Many cartoonists and columnists appear in my Comic (and Column) Confessional memoir, but today I'd like to discuss a different being who's also in the book: Angus the cat.
I first met Angus in 2002, and we became close. But we became especially close six years later, after I was laid off from a magazine job I had held for many years. Suddenly, after working in offices for my entire adult life, I was home almost every weekday.
My wife still worked full-time and my daughter was away at college, so during many days it was just Angus and I. As I tethered myself to the computer looking for jobs and/or freelance work, a certain orange tabby was great company. The lovable fellow would sit in a pear shape by my chair, or, in colder weather, curl up on a towel I placed on a radiator cover in the tiny room that was my modest "home office."
Angus was also an outdoor cat (he'd go nuts if he didn't leave the house for a few hours during sunny days), so I let him exit and enter as necessary.
All this meant Angus loved that I was unemployed! He no longer had to wait for two full-time-working "parents" to come home at dinnertime or later. And I think having a person with him so much made the affectionate but at times edgy Angus a mellower cat.
My wife had found him in March 2001 -- 11 months before I met the two of them. Laurel, an Indiana State professor at the time, was bringing clothes to the laundry building of her Terre Haute apartment complex on a snowy day when a seemingly abandoned cat followed her. Then he followed Laurel back to her place, and she let him in and fed him. Laurel subsequently posted signs all around the complex, but no one claimed him.
So a feline had a new home and a new name: Angus. This outdoor-cat-to-the-bone enjoyed roaming the cornfield next to the apartment complex, and sometimes stayed out most of the night. At around 5 a.m., he would meow under Laurel's second-floor window and be let in, after which he gobbled some food and slept much of the day.
Laurel and I met in early 2002, and got engaged in 2003. We decided that she would move into my New Jersey house, partly because I didn't want to uproot my then-teen daughter Maggie from her school and friends. This meant a wrenching change for Laurel ... and Angus.
But after the long car trip and the initial trauma of a new place, Angus adapted. (This transition was also the subject of a January 2011 post I wrote on this site). The feline Jersey immigrant didn't always party like it was 1999 (his probable birth year), but he greatly enjoyed our small backyard -- and neighbors' backyards. Angus climbed trees, relished jumping at fireflies (never caught one), and, when wanting to come inside again, raced to the back door and smacked his paws against it.
Living with Angus (and having lived with other cats before that) also had its literary benefits. Whenever I read a book that included a cat, dog, or other animal, I could really relate to those four-legged characters -- and to their profound bond with humans. And if a fictional animal died, I could understand that grief on a very personal level as I recalled deceased cats who had shared my life.
Last winter, Angus started slowing down and sleeping even more than cats usually sleep. We brought him to the vet, and the diagnosis was leukemia. A daily dose of medicine eased some of his symptoms. And, to help him reach the sofa and his favorite windowsill, I strategically placed on the floor several boxes of the aforementioned memoir he appears in. So Angus still had some quality of life. He purred contentedly when he was stroked and brushed, and went outside to spend long summer days lazing in the sun.
But, last month, Angus got much weaker. While continuing to eat well, he had more trouble moving, slept restlessly, and lost interest in leaving the house. Like many other cats, he stoically carried on. Still, we began to think about when to put our dignified friend out of his misery.
On October 29, when Hurricane Sandy was buffeting New Jersey, Angus ate some food, walked stiffly to my chair for some petting, and, a few minutes later, collapsed. We rushed him through the wind and rain to the local animal hospital and, just as the vet prepared to put this suffering creature to sleep, Angus died on his own.
The next morning, the wind had quieted down, and our cat-less home was quiet as well.
Good-bye, little buddy.
If you'd like to share any stories of animals you've lived with, or discuss pets in literature, please do. Here's a November 2011 post I wrote about books featuring cats and dogs.