About nine years ago, back when we still lived in Tempe, I went out to the garage one morning and was greeted by a giant orange cat. He had entered through a cat door we had cut in the carriage doors to allow the neighborhood cats to escape the oppressive summer heat. He was sitting on the hood of my project jeep staring at me. We looked at each other for a few seconds, and then he said hello in the raspiest, 20 year 2 pack a day habit voice I had ever heard. To say I loved this cat from the first time I saw him is an understatement. In that moment he became the one and only Bob the cat.
Bob lived most of that next year in our garage with his friend Carl, a large black cat with a no-nonsense face and a habit of sitting at the garage to kitchen screen door meowing until we out to the garage to sit with him. The two of them were inseparable. They slept together every night and hung out as a pair in our front yard every morning.
When Melissa and I decided to move to our new home in central Phoenix we decided that we needed to bring Bob, Carl, and the other eight or nine cats with us to the new house. Our plan was to build a large enclosure in the backyard to relocate and house everyone. The enclosure, now nicknamed alternately "the cat house", "the outside kitties", and my personal favorite, "the cat-centration camp", has ended up covering about 1200 square feet in my backyard, larger than my first house, complete with a air conditioned and heated shed the cats use to escape the elements. I started working on it in November of 2011 and finished in late January, 2012, during which time we laid cages around the old neighborhood to collect and relocate everyone.
On my 32nd birthday tragedy struck our home. Carl had figured out something was up earlier that week, as one by one his neighborhood friends started to disappear. We were in the process of relocating everyone. It freaked him out, so he stayed away from the garage. There was a vacant house three doors down from us. The house had an open dog door, so we figured Carl had escaped there to hide out. We set a trap up near the cat door, baited with fried chicken and tuna. Carl found the trap and was caught. Our neighbor, using the term loosely, found Carl in the trap before we did and took it upon himself to be an asshole. He relocated Carl to a crime ridden neighborhood in South Phoenix, several miles away. He then returned the trap to its place outside the vacant house and left us a note on a poorly xeroxed copy of a yellow pages map with an area about 3 square miles across circled. The note said we could "find our cat there". I said asshole above, I meant motherf---ing asshole.
Melissa spent the next five years looking for Carl, until the day she died. She never gave up hope that he was out there. I still drive through our old neighborhood from time to time looking for him.
With Carl missing, we moved forward with greater urgency gathering and relocating all of our neighborhood cats. Bob was heartbroken without Carl. Grief stricken and alone, Bob refused to leave our garage. He refused to eat for a time, and would meow loudly late into the night. We decided his days outside were over, and we moved him inside. Those first few days were touch and go. He was so feral that he would run and hide under the couch anytime a man's face would come on the TV. The site of Brian Williams on the Nightly News would send Bob into a fit of terror, so afraid he was of everyone but Melissa and I.
Over time big bad Bobs came around. Eventually his favorite pastime was to sit on the side of my leg to watch TV. He refused to sit on my lap, content instead to snuggle up close on a cushion next to me. He would reach over and grab my arm and pull it towards him until I was scratching the back of his ears.
When our two new puppies came along in the summer of 2012 Bob took it upon himself to introduce them to the wider world of cats. He was their tutor on proper cat etiquette, teaching them when it was ok to snuggle and when it was best to stay at least arms length away. Bob taught both Betty and Laika all about cat claws. Bob's favorite trick was to wait until they were asleep and then creep up to them, and with one single claw extended, give a little poke. He never grew tired of it.
Late last week Bob walked up to me and tried to meow. I was expecting that familiar rasp. I used to imagine it with a New England accent. It somehow fit. Only this time no sound came out. He was meowing at me to say good morning, but in complete silence. I figured that the inevitable was finally happening, that that two-pack-a-day habit had finally caught up to him and he had lost his voice. I resolved to get him to the vet to get checked out, and then didn't think about it again.
There is a plaster cast of a small greyhound in my dining room. It sits in the corner facing out. The greyhound was a gift from my Dad to Melissa, bought at an estate sale several years ago. Melissa, being Melissa, could never stand to say no to anyone, no matter how "creepy" the gift. This all white statue looks like a ghost dog. It's estate sale backstory only adds to its ghoulish qualities. On Sunday I found the greyhound had been turned around to face into the corner. I thought it odd, but figured a dog or a house guest had bumped it around. I turned it back around to facing out, thinking no more of it. On Monday night, I found the greyhound turned around again, again facing into the corner. As the night wore on other unexplained events happened. There was a loud and unexplained bang in the backyard. Hitch, one of our other cats, wandered the house meowing at corners and ceilings at the top of his lungs. The dogs ran up and down the hall barking at the windows, only for me to look out and not find anyone or anything. I think about that night now and I wonder if that was Melissa checking in, giving me a sign.
The next morning I woke up early, getting ready for a work trip to Utah for the day. As I enjoyed the early sunrise, feeding the dogs and then the cats, a thought occurred to me that each one of these dear friends would in turn break my heart when their times came. I remember thinking to myself that I should not dwell on the eventual pain, that I should enjoy these sunrises, that I should enjoy these quiet moments among the ones that I love.
Bob did not come out to eat that morning. I found him hiding under the couch, looking tired. This was not the Bob I was used to. The Bob I was used to would steal everyone else's food, eating so much he would barf, then ask for seconds. He perked up for dinner, but didn't seem to have his usual appetite. The next morning, Wednesday, he was again under the couch looking tired and weak. I took him to the vet that morning. The eventual diagnosis, either pneumonia or congestive heart disease, was not encouraging. Bob rallied and I took him home that night.
On Thursday morning I woke early and found Bob in a near coma. I raced him to the vet at 5:30 in the morning, only to have to camp out in the parking lot for an hour for them to open. When I decided I could wait any longer I knocked on the door and freaked the receptionist out. I'm sure she thought I was looking for drugs or worse. The reality was that I was looking for help for my dear, dear friend.
They diagnosed Bob with severe diabetes, and said he was in ketoacidosis. He also was severely dehydrated due to not eating or drinking for about three days. He also still had his pneumonia and or heart failure. Bob fought it and rallied. I spent almost two hours with him on Thursday night, sitting in the back of the vet clinic, feeding Bob by hand, and reminding him of the good times together. We talked about Melissa and Carl, what they might be doing now and how much we all miss each other. We talked about catching birds and eating small lizards. We talked about lions and tigers, and how great it would be to be wild and free, wandering the open savanah.
My cat, Bob took a dramatic turn this afternoon. Things were looking up this morning but between then and now the pneumonia took hold and he wasn't able to get enough air. We put him on oxygen and then into an O2 chamber, but couldn't make a difference. I had to make the very hard decision to let our boy go.
He was an amazing boy. I am so thankful to have had him in my life these past 9 years. Especially this past year, where he provided me with so much love and solace.
Everyone that ever met him loved him and wanted to take him home. He was my Bob and I will never know another friend like him.