I had to put George down this morning. He was 17 and, until this week, never had a bad day in his life. I’ve had cats my whole life and have to put them down in the past. You know when it’s time and today it was time.
People have an understandable habit of anthropomorphizing their pets. I’m no different. I had two cats before I had kids – a boy and a girl – and I tended to call them my “kids” or my “babies.” Then the real kids came and, as so often happens, the cats became cats again. Still loved, but definitely pets.
George, who in the past few years acquired the nickname Beefus, was originally my parents’ cat. He became mine when they went out on the road RVing nine or ten years ago. I still had the boy and the girl cat then and I still had very little kids, so he was just a cat too. There wasn’t much time for pretending he was much more than that. I petted him and played with him, but his place in the pecking order for my attention was pretty clear. And, to his credit, he didn’t mind a bit. George never, in his 17 years, gave a flying fuck about anything. He was about the most easy-going cat you’ve ever seen.
Things started to change between George and I about six years ago. That’s when I started working at home. The boy and the girl cat had moved on to cat Valhalla, my wife was back to work and the kids were starting school and weren’t around during the day. It was just George and me. He started sitting on the desk while I worked. Or my lap if it was cold. I’ve worked at home alone for years now and I’m used to it, but back then it was still odd for me and not talking to people during the day was strange.
Rather than talk to myself like some kind of crazy person I talked to George. He was a very good listener. Sometimes, if I allowed myself to lose my mind for a bit, I would pretend that George would talk back. We had some arguments – mostly about whether it was OK for him to sleep on the keyboard of my laptop or drink the water out of my glass – but mostly our conversations involved him telling me it was OK to have another cookie or skip working out that day. He had my back, as a good bro does.
George never slept with me in the first few years I had him. Probably something he picked up when he was my parents’ cat. They had a big German Shepard who had dibs on their bed so he was more of a couch guy. He’d walk over my head at night sometimes because he was kind of a jackass like that, but then he’d go do something else. That all changed after my wife and I split up. For whatever reason George began coming in to my room at night after that and curling up with me. And not at my legs like most cats do. I sleep on my side with my elbow bent under my head, and he’d come and lay long against my chest with his paws over my arm and his head under my chin, like he was some sort of teddy bear.
It was also around that time that he began to sit on my legs or my lap every single time I sat down on the couch and follow me around the house like a dog. He was especially close when I was sick or I was sad, when he would curl up a little closer, purr a little harder and bonk his head into my hands to force me to pet him. I know he liked that, but part of me likes to think he knew that petting him calmed me down and made me feel better.
Anthropomorphizing animals is still kind of silly. I’ve been around enough cats and dogs to where I know that they like to be playful and I am inclined to believe that they are capable of an affection that we can properly call love, but I think most of the time we project things onto them. We call them neurotic, grumpy, crazy or mischievous when, in reality, they’re just displaying the sort of cat or dog-like behavior that falls within a normal cat or dog-like spectrum. When we say they’re worried, we’re usually saying, whether we know it or not, that we’re worried, and so forth. Ascribing human motivations and feelings to them is harmless, but I tend to think it says more about us than it says about them.
So I don’t know if George was really trying to make me feel better or if he truly thought of me as his friend. I think he loved me and trusted me and knew that I was his bro who had his back, but whatever else went through his mind was likely more cat-like than human-like.
But no matter what he thought and whatever motivated him, he was a wonderful friend to me. He gave me what I needed just as much if not more than I gave him what he needed. Whether he actually understood that, he seemed to understand. Whether he actually thought of me as his friend, he seemed to. And I’m forever grateful that I had him in my life.