. stopped eating again on 3/17, and today he started refusing water, which we knew was the final step. I administered a painkiller so that he’d be able to sleep comfortably for the afternoon, and called our vet to make the appointment tomorrow morning. Being the stubborn little pooper that he was, J.J. decided to go on his own terms in his own bed this afternoon at 5:15 PM. He’s buried in the back yard with Jordan and Sandy’s ashes and I’ll be planting a rose bush over his grave as a memorial of the best bodyguard—the best cat—I could have ever asked for.
Thank you for choosing me all those years ago, J.J. You made my life wonderful.