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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Oden was a good choice of names, but that didn’t stop us from having others:
- Odie, Odors
- BFF, Bud, Buddy, Bubba, Bugaboo
- Peanut, Pumpkin, Nugget
- Sweet Pea, Sweet Boy
- Love Bug, Honey Man
- Stinker, Stinky, Monster, Brat, Old Man
- Blue Screen (of Death, a Microsoft reference)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.