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Our Leo: In Loving Memory of One Great Cat

by Mike Stanfill, owner and operator of the Infinite Cat Project.

ack in early 2002 my girlfriend's 20-year-old cat, Mopsey, passed away due to the rigors of time. She was so heartbroken by her loss that she said she wouldn't consider getting another cat. But as her birthday was imminent I figured it was up to me to prove her wrong, so I visited the local animal shelter and chose this little guy, a 4-month-old brown tabby, as a birthday present.

Hi! i'm Leo!

She loved him immediately, naming him Leo after a night's contemplation, and he turned out to be One Great Cat. Bright, endlessly curious, and insistent upon being in the middle of everything at all times. Wherever we were, Leo was there trying to figure out how to get in on the action. Wherever we slept, he slept next to us, and on Sunday mornings we had our choice of either the newspaper, our breakfast, or one insistent cat on the table, but never all three at once. We called him "The Bulldozer" because nothing could stop him once he'd made up his mind.

Strangely, he seemed to be born part cow, determined to eat anything that was green and growing. No house plant was safe from this voracious little devil. No shelf was too high and no door protected house plants well enough from his ninja-like attacks at unguarded moments. His proudest conquest was a 6-foot yucca plant which he systematically disassembed leaf by leaf, mostly at night while we slept. In short order his home offered nothing but plastic imitation greenery, but he still got his ration of grass from the backyard and plenty of green tid-bits from our salad plates.

And not just grass, either. We used to give him some long lengths of braided nylon cord to play with, but we'd wake up the next day to find it mysteriously missing. It didn't take us long to figure out he was eating it like a kitty Twizzler.

This desire to gnaw on things almost killed him. At some point in his life, before we acquired him from the pound, he had ingested a large wooden bead which eventually lodged in his gut, requiring emergency surgery. We always considered this Life Number Two of his nine lives, the First having been spent escaping the pound alive.

Nosy Leo

Life with Leo was good until about year ago when, at the age of ten, he broke his right hind foot. However, even after two months in a cast, which he endured with unsurprising patience, it never really healed. One day soon after the cast came off we noticed his hips wouldn't support his weight properly, then his back legs gave out completely. Many tests later revealed the worst: he had FeLV, feline leukemia. Cats with this disease rarely make it to even four years of age, much less a robust eleven. As I said, Leo was special.

For the past six months his body continued to deteriorate, his muscles wasting slowly away with each passing day, but he still remained the same gentle, happy soul. Though barely able to crawl he always let us know when it was time to go to the litter box (well, almost always) or when he was hungry, and he always loved snuggling next to us as we watched TV or read books, purring contentedly.

For quite some time he managed to function as normally as possibly with what seemed a miraculously invulnerable right arm, but even that eventually failed him. When at last he could no longer lift his head to eat or drink we knew it was time to set him free. Eventually it was clear that he was shutting down all on his own so the girlfriend hired a local vet to come to the house to help him along his way as humanely as possible.

Leo's last moments

The vet administered two shots, the first of which we were told sent Leo into a deep, dream-filled sleep. The second shot neutralized his lower brain functions, releasing him forever from the burden of his ruined, useless body. Thus he drifted away quietly in his sleep on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon, cradled safe and warm in the arms of the woman who loved him best.

We buried him in a small garden surrounded by a spray of fragrant herbs. The view was his favorite, a patch of lawn just outside the patio door. I have no doubt that he'll enjoy watching the grass grow while waiting for unwary birds to come too close, if only in spirit.

Leo's grave marker.

You don't get many Great Cats in a lifetime, and we will always hold this one dear in our memories.

"Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened."

Theodore Geisel.