It is coming up on the one-year anniversary of the day I lost my baby girl. Now, before we get too maudlin, I have to tell you all that I am talking about a cat, not a baby human. I always considered her my first child, and I loved her like my baby, but she was just a cat.
Except that she was never just a cat. Momo was special to me on so many levels. She was a companion and friend, and she was always there to comfort me when I needed it. I could come home angry, jaded, and full of contempt and spite toward the world, and she would not shy away. She came to me, excited to see me, and followed me around, yelling at me until I provided her with a lap.
Momo was rescued, adopted, and given to my former-wife for her 20th birthday back in 1995. Heather wanted to name this new kitten General Beauregard for reasons I cannot remember, if any reason ever existed at all. Beauregard was so young, that when we were told that she was a boy, we had no reason to doubt that information. However, after a few weeks, when no boy parts popped out, we realized that she was, in fact, a girl. Still, the name stayed. This was during the Riot Grrl era, and we thought the name was apt for a wild little girl kitty.
She was a scrawny, gangly kitten with a tail that seemed twice as long as her body. We would laugh endlessly every time that her tail curled back over her body, touched the top of her head, and made her jump in surprise.
We had another cat at this time named Clarence, and Clarence was slightly feral and full of scorn toward anything that was not a full food bowl. I bought Beauregard for Heather because we wanted a more affectionate cat, but Clarence hated Beauregard, and we thought that he might actually kill her when we were away. They eventually became friends and bonded as much as a contemptuous male and a dingbat female could.
Clarence’s single-mindedness must have rubbed-off onto Beauregard, because she later developed the same disdain toward anything that was not a full food bowl, Heather, or me. She did not like strangers, and when we had our son, Liam, she scowled her disapproval at every opportunity.
Sadly, all the pictures I have of Clarence and baby Beauregard are on this weird paper stuff that I can’t shove into my computer.
Even though Beauregard was Heather’s gift, she was always my cat. She chose me as her loving companion, and I was expected to act as such. Heather would do when I was not around, but when I was, my lap belonged to Beauregard. You can only imagine her reaction to my holding a baby on a regular basis.
As Liam grew into toddler mode, he did what all toddlers with access to cats did; he grabbed them and pulled their hair, shrieking the whole time. Clarence fired a few warning shots across Liam’s face, and then eventually just avoided him. Beauregard also batted Liam’s face, and even scratched him a couple times, but never ran away. She knew her place and held firm. She could never understand why this new interloper kept bothering her in her place.
Therefore, I guess it is safe to say that Beauregard never took to Liam.
When Heather and I split up, the question was asked: “What are we going to do about Beauregard?”
She looked at me as if I was an idiot. “What do you mean what are we going to do with her?”
“Well”, I said matter-of-factly, “She’s your cat, right?”
Heather looked back with even more contempt. “She was never my cat, and you know it.”
I was losing a wife, but I got to keep my cat!!!
By about this time, Liam was starting to talk. It was the language of a one-and-a-half year old that only parents understand…sometimes. He would look at Beauregard and say something that sort of sounded like “Momo.” The name just stuck. She would forever be Momo.
After Heather and I split, we sold the old house in Lincoln, and Liam, Momo, and I moved to a small apartment in Roseville. Clarence was a full-time outdoor cat at this point, and Beauregard was allowed outside only when I could supervise her. Clarence was too smart for his own good, but Momo was not quite as street smart. Or, maybe I was too protective of my first baby. When we moved, I left Clarence behind with a family that I trusted to care for him. He would never survive in my apartment, and so I knew I had to let him go. Momo stayed with us, of course!
Liam grew, but was still always a little too wild for Momo, and she would ignore him or run away every time that he tried to come near her. He wanted that cat—loved that cat—but she would have nothing of it. I spent so much time trying to keep Liam away from her; I felt guilty about it, since he loved her so much, but I did not want either of them to get hurt.
Fast forward to 2005, and I decided that Liam should have his own cat. I went to a cat rescue and tried to pick out the right kitten for Liam. I wanted to surprise him, so I did not ask him what color cat he wanted. I went with my default: Black and White. I have a thing for Black and Whites.
For some reason, I had a kind of weird logic going through my head at the time. I figured that if I only got one kitten, that kitten would spend its time bothering Momo. Therefore, I would get two kittens so that they would entertain each other and leave Momo alone. Nope. Now I had two young kittens bothering Momo almost constantly. You can only imagine the nearly permanent contempt on her face.
However, by this time, Momo knew that she was the Queen, and that nothing and no one could take that title away. She was over ten years old by now, a senior by any standards, and she could care less about anything other than me. All she wanted was my lap, and if she could not have that, then she wanted to be left alone. She tolerated the kittens, but swatted at them any time that they got too close to her.
In 2008, I moved in with my girlfriend-at-the-time and her two cats, taking the grand total up to five. Her two cats were princesses in their own right, but they recognized immediately that Momo was the Queen. They rarely interacted, and always made way for Momo.
By this time, Momo was getting geriatric and arthritic. She was grossly overweight and oversized due to a series of steroid injections that she received when she was younger. She had a rare gingivitis, and eventually had all of her teeth extracted. Before she lost her teeth, we treated her with steroids to bring down the swelling in her gums. Those injections made her balloon up, and she was a round cat with stubby little legs since about age 3.
Aside from slightly restricted mobility from her girth and arthritis, she remained healthy until February of last year. This was the first time that she showed signs of slowing down. She was 16 years old, which is a respectable age for any cat, but I wanted her for at least 20. However, her body started shutting down.
At first, I noticed that she never left the bed anymore. Liam and I would have to physically pick her up and take her to the living room so that she could get some fresh sunshine. She would dutifully stay for a minute or two and then trudge back to the bed.
Then she developed a bladder infection, accompanied by labored breathing. I suspected that she was slowing down, and that we may lose her soon, meaning a few months from then. I took her to the veterinarian’s office to get something for her bladder infection and the vet said there was a lot more going on than I knew.
She had probably already had a stroke by this time, and her heart was starting to give out.
I started bawling like a little baby.
While the vets were running some tests, I called my mom and blubbered at her for a few minutes. I live in an apartment, and had no backyard in which to bury her. I asked if I could take Momo up to their property for a proper burial. Even though I had been thinking about this for a few days, it was so hard to actually say those words aloud. I couldn’t bear the thought of having her disposed of like some random garbage. I needed to give her a restful place.
But, I was getting ahead of myself. I got the antibiotics for the bladder infection, took her home, and wondered if she would recover or slip away.
Within the next 24 hours, she would just lay around, breathing laboriously. She ate little bits of wet food at a time, but then went right back to lying around.
I knew she was going.
Less than 48 hours after her vet appointment, she looked dead, but was still breathing. Her harsh, raspy pants let me know that she was holding on for me, but that she could not hold on much longer. I knew that I had to make a very hard decision soon. I knew that I would have to put her to sleep.
I could see her discomfort, and feel her tiredness. At one point, I was not sure that she was even there anymore. I cried and cried. I told her that I did not know what to do. I did not want to let her go, and I certainly did not want to put her down prematurely. For a while, she looked as if she might go either way; she could get better, or she could get worse. But, we finally got to the point that I knew she would not get better.
The incident that finally pushed me over the edge and forced me to act was when she had a stroke right in front of me. She convulsed, let out a painful shriek, wet herself, and then collapsed. I thought I had just witnessed her death, but she was still there, if only in body.
I called the vet’s and took her down to be put to sleep. I looked her in her eyes and pet her comfortingly as her life finally evaporated. My baby was gone.
Even as I drove her to the vet’s for that final time, she kind of came back to life and looked at me like my old Momo; her loving eyes assuring me that I was making the right decision, even though I still doubted myself.
The first month that she was gone was difficult. Every time that Liam and I came through the front door, we would instinctively look toward the bed and expect Momo to wake up, squawking at us in her own excitement to see us. It took a long time to let that go.
I loved that cat, and there will never be another like her. Liam’s cats still cling to me for comfort; whether for me or for them, I do not know, but I have none to give them. They worshiped her as their Queen, so I am certain that they grieved for her as well.
Still, they are not my Momo!
It made me so happy that in her last few years of life she finally accepted Liam. He had grown older, matured, and mellowed out with the animals. Momo appreciated that, and rewarded him with lots of love. In her last year or so, she would spend equal time in his lap as in mine. She would even curl up in bed with him at night.
And so, a year later, I still miss my Momo. For anyone who does not love his or her pets, I do not expect you to understand, but I experienced real loss. Real grief. I have thought about it a lot, and I think I understand why pet lovers mourn their lost animals so much. I will relate this in terms that parents of human babies can understand.
When you have a baby, that baby depends on you completely. It behaves in a unique way that leaves you defenseless and willing to meet their every demand. The relationship between you and that baby is unique, and can never be replicated. As that baby grows up, it becomes less dependent, and more willing to eke out its own existence. Later, that child becomes defiant and confrontational as it asserts its independence from the parent. Eventually, that baby moves out and starts their own life. This is all natural and beautiful, and everything that life is supposed to be. I love my son more than anything else in the world, and I am proud to watch him grow into a fine young man, but he is no longer my baby.
Your pet never stops being that baby. The cat, dog, rabbit, or whatever never grows up. It will always want to be your baby. It will always need you. It is a perfect codependent relationship about which you will never have to feel guilty.
When I lost Momo, it was like losing a 16 and-a-half year old baby. Someone who was a major part of my life for 16 and-a-half years.
I suppose that I will continue to mourn for her for some time now. Eventually, I will move on and want another cat. I might even accept Liam’s cats as my own. For now, however, I will remember my baby girl and all the years we had together.
Of course, if I publish this, I will have cemented my reputation as “Crazy Cat Man.”