Berkheimer: Losing a Best Buddy pet

The Aspen Times

Too often I’ve dealt with the news of politics and various catastrophes, and then I feel an overwhelming need to write something more mundane – perhaps on a subject that touches both the mind and the heart. This is one of those occasions.

I think most of us have eye-watering stories about special pets combined with a big smile. Quite often we’d like to share these stories – and then I turn to my writing.

Many families have stories about special dogs. And I have a few things to tell about that too. But this is about Louie – a cat who was my best mate for 16 years until a few weeks ago.

Louie has been the one constant in my life through a short string of failed relationships, and the turmoil that comes with that is moving to two different states — from Montana to Oregon and then to California in 2015.

He came into my life as a 2 month old kitten in October 2006 when I started snuggling him on my chest while sitting in an armchair. After five or ten minutes on my chest, he would lay between my legs until I had to get up.

I remember our first visit to the vet when his breed was listed as DSH on the paperwork. This confused me as I wondered out loud what that particular breed was. Then my naive bubble burst when the vet said it stood for “domestic short hair”.

Louie was an indoor-outdoor cat who resorted to a repertoire of manipulative antics until I obeyed him. When he was at my computer, he would often sit and stare at me with pleading eyes until I either let him out or put more food in his bowl. He let me know he didn’t like seeing the bottom of his plate.

When he wanted to go into Montana, he would step over the aluminum paneling on the picture window sill, making a creaking and crunching noise until I let him back inside.

During his 16 years, we spent “Louie time” in the recliner most days. He climbed there one last time, less than 48 hours before his death. How do I get into a chair without thinking about Louie?

His death hit me hard as I experienced bouts of uncontrolled crying afterwards. And it’s created an extremely awkward void in our home — because it was less than a year ago, last December, that Mary lost her 17-year-old cockatoo, Annie. Louie helped Mary through her grief for Annie.

Perhaps it’s in our parental nature that a home feels so empty when we don’t have anyone – child or pet – to depend on us. My daily movements often reminded me of routine activities I shared with Louie in the morning, afternoon, and evening.

This emptiness shared by Mary led us to the decision that we needed another pet, which quickly led to some decisions. First we settled on another cat – an indoor cat with the few requirements of food, water, litter box, scratching post and lots of affection.

And since Mary and I are both 81 now, we thought it would be wrong to adopt a kitten that would outlive us and have to be adopted to another home. We agreed that it would be better to adopt one midlife that needs a new home.

We also agreed that this would require multiple visits to an animal shelter. We didn’t want to make a quick decision that we might regret—not like we might do when we’re having a kitten.

We showed interest in three nine year olds – a female and two males – and after four visits decided on one of the males. I got him to come to me on the third and fourth visits, and he spent part of the third visit on Mary’s lap.

We’ve had Casey for two weeks now and we’re so pleased with how he’s adjusting, even if he remains a bit nervous at times. He gives and receives much affection.

I can’t remember ever hearing a cat purr that loud. Its meowing, however, is barely audible. And he was already used to using the scratching post.

Our house no longer feels empty. How rewarding it is to have him.

Darrell Berkheimer is a retired California journalist whose career spans nearly 60 years. He has held editorial positions at newspapers in Pennsylvania, Utah, Georgia, Texas and New Mexico. He is also the author of several essay books. Contact him at [email protected].