We're not supposed to have favorites but of course we do, and it was my favorite sweet little guy Tsimmes who died this past weekend. It's the one thing our cats and dogs don't do well: They do not live long enough.
Tsimmes came to us almost 16 years ago. In a world of gorgeous kittens he was, well, sort of funny looking and he grew up to be a funny looking adult: a red tabby with an undersized head (OK, maybe a bit of an oversized body), too long in the rear legs and too short in the front, and with a tail that turned into a question mark hook at the end. But what he may have lacked in physical beauty he more than made up for in personality.
For those of you who did not grow up Jewish in New York, tsimmes is a sweet potato casserole dish (my Bubba made a great one) and our Tsimmes earned the sweetness of that name.
Throughout his too short life, he warmly welcomed countless dogs (including a litter of one-day old puppies and their nursing mom), other cats, guinea pigs, birds, lizards, turtles and fish. For him, the predator-prey relationship began and ended with canned food: There was not a single animal or person who he ever met with anything but curiosity and gentleness, a trait that startled many a repair-person and pizza deliverer over the decades greeted at the front door by several dogs and one unlikely cat (the other members of our feline family doing what cats typically do with such strange encounters).
I've started almost every morning this past decade and a half with the sound of his loud, ratchet purring as Tsimmes licked my eyebrows. If I didn't respond, trying to ignore him to grab a bit more sleep, eventually cat spittle running down the side of my face made it impossible. He loved to be carried on his back in my arms, like a baby, and I will miss him grabbing my head with his arms when I went in for the eventual belly kiss. This was my boy.
He didn't suffer, and for that I will always be grateful. Never sick a day in his life, Tsimmes fell jumping up onto a counter about a month ago. The limp worsened, the doctors found nothing obvious, and we chose to treat him with pain killers until the pain killers no longer did their work as well as we all needed them to. He was still enjoying his hugs, his time in the sun, but food lost all appeal, walking was becoming an impossible struggle, the pain just beginning to become the thing that would soon grow to define him.
This is a choice we've made before, many times, with so many animals in our lives over the years. And it is a choice we make as follows: the animal should not know real pain, pain that cannot be managed, the animal should still know real joy, and the time to make the choice for them is when that scale is about to tip. Since one can't really know this moment, one has to feel it. If you love the animal selflessly, you can feel it. And the older I get, the more I hope someone is there to make such a feeling choice for me when my time comes.
So faced with the option of invasive medical tests to try and uncover whatever underlying illness was at the root, thinking of this sweetest of animals spending days in a stainless steel hospital cage surrounded by strangers away from his family of people and other animals, clear on the facts that life is never long enough but it is quality of life that matters, this past Sunday morning we took him to my shelter where two caring, compassionate and very skillful people injected him while Carolyn and I held him and cried over him.
He faded slowly and gently, very much like he lived, hearing how much we loved him through our tears, hearing how much we will miss him. He leaves a hole too large to measure.