In celebration of Oden

In late-November I tried calling Dr. Jason Cordeiro to schedule an at-home euthanasia appointment for Oden, our beloved 17 year-old orange tabby cat. I couldn’t hold myself together long enough to leave a coherent voice message, so we confirmed over text a date for the following week.

But Oden bounced back before that dreaded day — his UTI cleared up, his appetite returned, and he went for walks with me around the neighborhood again. So Amanda and I postponed, knowing that we were delaying the inevitable but thrilled that we’d have more time to love on, cuddle with, and adore our fur baby.

Even knowing that Oden was on borrowed time, today I’m no more emotionally prepared or hardened than I was three months ago. So tomorrow morning when I reschedule the appointment with Dr. Cordiero, I plan to skip the phone call and just text him.

If you’re reading this, that appointment has happened and our time together has expired.

I wanted to rightfully celebrate Oden here, as an honor to him, as a cathartic exercise for me, and perhaps as a courtesy to you — for years he’s been meowling on my Instagram feed, photo-bombing product reviews, and talked about lovingly on guided trips. I know that he has a few fans out there. If I waited until afterwards, I think it’d be weeks or months before I could realistically sit down with a box of Kleenex, ignore temporarily my deep mourning, and share my favorite stories, habits, and qualities of his.

Not wanting to let go

Sly comes home

Oden was born in the summer of 2003 and somehow made it to Denver Dumb Friends League, where Amanda (then 26 years-old) and her ex-husband Billie had window-shopped but found only a great name, Odin, a revered Norse god.

Billie kept tabs on DFL and headed over when the next litter of kittens arrived. As most twenty-something males would, he took an interest in the runt who was terrorizing his siblings, thinking this playfulness would make for more fun (but perhaps not realizing that this would translate into more household destruction, too).

“You mean Sly?” asked the adoption specialist.

Billie misspelled “Oden” on the adoption paperwork and called Amanda on his way home, saying he had a “surprise.” Amanda could hear meowing in the background and rushed out of her office. She reports that it was love at first sight.

Mom and her fur baby

Adolescence

I was not around for Oden’s first seven years, but I’ve seen evidence and heard stories from that era. He was an energetic and agile kitten who demanded attention, or who was forced to self-entertain since Amanda was working two jobs to stay afloat and since Billie was increasingly absent and then gone all together.

When Amanda and I first met, every single electrical cord in Amanda’s house (for her curling iron, television, computer, power strips, phone chargers, etc.) had been gnawed on, as well as all her purse straps. Her fabric-covered storage cubes had been shredded. And she had a graveyard of broken lamps, ceramic trinkets, and Christmas ornaments. On a regular basis Oden would leave by Amanda’s bedside song birds that he’d snatched from their third-story condo balcony.

Caught chewing electrical cords, an assured attention-getter. Notice the metal duct tape as an extra barrier of defense.

His turf

Amanda and I met in November 2010, about two months after I finished the Alaska-Yukon Expedition. After our third date, Amanda and I returned to her place, a cute two-bedroom house in Park Hill, where I finally met Oden.

Up to that point, Amanda had barely mentioned Oden — intentionally, she revealed later, as she was not wanting to come off as a cat-obsessed divorcee. So their closeness was mostly unknown to me.

Oden was scowling at me from atop the refrigerator, one of his safe spaces, but I wanted to impress Amanda with my overinflated cat whispering skills. After letting him sniff my hand I thought we could graduate to some ear-rubbing, but Oden wanted nothing to do with it: He clamped onto my hand with both front claws and his teeth, and gave me a three-inch gash across my palm as I pulled away. Amanda felt terrible about it, though in fairness she did warn me.

In his agile prime

Two-person cat

I was understandably wary of Oden thereafter. But I was also around him more often, allowing us to establish trust. He came to realize that I could offer body heat, calories, outside access, and companionship; and I learned how to pet, hold, and care for him without being attacked again.

Over time Oden became a full-fledged two-person cat — I became as important to him as Amanda was.

Our relationships were different though. Amanda was his mom — his default caregiver, chief protector, and most reliable snuggler — whereas I had had more of a BFF or free-range father role. I let him walk the neighborhood; I sneaked bacon into his food when Amanda wasn’t looking; most Saturdays I cuddled up with him for a post-long run cat nap; and I filled his 9-5 void while Amanda was at work.

Totally smitten and obsessed

Nicknames

Oden was a good choice of names, but that didn’t stop us from having others:

  • Odie, Odors
  • Kitten
  • BFF, Bud, Buddy, Bubba, Bugaboo
  • Peanut, Pumpkin, Nugget
  • Sweet Pea, Sweet Boy
  • Love Bug, Honey Man
  • Stinker, Stinky, Monster, Brat, Old Man
  • Prince
  • Blue Screen (of Death, a Microsoft reference)

That’s twenty-one!

His caterpillar pose

An outdoor cat at heart

In another house Oden may have opted to become a full-time outdoor cat. But we incentivized him to stay inside with 24/7 service.

Still, he had to scratch that itch. The most common solution was a walk, though not a traditional dog-style walk. I learned that if I just let him out the front door, he’d rarely leave the courtyard, distracted by the native grasses that he liked to eat (and later throw up). But if I carried him 200 yards away to the edge of our community open space, he’d walk all the way back, predictably enough we’ve done it leash-less for years now.

The neighbors may have thought this all was strange, but I didn’t care — he loved it, and often shared his enthusiasm with a loud trill.

On warm summer days, he used the backyard skyline trolley that I constructed for him. But as he aged he was content with watching the world go by from our sunny front porch.


Energy conservation

I know that cats are warm-blooded, but Oden’s behavior suggested the opposite, as he took to immediately to anything that would help him stay warm. His favorites were microwave-heated corn bags, dryer-heated blankets, our gas fireplace, the sun, and of course the bodies of his two people (ideally tucked into an armpit or crotch, not coincidentally the warmest parts). But he was not discriminatory — if he had the opportunity, he’d plop himself in front of a space heater, sprawl out across sun-warmed asphalt, and sit on the stove-top when the oven was on.

In his mind, warmth from other sources was a right, not a privilege. With pitiful crying and puppy dog eyes, the nine-pound tyrant regularly forced Amanda or me to assume the position on the couch or the bed, as if we had nothing else to do. He would even try to will the sun to move more quickly if it wasn’t on his timeline.

Contact with a warm object was great, but burrowing under blankets with one was even better. Often he’d start on the top of the blankets, and when he wanted to go underneath he’d paw at them or just start whining. He couldn’t talk our language, but his signaling was just as clear.

One of his favorite winter spots — in his bed in front of the fireplace. #toebeans

Creature of habit

You could set a clock and turn the pages of a wall calendar based on Oden’s daily and seasonal routines.

This winter his days have started around daybreak, when he meowls and walks laps across the bed until one of us gets up and feeds him. He looks longingly at the bedroom door until enough food plates have been delivered, and then settles under the covers in Amanda’s lap.

A few minutes before 9 AM, I put in the dryer his “bed” — consisting of a comforter, fleece blanket, and Amanda’s baby blanket — and in the microwave for 2.5 minutes a homemade corn bag. Then I scoop him from Amanda’s lap while she contours and fluffs his bed (atop our bed). Half the time I can lay him back down exactly as I picked him up, and on the other mornings he wiggles out of my arms because his bed can’t wait any longer.

Around 11 AM he emerges to eat and move to the fireplace. Two hours later he finds sunshine in the front window. And by 4 PM he is begging for a lap on the couch. A predictable sequence continues through the evening.

His exact day-to-day routine varied with the season. In another few weeks, he’d start spending the afternoon in my office, into which the sun pours mid-March through mid-September. A month after that he’d start getting a morning sunbathing session in the bedroom. And sometime in October he’d rediscover the same sunny mid-day spot by the front door.

In my desk drawer, for years his go-to mid-day sleeping spot

Human food

Oden could not be trusted around human food, especially in his youth when countertops were part of his domain. His all-time favorite was chicken pot pie, which had four of his favorite ingredients: chicken, butter, carbohydrates, and salt.

He liked to lick Pirate’s Bootie, Cheeze-Its, and potato chips; he’d wake up from a deep sleep if a metal spoon clinked an ice cream bowl; and he always tried to steal bacon off the breakfast table when we weren’t looking.

Unaware of his penchant for sweet and savory foods, my mother once left a pan of brownies to cool on the counter top, then joined us in the backyard. Within ten minutes, he’d found them and licked off most of the top.

In another episode, he found a three-ounce can of cooling bacon grease on the window sill, and lapped down one-third of it before Amanda and I noticed his absence and ran into the kitchen.

Nachos, not his favorite, but he stuck around for the company

Those looks

I may be biased, but Oden was a handsome feline, with a perfect cat face, symmetric coloring, and long body. His expressive eyes conveyed his mood: loving, sleepy, alert, scowling, or judging.

That worked to his advantage, because it was impossible to stay mad at him. He treated our sofa like a scratching post; put puke stains on most of our throw rugs; and behaved terribly at night, especially when he got older (related to loss of eyesight and increased anxiety, we believe) — he’d meowl in my ear just because, wake me up 2-3 times to be fed, do stumble-filled laps across our bed with his claws out, and paw incessantly at Amanda’s face.


Family unit

If Oden was not with me and not with Amanda, usually he was going to the bathroom. When he was awake, he insisted on being near or ideally in contact with one of us; when he was asleep, he had a strong preference to be in the same room, to the degree that if he heard both our voices in another room he’d often relocate his napping location; and at bedtime, he’d stare at the doorway waiting for the final person to enter until our family unit was together.

He hated dogs, other cats, noisy people, small children, and veterinarians, and slowly came to tolerate anyone else. His loved greatly but selectively.

Waiting for one of us to join him on the couch

“It’s great until it’s not”

I can’t recall another period in my life when I’ve been as emotionally wrecked. Just today, I’ve bawled while selecting a photo for a Maya Han watercolor portrait, while checking out at Petco with his final cans of food, and when he greeted us at the front door after some errands.

I’m teary-eyed just writing this. And I still have four days to go.

While consoling me during one of these sessions, Amanda — who has it even worse — acutely observed that, “It’s great until it’s not.”

For seventeen years Oden has been loved, and has loved us in return. But like most fur children (and unlike most high school seniors with whom he shares the same age), he won’t outlive his parents, putting us in the unenviable position of weighing his quality of life versus our selfishness. We finally decided that his declining eyesight, worsening arthritis, teetering balance, deteriorating appetite, occasional seizures, and constant anxiety would soon tip the scale in the wrong direction.

The wait time between that decision and his end has been the pits, and we dread the void that will be left afterwards.

But if given the choice, we’d happily do it all over again. He was a gift.

Good night, buddy.
Posted in on March 5, 2021
Tags:

20 Comments

  1. Andrew Bearman on March 5, 2021 at 3:25 pm

    What a good friend. RIP Oden. A good life lived well!

  2. Jeff on March 5, 2021 at 6:42 pm

    Hi Andrew,

    I was just snuggling my 14 year old tiger man the other day and was thinking about how you and Oden were doing.

    My tiny kitten Pennypants, who sadly only lived a year, was the kitty social coordinator of our neighborhood and will be honored to show him her five star camp sites around kitty heaven.

    Hugs from our [fur]family,
    Jeff

  3. Hunter Grantham Hall on March 6, 2021 at 10:38 pm

    Great tribute. I feel like I understand Oden so much better now!

  4. sophie on March 7, 2021 at 4:38 am

    Beautiful…. thanks
    I remember my last cat in France (Kenzo, a black cat adopted adult from a cats shelter – and always thankful to me that I took him out of there), I still miss him very much.
    Same as you, he used to walk with me to the mail box 300 meters away, but would not go further 🙂

  5. Shawn and Trudy Bearden on March 7, 2021 at 8:07 am

    May he rest in peace. May you and Amanda be well. We’re sending you hugs and love.

  6. Brandon Chase on March 7, 2021 at 4:21 pm

    The perfect tribute – thanks for sharing him with us over the years. RIP.

  7. David W on March 8, 2021 at 10:52 am

    RIP Oden. So sorry for you both. He was clearly loved and loved in return. I will miss the updates on his shenanigans!

  8. Joey on March 8, 2021 at 12:28 pm

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful remembrance of Oden. Though, admittedly, I often skim over your posts, I couldn’t help but read every word of this one. He was a very handsome fellow, with an even better personality. You, Amanda, and Oden are all very lucky to have been united for your life journeys. Oden will live on in the love you share with others for the rest of your earthly life. I’ll hug my cats extra tight tonight in Oden’s memory.

  9. Shelby on March 8, 2021 at 9:22 pm

    Thank you for sharing Oden with us and this beautiful tribute to him. I am so sorry for your and Amanda’s loss. You both gave him such a wonderful life, which has made your lives even better (even though I know how brutal it is right now). Please take care of yourselves.

  10. Lowell Kleinman on March 9, 2021 at 3:53 pm

    To my observations, deeply falling in love with another being is accompanied by an initially unseen vulnerability to a great loss that our future self will experience. For many years our love is so joyful, marked by laughing at things like chewed electrical cords and purse straps, perhaps even an appreciation of the scratches and bites sustained on a cat’s road to two-personhood. We are in a state of loving bliss, unaware that from these little things memories are being forged that our future self will someday rely on.

    As age and serious illness occur, we are reminded that our time together is actually quite limited. Our unseen vulnerability takes form as we begin to feel the grief of the impending loss. We know what lies ahead and it hurts. When the day of loss finally arrives, the loss is palpable. The sadness is too much, and we are unsure if our shattered hearts can ever fully heal. Time passes, and the healing eventually arrives. We are left with the soothing memories that only a wholehearted soul-filling love could have ever created.

    • Andrew Skurka on March 9, 2021 at 6:15 pm

      I look forward to only having those soothing memories. At least today, everywhere I look in my house I think of my cat and of walking his breathless body to the vet’s car wrapped in Amanda’s baby blanket. So definitely not there yet!

  11. ward on March 9, 2021 at 8:46 pm

    theres a hill east of berkeley where ive buried two cats. one was my ex wifes kitty she brought from france. the other, our daughters best buddy. the ground was soft and the grass was green and tall, it must have been spring.
    thank you for your beautiful tribute, it brought back powerful memories.
    wishing you and your wife well.

  12. Lyz Gregory on March 17, 2021 at 8:40 pm

    What a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing who he was with us. They leave such a big hole in your heart; equal to the adventures and love you had together.

  13. Karl on March 20, 2021 at 2:10 pm

    We use to have cats with chronic UTI’s… then we got an electric water fountain for 24.00 dollars via Amazon. They drink alot more and the UTI’s are history. Cat’s hate water bowls… they appear to love flowing water. I do not think that any of my aging cats will die from UTI’s now.
    Cheers,
    Karl

    • Andrew Skurka on March 20, 2021 at 10:12 pm

      We upgraded to a water fountain after his UTI, and I agree that it made a huge difference. No longer was he always begging us for water, and he definitely drank more water from the fountain than we drank from the static sources.

  14. Karl on March 20, 2021 at 11:28 pm

    Great– you did the right thing. I’ve brought home too many abandoned and injured cats, but I can’t just leave them by the side of the road (try riding a bicycle 20 miles with a kitten tucked under your arm, or a dog, for that matter!). It’s a fine thing to see an animal flourish with the right care and attention.
    Karl

  15. Kris on March 24, 2021 at 4:45 pm

    My wife and I went through nearly the same thing with our 16 yo calico Sumi on the 20th (whom we got together back when we were still dating). Eventually came inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, and lots of the stuff to deal with because of that, but also just not wanting to give up. It’s so hard when your cat is slowly declining to figure out where the line is, and where their quality of life isn’t where it should be, and that final guilt of having to play god to your cat.

    This post is much better written than anything I could come up with, but it’s given me comfort after having gone through a similar experience. Thank you.

    • Andrew Skurka on March 24, 2021 at 5:00 pm

      Sorry, I know what you’re going through. A few weeks past you, so I can tell you that it will get better. But I’ve yet to meet anyone who said that it doesn’t stay with you.

Leave a Comment