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Romeo's Song.

(Yeah, I know, I'm supposed to be weeding out crime and corruption but the following is shamelessly self-indulgent twaddle regarding my recently-deceased, though dearly beloved cat, Romeo. Proceed at your own risk.)

romeoI knew there was a problem when Romeo stopped singing.

Romeo was my black, 15-year-old cat, a brother to my little girl-cat, Poozy, who died in March from feline diabetes. They were litter-mates of a local stray, but while I was adopted by Poozy, Romeo took up residence with a family two houses down the street.

He was a fiercely handsome beast, in my mind almost show quality, but I only could admire him from afar as he kept his distance from anyone but his own people. That didn't stop him, however, from taking frequent naps on my car and sassing Poozy through the dining room window.

romeoWhen he was about three years old his family moved away and left him behind. I began leaving food out for him, slowly gaining his trust, until he eventually joined my little family. It was an almost effortless transition as he acted like he'd known me all his life. He was playful as a kitten and strong as an ox, not always the best combination. He never clawed the furniture, was scrupulous in his litter, and only occasionally marked my favorite belongings, so I was content.

Even so, Romeo quickly became the straw that stirred the drink. The biggest problem was that these two siblings, having matured in isolation from one another, never found common ground. Over the entire span of their lives they actively disliked one another unless there was a clap of thunder or a squall of rain, then they would be found hunkered down, quivering nose-to-tail, in the nearest secluded cabinet. Fortunately, Romeo preferred the outdoors, where he spent most of his time, while regal Poozy commanded the "palace", so spats were few and very far between.

When I eventually took Romeo down to the vet for some long-overdue neutering the vet told me he had a little Siamese in him, a notoriously talkative breed of cat, which explained his amazing vocal range. If he desired something, like to be let in or out of the house, he'd begin serenading me with an impressive repertoire of chirps, trills, chirrs, and meows, all the while modifying them with a wide range of inflection. He was the feline equivalent of a mockingbird sprinkled with a little Miles Davis.

So I was surprised when, a couple of months ago, he perched on the ledge outside my work room window in a pose which obviously meant he wanted inside the house, only he wasn't singing. I didn't think much of it until a few days later when he started having trouble swallowing his kibble, occasionally coughing it back up in chunks.

The first visit to the vet revealed nothing obviously wrong and resulted in a precautionary regimen of steroids and antibiotics, neither of which helped. During a second round of treatment his breathing began to turn rough and raspy. More tests, including x-rays, revealed a laryngeal mass. In other words, throat cancer.

Extensive Googling on the subject informed me that this condition is extremely rare in cats (GODDAMMIT!) and a meeting with a specialist did nothing but confirm the diagnosis. Surgery was possible, though expensive, but recovery would require tracheotomies and tube feedings. Cats don't tolerate such treatment well and life expectancy after surgery, even in the best of cases, was only measured in months. The specialist suggested I put him down immediately but I declined, deciding to make his life as comfortable as possible for as long as I could.

my flat cat, on his last dayEven on a diet of soft food and lots of half-and-half, which he loved, it was difficult for him to eat normally so he grew thinner over the days. Yet he remained his same old happy, Romeo self, taking his labored breathing in stride. Then, about a week ago, he could no longer eat soft food, then a day or two later he stopped drinking fluids. By July 4th it was clear that it was time to let him go. Independence Day was, at last, here.

In the early morning of July 5th I made the slow drive to the vet and held him in my hands as they administered the chemicals which first sent him into a deep slumber and then stopped his heart forever. I've cried a lot since then, not just for Romeo but from the awful frustration of being unable to help him. But I'm at least thankful I had a few weeks to say goodbye to my handsome boy. He now rests under the oak tree in my back yard just a few feet from his sister, slowly rejoining the cosmos.

I'm still owned by six other cats but, to be honest, compared to Romeo and Poozy, they're just cats. They purr, they doze, they wait to be fed, they doze some more. But Romeo was as predictable as the weather. Life with him was a blessed guessing game and I miss him more with each passing day.

Rest well, you magnificent bastard.


end rant

Do I have video of Romeo in action? You bet! Here he is playing "Kill the Comforter!"

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Goodbye, Romeo. I will always remember you.

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