Anyone who read this blog in 2012-13 may have encountered posts concerning Dexter: my grief over his impending loss, and my later satisfaction regarding his memorial tattoo. In the former of the two, I remarked that I was regretful that I had neglected to get around to fulfilling the “And probably cats” part of this blog’s tagline before being faced with Dexter’s passing. It’s been quite some time and today I’m in a much better place, and this day marks an event that seems perfect for the next Probably Cats.
So meet Monty, the feline bedrock of our household. Today he turns 15.
Monty was our first kitten, and from day one, he’s been a font of lessons. His first was that the nouveau riche of Okemos, Michigan will actually charge 20 bucks for a plain brown tabby kitten with no vaccinations. The lessons continued after that: one should not arrive to adopt a kitten without an appropriate transport vessel, and thus one should definitely not expect to effectively hold onto the same squirmy, razor-clawed kitten in a car while their girlfriend shops for a litter box and kitten food in Target; internet videos of kittens abruptly falling over into sleep are not staged; kittens are evidently comprised of 85% rubber, being able to drop, flop, smash, and crash into every conceivable surface, in any possible posture, and run off without a second thought; don’t accidentally block the entrance of your three-year-old cat’s kittenhood cardboard house, for he will tell you in a pathetic voiceless meow just how that distresses him; the bold left hook of an 11-year-old cat, even if clawless (something we’ve come to regret), can so startle all 60 pounds of a too-curious greyhound, that she’ll yelp and promptly back off.
Monty has also taught us the value of simply adapting to change, and in knowing very clearly what you can control and what you cannot. Monty’s moved with us through seven different residences, including the 10-hour drive between Michigan and Georgia. Monty’s the first to retreat into a glowering silence during a move, but he’s also the first to emerge back into a purring, contented cuddle only a couple of hours after leaving his carrier.
Monty has been fantastic as a source of these goofy, sweet, and heartwarming lessons about playtime, catnip addiction, the odd neuroses of domesticated cats, and the general uselessness of getting too upset about the small things. But the deepest well of Monty’s lessons lay in the complexity and fulfillment of companion animal bonding. In that, my dear Monty has taught a master’s class.
Monty has had a total of five pet siblings: the elder Thacker when he was first adopted, the kitten Dexter shortly after Thacker’s passing, and now the significantly younger Miles (almost 8), Eve (3), and Penny (5). He learned the great patience of the elder cat from Thacker, who begrudgingly indulged him every day of the eight years they spent as brothers, and he has deployed that same unflappable patience with his juniors ever since. Monty learned the magic tranquilizing powers of grooming uppity kittens, soothing a bitey Dexter or calming a fidgety Eve when he’d rather sleep, creating two snuggly sleep pals in the process.
But it is with Jessica that Monty is himself at his purest. In my life I have known many dogs and cats in the families of friends and relatives, but I have never witnessed a devotion and bond as deep and abiding as Monty’s with Jessica. For about ten years now, Jessica has been Monty’s everything: the sun in his day and the stars in his night. Whenever she sits still, he finds her lap; whenever she’s sad, he purrs in her arms; whenever he’s uncertain, he seeks her comforting hugs; whenever she’s gone, he arranges offerings of numerous cat toys on her side of the bed to barter for her safe return. And when she tries to comprehend just how he can be so magnificently loving, he doubles down with gazes that can only be described as worshipful, and seals it with gently returned pets of his paw upon her cheek.
I’ve long since abandoned any hope of achieving a tenth of Jessica’s standing in Monty’s eyes. I’ve come to accept that any time I begin petting Monty in hopes of negotiating some lap time, it’ll last only a few moments until his purr huffs into a grunt as he heaves to his feet to find Jessica, as if to say, “Ya know, that’s a really great idea! Let me go find Mom.” Yet I never begrudge him when I hear how loud and deep that purr grows when he arrives in her waiting arms. Still, this wonderful old man’s capacity for affection is so great that he tosses me a fantastic, sustaining scrap every now and then.
Whatever his preference, I know we can equally depend on him when we need him most. Monty has accompanied Jess and I through virtually all of our adult lives, amplifying our happiness in our best moments, and consoling us like nothing else as we each have faced our worst challenges or losses. For his part, Monty’s endured ultrasounds during kidney disease scares, extractions of skin growths that left him bare-skinned, radiation treatment for an over-active thyroid, and tooth extractions that have left him with only 75% of his fangs.
At 15, he’s tough, he’s healthy, and he still wants the same things from life he has for years. Some are bare necessities: a water fountain to lap from, a big bowl of dry food to crunch, and a steady supply of high potency catnip toys. Some are intermittent indulgences: tuna to eat (mostly juice from the can), wheat grass to gnaw (and later barf if I let him have it for more than 2 minutes), and a thorough brushing (accompanied, oddly enough, by a silicone dish brush we’ve kept around because he absolutely loves rubbing his face and gums over it during a brushing). Still, I suspect that these are trivialities to Monty, because what endures in between all these small details is a lap to curl up on and a hand to give pets. Over 15 years, Monty’s sweetness endures. Monty’s patience with his siblings endures. Monty’s status as the catriarch of the household endures. Monty’s boundless affection endures.
Happy birthday, old man. I marvel at the 15 years I’ve known you, and I marvel at you.