I often referred to him as my little Energizer Buddy because, at 22 years old, he kept going and going and going. Well, a week ago today, his batteries ran down for the last time.
I remember the day he arrived in our lives.
It was Valentine’s Day 1994 and my husband Ray was on his knees in our Jacksonville, Florida driveway, hacking down an oleander bush because every time he pruned it, he broke out in a nasty rash. Beside him, watching with great interest, was a tabby."Who's your buddy?" I asked, never once thinking that question would not only name the cat, but also launch a relationship that would surpass all the other pets I've had in my life.
We had a lot of stray cats because a feral tabby mother I called Angel, even though she wasn’t, had littered in our small patio home neighborhood with one batch of kittens after another. Live traps were useless because Angel simply disappeared when I set one. After 6 litters, she produced a one-eyed kitten, and then she had a bad miscarriage, forcing me to get super creative.
Angel was feral, but she was no fool. I grilled her a salmon steak with butter, left it inside a large walk-in dog cage positioned beside my sliding doorwall. The aroma lured her inside, and while she ate, I reached through the door to silently close the cage. When she finished her meal…she was trapped. Finally!
I know for a fact Buddy was Angel’s son. I clearly recall him among a litter of eight, dropped on our doorstep Christmas Eve 1991. We came home after midnight to find this furry batch of tiny kittens sleeping on our doormat. “Is someone playing a joke?” Ray shouted, scattering the kittens. Angel was notorious for bringing me her kittens to take care of when she was ready to return to her carefree, hoochie-mama lifestyle. That night she took back her kittens, but a week later they were in my backyard and they were mine, for a while.
|Buddy enjoys a bite of primo Michigan grass|
At that time my finances were tight, and running a Home for Wayward Cats wasn’t an option. I bought cheap cat food, and fed them (and yes, a few raccoons and possums) in my tiny yard as much as I could afford. I recall looking down at one of those kittens and seeing a tiny tabby with the absolute roundest eyes I’d ever seen on a cat.
His sweet face touched my heart, and I clearly recall saying, “Oh, you’re not going to be around for long. Somebody is going to adopt you.” And sure enough. A week later, he was gone -- only to reappear on February 14, 1994.
We asked around but our neighbors couldn’t say who owned him, though they had seen him from time to time in their yards. We loved Buddy’s happy-go-lucky personality and decided to adopt him.
The first thing we addressed was his respiratory problem. We could hear him breathing from across the room. He snorted a lot, and his meow had a raspy, almost electronic vibe to it. Our vet, Dr. Robert Gordon, said he had a large polyp growth in his nasal passage, and directed us to Gainesville Vet Hospital to have the surgery done.
I was in New York at a writer’s conference at the time, but recall Ray telling me when he asked the staff how Buddy was doing, they told him he was “eating like a little hog.” All the way home Buddy sat in Ray’s lap, joyfully rubbing his head against Ray’s neck and chin. That he’s allergic to cats, but let Bud do that, said volumes about how much Ray loved his new little buddy.
We left Jacksonville in 1999 for Lexington, Kentucky, and bought a house in Richmond on 5 acres. On a few occasions Buddy slipped out the door and took us on a merry romp through the surrounding woods, with Ray and I digging deep for just the right curse to describe our fear and frustration that he might never be found.
Then, in 2003, Buddy was diagnosed with diabetes and required insulin twice a day. Told that he needed exercise, I put him on a body harness and we walked the property twice a day. This made me reflect on the "what if's." In Jacksonville Buddy's favorite activity was jogging on our treadmill. What if we'd not sold it? What if he had continued to jog? Would he not have become diabetic then?
At first he was sluggish, but then I showed him the huge wood pile. Ray’s favorite hobby was chopping down trees that “supposedly” would be coming down anyway if he didn’t take them down first. Buddy thought the wood pile was great fun, and would scramble to the top, then run along the length which kept growing with all the “necessary” trees that continued to be felled.
Not only did Bud lose weight, but the exercise kick-started his pancreas -- and he began to produce his own insulin. So when I gave him his shot that evening he went into diabetic shock and had a seizure. Naturally that occurred on a Sunday night, so the wild ride from the country into town to an emergency vet hospital was an expensive, eye-opening experience. That happened on a couple other occasions throughout the next 10 years, making me super-watchful of possible changes.
Have you ever had a diabetic pet? The amount of time and care and expense is phenomenal! Special food costs a fortune. Insulin costs about $125 for a vial that may last a month. Needles. Blood draws for glucose readings if you aren't able to draw and do a reading at home.
Diabetes meant Buddy was officially tied to my side. When I traveled, he traveled. There was only a couple occasions when I left him with my vet. Otherwise, he road in the back of our van, complete with bed, litter box and ice cooler containing his insulin. Later, he needed a ramp because arthritis made it difficult for him to walk much less jump onto a bed.
He traveled relatively well, although he always protested the initial start of each trip by using his litter box within moments of the van moving. Not a simple pee. Nope. The special Diabetes Management food he required turned his poop into a toxic-smelling event that demanded immediate attention. We swore he deliberately did it to punish us. What’s more, over time, he figured out that his protest had more of an impact when I was behind the wheel. If Ray was driving, I could easily “deal” with the problem.
However, if seated on the passenger side, Ray would shriek at the first whiff, roll down the window and hang his head out, gasping for air. As we are night drivers to avoid daytime road traffic and construction chaos, more often than not this occurred in the wee hours of the morning on one of those long stretches between exits. I became adept at pulling over to clean the litter box while Ray pantomimed dry-heaving.
We left Kentucky in 2005 and after a 6 month stay in Pensacola, FL, ended up in a suburb of Memphis, TN, turning our six hour trips from Kentucky to Michigan into thirteen-plus hours. Those additional hours meant Buddy’s Revenge could be re-enacted at least twice, if not a remarkable three times! However, after we added Herman to our traveling road show, I think Bud felt comforted that he wasn’t alone on our trips. Though younger, Herman provided him with feline companionship, and often they would lie side by side, perhaps sharing mutual exasperation over how long the drive was taking.
I think one of the happiest trips we took with Buddy was to Gatlinburg, TN. We rented a chalet that Bud enjoyed exploring, and there he had rib-eye for the first time, a treat he ate with such relish that we made certain he received it for subsequent birthdays and “just because” days.
On what would become Buddy’s final trip to Michigan, he did something he had not done in years. He demanded to sit up front with us. During our early trips we sometimes brought our Siamese, Holly, to keep Buddy company. Together for 18 years, they behaved like an old married couple with Holly chattering in his face over some offense, and Buddy retaliating by walking across her stomach in order to get off the bed. Holly, The Queen, refused to travel in the back and would ride in my lap the whole trip. Eventually Bud decided that he needed equal up-front time, and so I would arrive at our destination covered in cat hair. Holly passed of kidney failure in 2010, and I know Buddy wasn’t the same after he lost her. They truly were soul mates.
|Holly on 18th birthday|
Our trip on June 11th had Herman riding in my lap, as usual, but when he went in the back to use the “facilities” Buddy surprised me by making an attempt to come up front. So I pulled him into my lap, and propped him up so he could see out the windshield, much to Herman’s utter shock. Herm eventually settled on a pillow on the console between our seats, but the moment Bud decided to return to his bed, Herman was back in my lap.
June 18th already held a sad memory for me with the sudden passing of my dad in 2009. That morning, a week ago now, my day started like all the others with me up at 6 am to feed Buddy before he received his insulin at 6:30. At 11 o'clock I heard him yowling. That usually meant he was “crashing” and needed canned food. He surprised me by eating like he was starving when I knew he wasn’t.
Then his left side gave out from under him. Lying on his side, he continued to eat voraciously. I held him up while he ate. Finally, he got his footing, but then started to walk in circles. No doubt about it, he’d had a stroke. In December a chemical profile revealed he had elevated white cells and calcium, indicating the likelihood of cancer. And yet we noticed he never once wavered from his good-natured personality, despite whatever disease was slowly taking his life.
In April we adopted Dori, a stray tabby kitten, who took instant liking to “Grampa Buddy.” I think Dori’s adoration gave Buddy a little boost during his final weeks. Oh sure, at first he was cranky over her need to hang out with him, even joining him in his bed to snuggle--something Buddy did not like to do after arthritis set in. But eventually I noticed them sharing his food dish, and his bed, and he didn’t seem upset by her presence.
The night before he passed, he ambled into the living room to see what everyone was doing, and for the first time in ages he joined me in my lounge chair for awhile, just to hang out like he did when he was younger.
|Dori and her Grampa, Buddy|
My phone alarm is still set to go off at 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., the times Buddy needed his insulin shot. After 10 years, it’s not easy to simply say … it’s over. But it is. I still automatically reach for his bowl in the morning. I still glance into my bedroom where he spent his final years to check on him. My phone’s lock photo shows one of the last photos I took of him before he had his stroke.
So many great photos taken of Bud over the years. How am I going to choose which one should grace his cremation urn?
|Typical buggy-eyed Buddy|
|One of my very favorites|
|We celebrated Buddy's birthday every Valentine's Day|
|1st photo of Christmas 1999 photo shoot & only usable photo|
|Those expressionable eyes|
|He maintained a sunny disposition throughout his life|
|Kentucky approx 2003|
That Buddy lived to be 22 years old and had diabetes for the last 10 years of his life is truly phenomenal. He had a joyful life, never once wondering what his place was in our home. He was always Number One with us. Ray and I have each had cats that prefer one of us over the other, but Buddy never had a preference. Buddy loved Ray and I equally. Of course there are few photos of me with Bud since I'm the photographer in the family.
|Buddy slept on my arm for most of his life, but arthritis soon made him want his own bed|
|Among my favorite photos|
But at 22, Bud was 104 in human terms. With diabetes, arthritis and possibly cancer riddling his body, it was his time. I shed tears because I miss him, but letting him go was surprisingly much easier for me than it has been with cats I’ve had in the past that died much younger. I knew he was in pain, I knew his quality of life had long been over. That his final week had been spent on a road trip where he exerted his preference to sit up front was a poignant exclamation point on what had been an exceptionally amazing life.
Rest In Peace, dearest Buddy. You’ve earned your spot in a warm sun puddle over the Rainbow Bridge, and are now reunited with your beloved Holly.
|Buddy & Holly together 18 years|
If you knew Buddy and would like to comment, please do! Even if you didn't know him, you're welcome to share a favorite memory of your own beloved pet now resting at peace.