Puck went to sleep yesterday and didn’t wake up. He was the sweetest, goofiest, most annoying, and most loving cat I’ve ever known. Puck brought so much joy (and so much frustration) to our household and it’s still hard to believe he’s gone. But he crammed a lot of life into 7 and a half years.
We found out earlier this month that Puck had cancer, and it progressed quickly, giving us just a few more weeks to spend with him before it became clear that it was time to say goodbye.
Puck and his sister Ollie came into our lives in the summer of 2010. We already had an 11 year old cat, Laney, at the time… and we knew that she didn’t get along very well with other animals. So we decided that if we were going to bring new cats into the household our best chance was to get young kittens that wouldn’t seem like a threat to her. Since we didn’t know if that would be enough, we also figured we should get two, so they’d have each other to play with if Laney didn’t want to socialize.
We got Puck and Ollie by accident. We drove out to the suburbs to look at two other cat who were in foster care at the time. They were 12 weeks old and ready for adoption. But they ignored us (and eventually found a forever home with their foster parents).
Meanwhile, 4-week-old Ollie had just been bathed and crawled, shivering onto my wife’s arm and huddled there for warmth. And her brother Puck crawled up onto my lap and stared at me with his big blue eyes (which would become yellow when he got a little older).
We were smitten… and we were chosen. We took over their foster care, woke up in the middle of the night to bottle feed the kittens for several weeks until they were ready for solid foods, and eventually adopted them as our own.
It didn’t take long before we started to spot some major personality differences. Puck was outgoing, affectionate, and energetic. He acted more like a dog than a cat, coming to greet you at the door, jumping into your arms as a form of greeting (something which caught a few of our friends completely off guard… especially since he made a habit of doing this to people who were allergic to cats), and generally getting into as much trouble as he could.
Ollie is more reserved, and… well, cat-like. She doesn’t like to be picked up, and only likes to cuddle when she decides it’s time. Puck couldn’t get enough of people. Sit down on the couch and he’d be there beside you in an instant… and then he’d slowly start to creep onto your lap without your even noticing. Then he’d keep creeping upward until he was licking your shirt… and sometimes your face if you didn’t bat him away in time.
He’s the reason we haven’t been able to leave out glasses of water unattended for the past 7 years. He’s the reason we can’t leave plastic bags lying around. And as a friend discovered when he came to our house only to see Puck grab his keys and start running away with them, he’s also the reason we had to be careful where we placed anything.
Puck destroyed more than one of my wife’s knitting projects that had been left out unattended a little too long. And there was the time in 2013 when he found a ball of yarn and unwound it, leaving a trail through all three floors of our house and into the basement.
But his art project was so ambitious it was easier to be impressed than mad.
You couldn’t stay mad at Puck. He was too silly, too fun, and too full of joy and love. Plus, there was the time he got stuck in a plastic bag and somehow came out wearing it like a superhero cape.
One thing I’m grateful for is that Puck didn’t just have a happy life, he also had a well-documented life. I wish we had more pictures of him as a kitten. But smartphones really started to come into their own in the time that Puck was with us, making it easier than ever to snap a photo or shoot a video at a moment’s notice. My wife and I joke that half our text messages to one another are pictures of our cats.
Over the past few weeks Puck had his ups and downs. We discovered the cancer when he stopped eating and started vomiting several times a day. The vet discovered he had eaten a piece of a rubber floor mat from our basement and it was taking up space in his stomach, and that he had a tumor wrapped around his pancreas.
The vet removed the rubber and sent Puck home with us in the hopes that he would start eating again, and he did… for a while. It’s almost like he ate the piece of mat and made himself sick so that we would notice the bigger problem and have time to say goodbye. He wasn’t smart enough or self-aware enough for that to be true, but it’s kind of how it feels.
We spent the next few weeks trying to nurse him back to health, knowing that our time was limited. He had some good days, even while wearing a ridiculous cone designed to keep him from picking at his sutures while recovering from surgery. He was warm and affectionate, and obviously enjoyed spending time with us… except for when we had to feed him medicine, which he clearly didn’t like the taste of.
This past weekend Puck started vomiting repeatedly again. That settled down, but then he stopped eating again. And by Tuesday night it was clear Puck wasn’t doing any of the things that made him Puck anymore.
He wasn’t interested in spending time with people. He wasn’t interested in food. He wasn’t even moving around very much. Sometimes he would stand up, walk a few inches, and then sit down again as if the effort was too much for him.
We decided if he wasn’t better in the morning that it would be time to take him to the vet and have him put to sleep.
He wasn’t better in the morning, and we made an appointment for the afternoon. Before the time came, he started moaning, panting heavily, and then he stopped breathing for a moment before starting to pant again. His body went limp. We couldn’t wait any longer.
We rushed to the vet, where we were ushered into a small room to spend our last moments together. Puck was breathing a little better, although his breaths were still shallow. But he wasn’t curious. He wasn’t fidgety. He just sat and looked at us as we stroked his soft fur and said goodbye.
The vet came in, gave Puck a sedative to put him to sleep, and then administered a dose of medicines to make sure that Puck wouldn’t have to suffer anymore.
This is the first time we’ve ever had to go through this process. I know we did the right thing. Puck didn’t know what was happening, but he was clearly uncomfortable and unhappy and the cancer was growing rapidly. He wasn’t going to get better and it would have been selfish to try to prolong his life so we could spend more time with him.
But it’s hard to say goodbye to someone who’s been such a larger than life presence in our home for almost as long as we’ve lived in this house and almost half the time my wife and I have been together.
He was a passionate advocate for the environment, a political activist, and someone who could talk your ears off for hours about just about any topic.
We’re saying too many goodbyes in 2018. But I’m trying to remember the lives they lived rather than the hole their absence leaves in the world.
And yes, I know it might be strange to compare the deaths of my uncle and my cat… but as an animal lover (albeit a dog person), I know Uncle Bobby would have understood.