My cat Buster has always hated riding in cars as much as my dogs love it. Perhaps it’s because the only place he ever went in a car was from the barn where he was born to our apartment when we got him or to the vet. I guess he never associated cars with anything good. Buster and I were on the same page as far as that goes.
Buster turned 21 years old this year, an old man by cat standards. But other than having lost his hearing, you would never know it to look at him. Even though I scolded “Be quiet old man” when he yowled at the top of his lungs to wake us up every morning at 5am, he has always been Buster Kitty in my mind’s eye.
We first met Buster as a tiny kitten not many weeks after he was born in a Caledonia horse barn where my wife stabled a horse. He was spunky, but loving, unlike most barn cats that remain more feral than friendly. There were too many kittens in the barn and they all needed a trip to the vet, so the barn owner was only to happy to let Buster come home with us.
At the time we had a big, gruff Maine Coon at home named Flatbed. Flatbed has sent a couple of our house guests to the hospital after they did not heed our warnings. Even after we told her specifically to leave him alone, and “don’t pet him even if he rubs your leg,” one visitor leaned over and blew in Flatbed’s face. Flatbed reacted with a flurry of claws Bruce Lee would be proud of and the woman’s cheeks were ginsu’d. But even mean old Flatbed could not resist Buster’s charms. Flat continued to dislike most humans outside our immediate family, but he slept next to Buster every night.
Later after Flatbed died, I found a tiny black kitten out in the deep woods while mountain biking in the southern Kettle Moraine. I brought the tiny ball of black fur and claws home, and despite never entirely losing her feral tendencies toward people, Mojo immediately fell under Buster’s spell. Even dog people who disliked cats would often find themselves petting Buster and say that he
was more like a dog than a cat. Buster took the insult like Buddha and kept purring as long as they would pet him.
Buster was the nicest cat I ever had, but he was still full of the devil when he was young. A little bit of catnip in his yellow and red “Big Bopper” toy was all it took to get him charged. He would fold his ears back to try his best to look tough and sprint through our home with a grrrrr that didn’t fool anybody. Although he loved most every person and animal he met, he did have a serious dislike for squirrels.
In our last house the squirrels would sit on the outside window ledges and tease Buster while he fumed at them from the inside. Eventually Buster did get his revenge. We were sitting in the back yard one hot early spring day and Buster was sunning himself in the our yet unplanted garden. While he was lying sphinx-like, a particularly clueless squirrel climbed down the side of our house and waltzed within inches of Buster. In a split second Buster was up and both the cat and squirrel vanished in whirling dust storm. It was like one of those cartoons, where every few seconds a squirrel’s head would pop out of the cloud of dust, only to be pulled back in by a white paw with drawn claws. It was Buster’s proudest moment.
Despite his youthful looks, for the last year or so Buster has been showing signs of his age. He seemed to be getting a little thinner with each passing month, even though he got lots of special treats and a morning saucer of milk along with his breakfast. He stopped asking to go outside so he could chew grass and throw up (what is up with that anyway?). He seemed content to spend most of his time sleeping on the bench in the breakfast nook where his younger sister Mojo would join him when she was not busy.
He also was no longer as fastidious at cleaning himself, but he didn’t seem to be ill in any way. Up until recently, he still sat on Liz’s lap every morning while she read the paper. He would come to me and lay on my chest when I was on the couch and purred when I pet him. Then the last few days he seemed to take a sudden turn for the worse and we knew his time had come. He stopped eating, and he even stopped yowling to wake us up at the crack of dawn.
Still he did not seem to be suffering and spent his days and nights on the bench waiting to snuggle with Mojo. We talked to the vet and kept our eye on him for signs that he was in pain as animals are so good at hiding their suffering. Then yesterday morning my wife found him on the floor below the breakfast nook bench. She snuggled him in a towel and we both knew it was time to say goodbye to our old family member. I called the Cat Doctor on Water Street where we had to have Buster put to sleep and they said I could come in with him at 10am.
I was able to spend a couple hours working from home with Buster on my lap, and a box of tissue close on my desk. About 9:15 I gathered him up and slid him into his pet taxi. He did not object. We have a car, and I could have driven Buster the 6 or 7 miles from the west side to the Third Ward where the vet is, but after thinking about it, I decided to spare Buster the car ride he always hated.
Instead we went by bike and I carried him along with me while I pedaled him down the beautiful Hank Aaron State Trail. Whenever I looked down he seemed to be looking around and sniffing all the things we humans miss. We left early enough so we could stop at a couple of particularly pretty places and sit together a few more times. It is hard to tell, but Buster seemed to enjoy his first bike ride.
Once in the waiting room at the vet, I laid buster out on his towel and he looked in my eyes and reached his paw out to me. I moved my head closer and let him sniff in my ear, something he always liked for some unknown feline reason. With my chin resting on the table close to his face I pet him gently while we stared into each other’s eyes for the last time. The injection took effect in seconds, and the vet told me he was gone.