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Gone Too Soon

Back in February when I wrote out the memorial piece for Storm, I never dreamed that before the year was out, I'd be writing another memorial for one of his successors, and it is with a heavy heart that I must now bid goodbye to Gruffy, one of our two new cats.

Poor Gruffy never really stood a chance, it seems. Though he tested negative for it back at the shelter, he had FeLV - the feline leukemia virus. It is the second leading cause of cat deaths, and it has taken a sweet, gentle kitty we were very fond of out of this world at the tender age of four. A vaccine exists. We didn't know this when we got Gruffy, but we do now. If you get a shelter cat, make sure they're vaccinated for FeLV. Because it's heartbreaking to find a sweet one like Gruffy and lose them so soon.

But enough of my soapbox. Let me tell you about Gruffy.

We acquired Gruffy and another cat we named Oliver shortly after Storm's death. A local shelter had a bunch of long-haired cats and having had such great luck with Storm, we had our heart set on another long-haired cat. At the shelter, Gruffy caught my eye immediately and kind of hung around near me while my wife looked at other cats. She had her heart set on the other one, but he wasn't at the shelter, so we made an appointment to meet Oliver. We got there during off hours and met the director in the shelter's kitchen. To my delight, Gruffy was tucked into a little padded basket underneath a shelving unit. He had a kind of ridiculous look to him - this big, tanky ball of gray fluff stuffed into this little basket. At some point during the introduction to Oliver, he wandered out into the kitchen, and stood up under one of the chairs, then realized there were crossbars between the legs and gave me kind of an "oh no, I am stuck!" kind of look. I gently started to move the chair and he realized he wasn't as trapped as he thought he was and wandered back under the table.

At that point, I reached my arms out in his direction and flexed my fingers and he walked over, climbed up onto my lap and nose-bumped me. That was pretty heartwarming all on its own, but I was also emotionally raw from the loss of Storm and my heart just melted. We decided to get both cats.

Naming him didn't take long - because he was so fluffy and gray and rugged-looking, he brought to mind an old British sea captain. Nicki suggested "Admiral Gruffington," which we shortened to "Gruffy." It stuck immediately. I doubt we'll ever be able to come up with a better cat name than "Gruffy," either.

Nicki went to pick them up a couple of days later and Oliver made a racket the whole way home. Gruffy rode calmly in silence. Once they got back, Oliver ran off to explore, but Gruffy located the sofa, hopped up, and settled into the cushion almost immediately. He knew he was home.
And so began a long love affair with cushions for Gruffy. He spent his first month or so pretty sick, the poor thing. The shelter had somehow missed not only the FeLV that he ultimately passed from, but tapeworms as well, and he also had a nasty upper respiratory infection. He spent a lot of time lounging on a cushion in the hallway recuperating from his illnesses. But even when he was healthy, he loved lounging on cushions and pillows. We figured he'd come from an environment where nothing was soft, and soft was a very welcome change for him.

Unfortunately, Oliver ultimately didn't work out. He bullied Gruffy, ran away from us when we tried to pet him, and generally caused problems. He was cute, but he was also a jerk. We took him back to the shelter but kept Gruffy.

However, as an only cat, Gruffy blossomed almost immediately. We got to hear his voice, which was so cute. I referred to him as having a "harmonica voice" because his squeak had a tiny hint of distortion to it, almost like it was two different notes played at the same time. He became more affectionate with us, rubbing on our legs occasionally and squeaking for playtime in the evening. His favorite toy was a colored feather on the end of a piece of yarn, which my wife made for him.

His method of play definitely spoke to his time outside as a homeless kitty early in life. He'd study the feather, biding his time and then POW! he'd pin it with a paw or jump on it explosively. For the few months when he was the healthiest, he was never as energetic as Storm or Sterling, but we got him to chase the feather up and down the hallway, chase a laser pointer, ambush toys around corners and the lot. He was amazingly fast for such a stocky, blocky cat and the preparatory butt wiggles before pouncing were adorable.

Another cute and somewhat astonishing thing was how much his appearance transformed from winter to spring. He went from being this massive mound of gray fluff to a fairly average looking gray tabby in terms of fur length, losing his fluffy cheeks, ruff and much of his shaggy winter coat entirely. The only part of his body that stayed fluffy and betrayed his identity as a long haired cat was his fluffy tail which resembled a fan. He stayed very soft and silky, and when fall came, the fluff came back in a big way.

He never was much of a cuddler and after the first month or so, we really didn't have much luck getting him onto our laps for any length of time, but he indicated his affection in other ways. He loved to nose rub you - you could lean down close and he would give you really intense nose bumps, rubbing his face on your face. And every once in a while, you could pick him up and put him over your shoulder and he would snuggle into you very intensely before getting overstimulated and needing to be set back down.

We had to walk that line of overstimulation with him a bit, but he was worth it. A gloriously-silky, fluffy, magnificent thing, he was so luxurious to pet. He also never stopping being a little awkward and ridiculous. A big, barrel-chested tank of a cat, he had a cute thing he'd do occasionally where he'd walk up close to something that interested him, sit down, lean back slightly and look at it wide-eyed like "WOT?" This habit earned him the nickname "the Wotbeast." In fact, the word "wot" became a term of endearment with him. Both his name and his nicknames were fun to say, and it often brightened my morning just to say "goodbye Gruffy," or "goodbye Wotbeast," as I gave him my customary farewell scritch as I headed out the door.

Despite his propensity for overstimulation, he was extremely calm. Early in our time with him, we had a violent storm come though. Our previous cat would have hidden. Gruffy just looked at the hail hammering on the window with his "WOT?" look for a moment and went back to snoozing on his cushion. Another time, we were under a tornado warning, so we put him in a carrier and took him downstairs to our landlord's place (they live in the lower portion of the house we rent the upper floor of) and he looked a little lonely, but didn't make any noise or show any signs of distress.

And he had a lot of kindness in his little kitty heart. When it became apparent that he wasn't going to be a lap cat, we went through a couple of others looking for another second cat. Gruffy was very welcoming and sweet towards the others - when we brought Sterling (our other cat) home in a carrier, Gruffy wanted to investigate, but his body language was very much "are you okay in there?" When we let Sterling out, the nervousness and hissing that always comes with introducing a new cat was very brief. Gruffy wanted a friend. That sweet demeanor earned him another nickname: "Sweet ol' Gruffins."

He was never any trouble at all - he was very well-behaved, and the worst thing he ever did was also one of the funniest and most awesome things he ever did. I once caught him lying on his back, dragging himself along upside down by pulling at the fabric on the front of the sofa with his claws. It was ingenious, and it was hilarious, and I felt a little twinge of regret when we stopped him for the sake of the sofa's fabric because he was obviously having so much fun. We saw that same intelligence once when he squeaked to get our attention, made eye contact and then gently touched his feather toy with his paw. 

The anemia from his FeLV progressively made him more sluggish, but right up until his last week or so of life, he was still good for some nose bumps.

Sadly, his death was not as peaceful as we'd hoped; both we and the vet hoped and expected he'd just go to sleep one night and never wake up. That proved to be too optimistic. He went into severe distress suddenly and we made a frantic call to the vet, who was kind enough to make a house call to put him down.

The things that are making Gruffy's loss especially hard are twofold. On the one hand, he was was such a sweet, gentle, funny cat that losing him was going to be hard whenever he went. On the other, there's a palpable feeling of injustice to it. Storm was an old kitty when he died - a little younger than we'd have liked, still, but an old kitty. It was comparable to losing a person at 75 or 80 to cancer. Gruffy was only four. It was like losing a person at 25 to cancer. A good, kind, person. He never did anything wrong, and not only did he die young, he didn't even get to slip away quietly on a cushion. My frustration at his passing is well-captured in a Calvin and Hobbes comic which you can read here.

There is some solace to be found in the knowledge that if the shelter had found his FeLV, we never would have met him at all, and the months of quiet, safety, love and peace we were able to give him would have also been taken away when he was euthanized to keep his illness from spreading. There's also some in knowing that he didn't pass it to our other, now-vaccinated cat. It's not nearly as much solace as I'd like, but it will have to do.

In the meantime, if cats get an afterlife, I hope Gruffy's is full of big, soft cushions, colorful feathers to chase, quiet, nose bumps, and peace.

Goodbye, Gruffy.


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