When Max was a little kitten, a handful of fluffy little gray fur brought into my house at just a few weeks old, I had the priviledge of naming him. I thought of my love for the children's book Where the Wild Things Are and its main character, Max. I showed my little kitten the book, and he bit the book (I can still see the teeth marks), and I thought, “Well, Max it is.” Maybe he was named too appropriately, for a character known for his wildness, because that first couple of years he was a wild thing. He was always looking for a fight or a piece of furniture to destroy or an ankle to attack. I’d regularly come home to find the toilet paper in the bathroom shredded. Jumping after a bug he went out of a second story window in Buffalo, NY twice and walked away uninjured. Many times I had scratch marks on my hand, and when someone would ask what happened I would raise my palms, shrug my shoulders, and say, “I have a cat.”
Giving up his wildness was the gift Max gave to me throughout his life. After a year or two he calmed down and settled into a more serene adulthood. There were moments the wildness showed--crouching to hunt a bird or turning into the Tasmanian Devil at the sight of another cat outside--but otherwise he accepted domestication. He learned to like sitting on my lap, and in the last few years he readily fell into what I called the side-cuddle, his ultimate sign of affection as he lay his side on my chest and purred. His days as an adult were given to sleeping or quietly looking out a window, with breaks for treats or time to drink from the bathroom faucet, but otherwise he was truly a house cat and his wildness was boxed away.
For families, pets are an extra addition, a little furry presence to bring some added joy or fun. For those who live alone, pets are the sun around which all the household planets revolve. For most of Max’s 15 years he provided the only other heartbeat in my home. During my time as a single man I would come home and he’d be there at the door. I’d go to sleep on a winter night and he would snuggle behind my knees for warmth. Watching tv or reading in the cool evening he would crawl up in my lap so readily I didn’t notice his arrival. It was just status quo to have him on my lap. For a person who lived alone, Max’s presence was a gift that can’t be quantified.
I noticed over the last several weeks Max was eating less. A week ago I saw even the cat treats--for which he usually could not wait--sat uneaten. Picking Max up I could feel a bloated space around his stomach. I made the call to the veterinarian with the heavy intuition that Max wouldn’t come home from this trip. The vet, within a few seconds of examining Max, gave a too-telling sigh. After only a minute of looking at Max, the veterinarian explained there was a large tumor inside Max, and Max wouldn’t get better. Anything done might prolong his life a bit, but not for long, and there were no guarantees any treatment would do anything positive. I knew any prolonging would only be for my benefit and wouldn’t benefit Max, so I gave the OK to let Max’s life go. I watched as the vet sedated Max and then gave the final injection. The veterinarian placed his stethoscope on Max, a few seconds later, and said with compassion, “I don’t hear a heartbeat.” Coming home and opening the door my default expectation was still that Max would greet me at the door as another heartbeat in the house, but this time the house was empty and his heartbeat was still.
Maxy, how can I thank you? The 3 AM wakeups when you coughed up a furball, the claw-marks on the furniture, and the interruptions while you begged for your treats, they all were a small price to pay for having you in my home. You were the gift that was there every day that I didn’t appreciate enough as a gift, but now I do. You set aside your wildness to become my friend, my roommate, and companion at home. Even when my family grew you were ready to show me love when you could, crawling up on my lap and purring when you could grab a chance. I told you at the vet’s office, when I knew your time was short, and I say it again, even if it’s only for me to hear, “Thank you.” I often said you only had room in your life for one person, and that person was me, but you gave me all the love you had, and I am so thankful. At the end of Where The Wild Things Are Max comes back home from the wild to a home with a warm dinner. My home was the home you came to, Max, and I hope I gave you a good one. I sure know you made my home better.
"In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." - Rule of St. Benedict