Clymo as a kitten.

Family pet had great life

By Tim Robinson

For some years the image of losing him flashed across my mind. How would I handle his death. Would a hawk swoop down and grab him out of the yard. Would he fight a raccoon under the deck? Would the vet tell me his quality of life was so impaired that prolonging his pain was cruel?

Sure, he had arthritis in his hip. They get that in their teens (human years make it 90+). He had a failing kidney and there were some thyroid issues according to Dr. Driscoll. Her tender manner assured me Climber could be treated with meds and even improve but it would take time. He was almost 18. His teeth and gums were okay but needed some extra care. She gave me a toothbrush.

The medicine is tricky. Just the right dose is critical. Too little and he won't improve. Too much and we get other problems. His exams were good following the prescribed regimen.

"Clymo", a nickname for Climber because he was the only cat in the litter box to make it out into the waiting hands of my seven-year old that day in 1993. "Can we keep him dad", my son asked. My instincts said no but my heart and that little kid look he gave me said yes. We drove home with a family pet. The first and yet today, the only pet we've ever had .

Odd or even. With two sons it was difficult for them to decide who would get to cuddle with the kitty each night. They fought over the "dibs" and "first call" rights.

It usually ended in one child trying to strangle the other. Our oldest son was 10 or so and pretty good at math. He was also perceptive. He knew that his birthday landed on an even numbered date and that his younger brother's birthday was odd numbered. So it was. Each kid would get to have Climber in their room on the even or odd numbered nights.

What a concept. Except it did not work after about two months. There were sleep-overs and times away at a camp. Oldest son figured that it was unfair because younger brother would get the cat on the days he was gone. Those even numbered days. It would create an imbalance in sharing. He went further. He noted that the calendar has more odd numbered days than even except on Leap Year. The point being the first day of the year is odd as is the last day of the year. Add that to the four months with only 30 days and you've created a mathematical nightmare of record keeping.

Maybe it was common sense and maybe it was the cat himself. Once either kid was asleep Climber was free to roam around the house. After all, he was a cat and cats do much better at night.

I thought about the nine lives from time to time. Clymo was four months old. He went missing for a week. We did the usual things. Posted flyers with his picture on the neighborhood mail stands. Asked around and prayed he would show up. 10 nervous days later a neighbor noticed our flyer. It was a chance occurrence. He thought he saw some kids up around the block cuddling an orange tabby like it was new to them.

I visited the house and inquired about a new cat. "yes",they said they were surprised to find him in the woods two days previous. I politely explained it was our family pet and thanked them. They graciously handed Clymo to me, tho I could tell they were disappointed not to be able to keep him.

My thought? How did a four month old cat survive in the woods for eight days? He had to fend off raccoons and other varmints. Not yet fully grown or wise to the ways of the wilderness, he somehow managed to make it through. We were delighted with his return.

At Christmas, as a gift we think, Clymo presented us with a crow on our porch. The bird was bigger than he was at six months of age. We would have asked him how he accomplished this but we did not speak "cat" at the time.

Early on I learned that Tom Cats can be difficult to manage. That neutering was an option to keep them home more. The advice was to neuter a cat at 8 months of age. Late enough in maturity and early enough to prevent Tom Catting.

It seemed to work. Clymo, already a pretty mellow kitty, remained that way throughout his life. His natural fear of dogs did not cross over to humans. Any person who visited was greeted by Clymo. He could be picked up and cuddled without a struggle. No claws, no hiss, no fleas, just a beautiful trusting feline.

The usual mice, shrews, small birds and assorted animal life appeared on our porch over the ensuing years. Clymo even cornered a Hedgehog. It may have been someone's pet. We did not know. We let it go in the woods.

More and more Clymo endeared himself to us. His nocturnal path through the house usually ended with some scratching at our bedroom door. Mostly to drink water from a small cup. He wasn't all that thirsty. It was just more his routine. A safety net of access for survival. Two minutes later he was drinking from another bowl in a different room.

He may have been the most quiet cat. Rarely did he meow until he began aging. At 17 he learned a new trick. No scratching at the bottom of the door. He began vocalizing he needs. A fairly consistent cry for action. Otherwise he remained quiet and contented. Oh, he did shred a few newspapers from time to time. Maybe he was bored. We would find yesterday's news and once in awhile the kids' homework nicely chewed and shredded on the rug in the morning. The kids were delighted as it gave them a perfect excuse.

For years I would walk from my car to the mail box. Clymo followed as if there was something for him. He needed little coaxing to come with me. Often I would carry him on my shoulders, place him on the wood shakes that covered the mail boxes. He seemed to like that, digging his claws into the soft cedar. He would walk the 9 feet to the end of the row and allow me to pick him up for the shoulder ride back to the house, never once attempting to jump down.

We never measured but we think he was an indoor cat with outdoor privileges. We did have a cat box. The one in the garage was simply never used. At least not until he was close to 17. Like many other cats on our block , he used the garden beds, politely covering his business. He sprayed his territory each daily outing, noting when other cats had been present during his absence.

At 18 we noticed the change. Rather a friend noticed Clymo could use a medical check. A cat lover herself, she volunteered to have Clymo seen by a vet. I had been pretty good about annual checkups and shots but Clymo had never had a complete physical evaluation. We learned he had the kidney issue many older cats get. He needed a tooth extracted and maybe some breath freshener. That did not surprise me since he ate a lot fish; I just expected him to have bad breath.

We had Dr. Driscoll pull a tooth. He was good to go. He just needed those meds to keep his thyroid in check. At 19 yrs we had celebrated each year with delight over how he enriched our lives.

He was due for his annual exam in two weeks. He no longer jumped in our laps, often needed to be picked up to get to his night bed on the window sill. He never complained.

Other times he napped in our laps or on the rug. He struggled with his arthritis. He hips would dip down if you touched his tail. His back legs were a bit unsteady when he circled his nap zone. He did not run but moved okay once he got moving. Dr. Driscoll said he was almost 100 in human years and doing pretty good.

Each night we opened the front door when we came home. Clymo stood near the door. He'd recognize the purr of the engine as we pulled in. He was ready to go out. Looking out the window all day can be frustrating with so many chances to chase mice or minutiae, even if it was only in his mind by then.

Clymo's routine was the same. He wandered from car to car, lamp post to lamp post, inspecting, sniffing and sometimes spraying to assure the other cats he was still master of his domain.

Tuesday night was like any other night. Dry and cool tho it had rained earlier in the day.

I came through the door, looking for him. I checked the garage and moved his food dish for easy access. I guess I figured he was downstairs, asleep by the fireplace. I didn't worry. That was common too.

A neighbor came to the door a bit later. He announced that he thought he's run over Clymo with his car. I simply did not believe him as I had not seen him go out. But it was true.

Like other cats, Clymo liked to hunker down under cars, sometimes for warmth but mostly, I think, for cover. He liked paper bags for the same reason.

I found him suffering on the street. Legs outstretched, trying to get up. He did not last long, maybe a minute at most. I petted him, told him I was sorry and watched him shudder and give up.

I was devastated and in shock. I picked him up and walked back to the house. I consoled the neighbor explaining it was not his fault and thanked him for coming to our door.

I surmised that Clymo had camped under his car for the previous reasons that he has camped under cars. He had probably done it a thousand times and escaped when the engine started. Only this time he simply could not move fast enough. He likely made it half way, getting clipped by the tires of the car as it rolled into the street.

My own grief came with the need to tell my two sons and my wife that the only pet they've ever known was gone at 19 yrs and 8 months.

There is no remedy to salve our wounds except time. He was old, we told ourselves. He might have needed euthanasia in a year or he might have wandered back into the woods as some animals do when they get sick.

We might have lost him years before to a car or truck or to some malady. We loved him. It will take time, we know. What we do now is use the time to recall fondly those moments when he showed us he loved us too.

Tim Robinson can be reached at timr@robinsonnews.com

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