I have had many cats, and I have known many more.
I can say this confidently, Shadow was the best cat.
About 14 years ago we went to the SPCA shelter with our college roommates to get Lacey her birthday present. Right away he stood out from the other cats at the shelter; a striking blue black overcoat, with a deep earthy red undercoat that you could only see in direct sunlight. He was big for a 7 month old, the size of an adult cat but with the head of a kitten. It would be years before his head caught up to his body. His right hip was also a bit wonky, causing him to sit on his hip or his tailbone like a person. The skin on his tummy also sagged low, despite being fairly thin, because he'd had multiple surgeries to deal with a bad worm infestation. He had actually spent most of his life at that point in isolation from the other cats at the shelter.
But beyond the physical, he also had a different energy from any cat we'd ever known. He was as exuberant, and spastic, and playful as any kitten, but he had a deep and serene calm. He made prolonged eye contact, which for most cats is a sign of aggression, but for him it felt inquisitive and loving. In the middle of play, he decided to stop and mark each of us with his fang before crawling into one of our roommates' laps. It was as if he knew this was the curmudgeon he had to win over. I don't understand how anyone had passed him up, but we were lucky they did.
He had the deepest and most sustained purr of any cat, filling the room and resonating through walls. You could sit on the far end of the couch, and feel his purr rolling through the cushions. He was a joyful cat; a single touch, a moment of eye contact, a brief headbutt or a kind word and he would erupt into a purr session that might last an hour.
We never were sure what breed he was, but we guessed he was part Maine Coon, with his big furry paws and a body that grew over two feet hip to shoulder. The shelter had named him Canyon, because of his dark clay undercoat, and we were glad that he hadn't learned his name enough to respond to it. We waited a day or two, and renamed him Shadow. Not just because of his dark black overcoat, but because he would constantly shadow us from room to room. As smart as he was, it would be nearly a decade before he learned not to get under foot and trip us.
His needs were simple. He didn't like human food and he didn't have any interest in going outside. He turned his nose up at fancy wet food, even as his teeth began to fall out as an old man. He was smart too, he played fetch and taught himself how to open doors. When he figured out that the red dot came from the laser pointed, he was momentarily excited by the discovery... and then deeply disappointed, never wanting to play with it again.
He didn't get on the computer desk and demand your full attention, he understood when you were busy. He knew that if he just lay against our feet under the desk, we would pet him with our toes or take breaks to pay him some real attention and stoke his purr motor. On the couch he didn't needle our laps, spinning in place and shoving his rear end in our face until getting bored and leaping away like most cats. He would flop his whole body weight against our legs and rest his head in our lap. He didn't patrol the house at night, waking us with howling cries. He would get in the bed and curl up against our tummies', purring until he fell asleep, starting up again as soon as he awoke. All he needed to be happy was for us to rest a hand or a foot against him, just to know we were there.
Even in his decline over the past six weeks, he remained joyful. Even as the lymphatic tumors griped his throat, he kept purring. Even as they made him so itchy he was pulling his fur out in clumps across his whole body, he would curl up against us. Even as they spread through his intestines, he would get excited when we brought him cut up pieces of kibble, small enough for him to swallow. Even as he became so weak he could barely move from room to room, even as his instincts told him to hide from us, he would perk up and stare into our eyes and give us headbutts.
For the last month, whenever we would consider whether "it was time", we would put our hands on his shoulder and his purrs would erupt throughout the room. We didn't feel like we could make the decision for him, we wanted him to tell us when he was ready. He was joyful, even if it was interrupted by brief moments of panic as he struggled to regain his breath, he would always center back to being joyful.
On Saturday he stopped eating, and his purrs took on a strained, high pitch. On Sunday we were able to get him to eat two pieces of kibble, cut into eighths, almost like dust. But by the evening he was disoriented, unable to sustain his purr for more than a few minutes at a time, and only when propped up at certain angles to take the weight off his throat and lungs. He would only sit with us for a few minutes at a time before crawling back to a hiding place, and he became panicked if we tried to pull him out before he was ready.
He was telling us it was time. We stayed up with him all night Sunday, sitting by him and petting him, bringing him water. Every time he would start to drift into sleep, his breathing would pause and he would jerk himself awake. The other cats came to check on him, they knew something was happening.
We took him to the pet hospital early Monday morning, the nice one with the special quiet room just for this sort of thing. We were reluctant to let them take him out of the room to put the catheter in his arm. We could tell he was panicking as they took him away. When they brought him back in, he was panting and his tongue was out.
In the quiet room, with the dim lights, we sat with him for fifteen minutes while we waited for him to calm down. I only know it was fifteen minutes because the vet checked in on us three times, each time saying he would come back in five. Shadow's long body was stretched across my lap, his back legs hanging off to my left and his head resting in Lacey's hands to my right. Lacey started talking to him, reassuring him with her soft, familiar voice. He quickly pulled his tongue back in and eventually his breathing calmed as the tone of his purr lowered back into a comfortable register. He shifted his weight to get more comfortable, and we worried over the IV line as he jerked himself around. Eventually he sat up, and began peering around the room. He seemed almost like he'd returned to himself, like we might be able to just go home and wait a few more days. But I knew it was just the IV solution they'd used to flush the line, re-hydrating him and giving him a bit of perk. An illusion that could only be sustained with a constant IV drip.
The next time the vet came in to check on us, we agreed it was time. Shadow wasn't afraid of the vet, just curious. Lacey continued talking to him, her voice cracking as she reassured him that his pain and discomfort would be gone soon. His purr went on uninterrupted until he was given the first dose of anesthesia. In those last conscious moments as the white fluid entered his arm, he settled down and calmly rested his head back into Lacey's hands. Even unconscious, I could still feel the soft vibration of his purring as he breathed in and out, muted but unmistakable.
I almost stopped the vet from administering the second dose, I just wanted a few more minutes, but I knew the process couldn't be interrupted. Lacey centered herself as she continued to calmly talk to him and reassure him. As I watched the pink solution wash through the IV line, I could feel his breathing stop, but I could still feel the soft vibration of his purr. The vet prodded slightly with his stethoscope to check Shadow's heart. Lacey's words turned into sobbing as she allowed herself to begin crying and I continued to pet him. Eventually the vet just nodded to us and told us to take as much time as we needed before leaving the room.
He was still warm, and I continued to pet him without looking down. In my mind I was convinced I could still feel the vibration of his purring. Lacey continued to cry and kissed him on the head. I could feel my face contorting, tears rolling down my face. She dabbed the tears from both our faces, and I'm still not sure how long it took to regain our composure. Then I looked down at him, and I realized that he had gone cold everywhere except where I'd been petting him. It hit me again like a wave, throwing my head back and setting Lacey off again. As I continued to cry, I forced myself to look down at him.
After regaining our composure, Lacey kissed his head one more time and covered his face with the blanket. I pet him one last time to smooth down his fur, and we sat there in silence for a moment. She called the nurse in to collect his body, which he'd long since left. After she took him from my lap, I could still feel the soft vibration of his purr across my belly. I can still feel it now. We took a short moment to finish composing ourselves, rinsing the dried salt from our faces.
With all the human suffering in the world, some may question getting so emotional over the loss of an animal. But for us, Shadow was a retreat from the world and every awful thing in it. He was joyful, and he brought us joy every day in small sustaining doses. We already feel his absence, reminding us how lucky we were to have had as much time with him as we did.
At some point we will get back to posting about the game. We've been continuing to work on rebuilding for the new demo, but it's been difficult to get excited about anything this past month. It may continue to be difficult for a while longer.