The first time I saw him, he was rubbing my husband's legs in the driveway of the house next door. His fur was so tangled and matted he looked like a mop, he was hung like a porn star, and he smelled pure awful. Steve was captivated.
I guess I was too. I loved that this homeless creature chose us, just showed up and said, "Hi, I'm going to be your cat now, okay?"
The Cat That Chose Us
Stink played to his advantage, hanging around the house. (Oh, yeah: about the name. Totally my fault. When we met Stink, he did smell bad. I know; that's no excuse.) We started out slow, first feeding him on the porch, then letting him in the house. When we showed him the cat door, we knew he was our cat. Our other cats have always needed a couple of lessons, but we shoved Stink through the flapper door just once. He said, "Ohmigod, my own portal to paradise."
He moved right in, to the horror of our two cats, who don't like each other much but were united in their hatred of Stink. Billy, the guerilla fighter, would ambush Stink, swat him once, then dive under a chair. I never saw Stink raise a paw to another cat.
When Stink joined the family, we had to remove ear mites and fleas, which he generously shared with the other cats. Also the family jewels. At first he sat on laps all the time, but as he got stronger, he grew more independent. He fattened up and learned to love living indoors.
No Cure in Sight
Then we came back from our daughter's wedding in California to find Stink was a shadow of his former self. He'd lost a third of his weight. When the vet told us he was in renal failure, I cried all day. We tried giving him subcutaneous saline, but he pitched a fit. Steve wisely said, "This guy wants to go naturally."
We began the never-ending search for something Stink would eat —wet catfood, dry, tuna, milk, cream, treats. The cry would go up, "he's eating!" and we'd be happy for a while. Ah, denial. Through his whole illness, Stink would gamely, hopefully sniff any food we put out for him. But mostly, he'd do the "bury it" move and walk sadly away. I felt we were disappointing him awfully.
A cat who has lived on his own is a resourceful creature. Stink's favored food was treats, and he learned how to get them at any hour. In the middle of the night, he would jump on the bed, sidle up to me and rub his whiskers against my face until I woke up and gave him a handful. When I rafted the Grand Canyon last fall, he turned his attention to Steve, head butting him if the whiskers didn't work, asking for treats a growing number of times a night.
Steve thought he should dig a grave before the ground froze, but he couldn't bring himself to do it and Stink made it through the winter just fine.
When end stage disease came, it hit hard and fast. One week we were taking Stink to the vet for a rabies shot. A week later we were back to have him euthanized. He stopped eating, then he wouldn't drink water. The day he died, he spent a long time at the foot of the gutter next door, licking the bit of water there. I guess he couldn't stomach more than enough to wet his tongue.
It is a terrible thing to make the decision to to euthanize an animal. Stink spent the days in the darkened spare room downstairs, curled in a ball, or in the meatloaf position that is classic for end-stage renal disease. Once a day, he'd come into the kitchen in a futile search for something he could bear to eat.
How do you know whether he's in pain. How do you measure a cat's quality of life? I'd see him curled up in the dark and think, "It's time." But then he'd jump onto a kitchen counter and I'd say, "How can you kill an animal that can still do that."
Luckily I am married to a sane and sensible man. On Monday morning, he said, "I'm going to call the vet today." He made an appointment for that afternoon. Every couple of hours, I'd go down to the spare room and check whether Stink was still breathing. An hour before it was time, he roused himself and went out to the front lawn. I brought my laptop and sat on the stoop to work with an eye on Stink. Again, I wondered if we were making a huge mistake. Could he rally one more time?
"How do you know if it's time," I wailed to the vet's assistant, who said simply, "You know.You're doing this for him, not for you." She was right. Selfishly, I wanted to share every minute of life this cat could possibly have.
"Are you ready?" the vet said. Steve nodded yes. As she inserted the anesthetic into the IV, Stink laid his head down. As the second drug flowed in, his body relaxed. It was a very peaceful leave-taking.
We bundled him up in a towel we'd brought and brought him to the grave Steve had dug that morning in the backyard. We buried him with a bagful of his favorite treats. As Steve shoveled in the dirt, I said, "Good-bye, Stink. Thank you for choosing us."
We've lived with cats for 30 years, mostly rescues, but none who'd courted us the way this guy did. We'll always have cats, and we'll never forget Stink.