Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cowboy: The Cat, The Myth, The Legend

It was one year ago today that, with deep regret and personal turmoil, we had our beloved cat Cowboy put to sleep. Cowboy suffered from Feline Leukemia (FeLV) and developed lymphoma later on. With a weakened immune system, there was no course of treatment that wouldn't cause more damage to his health. We had three short years with him, but we cherished every moment.

We first met Cowboy, a disheveled and discarded cat, roaming the streets of Baltimore City. A little worse for wear, he was bone thin and had some jacked up crooked teeth. We were visiting my sister-in-law's house for a Labor Day cookout. Hubby's sister had taken to feeding Cowboy as a stray, and so he liked to hang around her place.

Before I had met Cowboy, I had sworn off cats. I thought they were prissy, unfriendly and sneaky creatures, able to cause chaos virtually undetected with their stealthy ninja abilities; leaping fences in a single bound, hiding the sounds of their movements with their soft padded feet, and retractable weapons in their paws. I did not trust these creatures one bit.

But then there was Cowboy. A very vocal cat, he introduced himself to me by begging for my hotdog. He kept sweeping along the side of my chair begging for food, breaking my number one rule regarding cats: Do not approach.

I was his prey. He stalked me throughout the evening. When the sun went down, I could see the soft glow of his yellow eyes peering at me from across the patio. This broke rule number two: Do not attract attention. And yet, I was drawn to this cat. There was something in those beady little eyes that called out to me and touched my heart.

Later in the evening, we retreated to the basement. I was not ready to wave the white flag to this cat, so I sought shelter. (Really we were checking out a piece of furniture in the basement that the in-laws were trying to pass off or get rid of, but for the purposes of this story, we were escaping his reach.) Suddenly there was a sound from the basement window. Ever so softly you could hear it. His claws tapping on the glass. There was no escaping him!

Against my better judgment, I approached the cat in the window. We made eye contact, and it was over. Rule three: Do not make eye contact.


His signature move. The back roll. As he smiled at us through his crooked teeth through that basement window, he knew with one single move that he had found a home. Hubby's sister packed us a bag with some cat owner items to start us off, and gave us a spare kitty litter pan and cat carrier, and we set off for home with a mangy cat in tow.

We took him to the vet to be poked and prodded. He was neutered, vaccinated, and sent home with some heartbreaking news. Cowboy tested positive for FeLV. Part of me thinks this may have been the reason he was set free outside. We were not deterred from giving him all the love that we had.

Cowboy became an integral member of our family straight away.

He worked with me.

He did crafts with me.

He watched the History Channel with us.

He helped decorate for the holidays.

And he always helped to wrap the presents. That was his favorite!

Cowboy was the missing leaf on our family tree.

When he first showed signs of lymphoma, we were told an operation was necessary. I had lost my childhood dog to a cancer that spread worse after surgery, and knowing Cowboy's delicate immune system, we sought a second opinion.

The second doctor we spoke to, and whose office we now frequent, recommended letting him live out the remainder of his days unaltered. She offered to give us medicine to make him more comfortable when he showed signs of discomfort, but at that point we did not want to extend his pain any further.

We had him for a good six months after our second doctor's diagnosis. We documented those six months with lots of photos, videos and love. His urn holds a prominent spot in our living room, next to a photo of the fur ball donning a black bow tie. We will be lighting a candle tonight in his honor.

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