Animals,  Cat stories,  Home & Family

Goodbye, Jack B. Nimble

I lost a dear friend on Thursday. During an annual physical last year, the vet told me that Jack, our 19-year-old tuxedo cat, was possibly nearing his final months. He started failing steadily last week, so when he lost control of his back legs and collapsed by his litter box, I knew it was time to let him go.

En route to the vet’s office Thursday afternoon, I remembered a small poster I’d purchased a few years ago. Cats are angels with fur, it said. Like most angels — animal or human — Jack arrived on the scene exactly when I needed him. 

Our only child had gone off to college in the fall of 2004, and I found myself feeling lonely and unmoored within our changing family structure. Adopting a kitten suddenly made perfect sense. A few months later, I found Jack — black-and-white and adorable, waiting for someone to scoop him up and give him a forever home.

According to the folks at the Royal Oak Animal Shelter, four-week-old Jack had been dropped off by a construction worker who’d found him abandoned on a building site. Since my husband Doug is an architect, Jack’s backstory seemed especially fitting. The only hitch was that the wee kitten wasn’t old enough to be sent home yet, so I had to wait another three weeks to sign the adoption papers for our empty nest baby.

Over the years, Jack became a devoted companion in our household. Always good-natured, he never scratched us or hissed, and never missed an opportunity to curl up with me while I read or took an afternoon nap. 

When we adopted our large shelter dog, Coco, Jack was understandably miffed — but reluctantly agreed to share a few feet of space with her on our bed. In his mobile years, Jack initiated close friendships with some of the neighbors, and was always a big hit with our toddler grandson, Liam. Not surprisingly, Doug grew to love Jack as much as I did, feeding him a special diet every single morning when Jack’s health began failing.    

Jack’s steadfast presence in our home spanned nearly two eventful decades — decades that were marked by the loss of Doug’s father, my uncle, and my mother. During that time, there were many celebratory moments too, including our son’s college graduation and marriage, and the birth of our grandson.

Over time, elderly pets have a way of foreshadowing our own mortality. As Jack slowed down and lost his kittenish charms, I started showing my age in tandem. Jack and I grew old together.

I’m ashamed to admit there were times I lost patience with his geriatric issues — especially when his litter habits got messier and he stopped grooming himself. (“Jack, you smell like an old guy who hasn’t showered,” I once scolded him.) On my better, more compassionate days, I saw Jack’s inevitable decline as a poignant reminder to respect the process of aging and all its limitations, and to be kinder to myself while I approached my elder years.

Doug and I spent yesterday morning cleaning Jack’s bedding and rearranging pet stations for our younger cat, Izzie, who’s wondering what happened to her lost buddy. Everyone notices the void left by a longtime family pet after he’s gone — the vacant spot atop the radiator by the window seat; the unoccupied pillow on the bed in the guest room.

Jack “had a good run,” as my son reminded me yesterday. I like to think he enjoyed every one of his 19 years as much as he sweetened our lives with his quiet, constant presence. I knew it was time for him to leave, but I miss him. ~Cindy La Ferle

Bottom photo of Jack (as a kitten) by Nate La Ferle; top photo by Cindy La Ferle

Throughout my career, I've worked as a book production editor, travel magazine editor, features writer, and weekly newspaper columnist. My award-winning lifestyles features and essays have appeared in many national magazines and anthologies, including Newsweek, Reader's Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, Writer's Digest, Victoria, Better Homes & Gardens, Bella Grace, and more. My weekly Sunday "Life Lines" column ran for 14 years in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, MI) and won a First Place (Local Columns) award from the Michigan Press Association. My essay collection, Writing Home, includes 93 previously published columns and essays focusing on parenthood and family life.

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