In my life I’ve owned a dozen cats and time-shared half a dozen more. None stuck along nearly as long as Casper, who exited the scene yesterday at the ripe old age of 23.
And when I say “exit,” I mean I was the one holding the door. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but, alas, it had to be done.
She showed up here in October, 1994, and at first we thought she might be gray; however, after undergoing a bath she came out white. Because she was friendly, and because it was nearing Halloween, we named her Casper.
I spent the first few days looking for Casper’s rightful owner, but it soon became evident that no one was looking for her. Most likely, she’d been planted in the neighborhood by an anonymous donor. She wandered first to the Crawford’s door, then to ours—thanks to Billy Crawford, who claims to be allergic to cats. I’m not allergic, but I needed another cat like a hole in the head. I was afraid that the still kittenish Casper might be murdered by Bonkers, the feisty former street fighter whom we’d been struggling to domesticate. To our surprise, Bonkers took a liking to Casper.
By Christmastime, Casper had settled in, and when Bonkers passed, became top cat. Then came Tippy the Wonder Dog, and to my surprise the two immediately hit it off. The three of us were a team—Tippy the brawn, Casper the brains, me the one with an opposable thumb who could open a can of Friskies.
Tippy was with us for sixteen years, and his passing was like a death in the family. Part of me began to speculate on how much simpler life would be, were I to become pet free. I could come and go as I pleased, without bothering to hire a pet sitter. But no, Casper wasn’t going anywhere.
Like most cats, she’d had some close encounters with mortality. She’d had a bout with pneumonia, been hit by a car, and done hard time in Joel Kirk’s raccoon trap. She’d gone mano-a-pawno with three large rats and killed all three. No doubt about it, Casper was the undisputed queen of the urban jungle.
Then along came Jezabel, who is neither a discard nor a stray but rather a runaway, having defected from a neighbor for reasons known only to Jezabel. Honestly, I was flattered that she’d chosen me; Casper, on the other hand, wasn’t. Much hissing and growling ensued, until finally the royal pecking order was established. Jezabel could stay, so long as she never ventured closer than five feet to Casper.
Meantime, I’d become a middle-aged man, and like most middle-aged men, I often fantasized about how much more exciting life would be with a younger pet. I mean, Jezabel was cute and playful, whereas all Casper ever wanted to do was lie around and eat. And poop. And pee. Her eyesight was failing and evidently she’d gone nose blind as well. Unable to locate her litter tray, she began to stink outside the box, finding new and novel places to relieve herself. By and by the living room turned into a mine field and the kitchen a pissoir. Casper loudly demanded frequent feedings, only to throw up afterwards.
When not pooping or peeing or barfing, she could be found curled up in her heated day bed or catching rays on the back porch. Typically, she would sleep at least twenty hours a day, and I began to wish that one morning I might find she had stopped breathing. But no, she just kept going—and slowing.
Last weekend she could neither eat nor sleep. She cried all night Sunday. First thing Monday morning, I began calling vets. The earliest appointment I could get was at a veterinary hospital right next door to an office building that in April, 1943, was the human hospital where I was born. I’m told mine was a difficult delivery, one that cost my father fifty bucks. I understand Dad kept the receipt so he could ask for a refund in case I didn’t pull through.
Putting Casper down yesterday cost twice that much. I’m holding onto the receipt—why, I can’t say.