Tito. My beloved friend.
We said farewell this morning and I am, simply put, devastated.
Mr. T., Tito Terwilliger, Sweet T, Pinky Pinkerton, Tee Tee Ba, Tito Tomato. (You know I really love someone when one name will not suffice. Tito had no less than 6 nicknames.)
Our friend Tito hit the ripe old age of 23 (ish) this year and while that sounds like an extraordinary length of life for a cat…. any animal person out there reading this will nod their head when I say it wasn’t enough time.
This cat was more than a friend or a companion. He was my peer, my teacher and, at times, my savior.
Eleven years ago, upon moving into an apartment in Sandy Hook, CT, I met the most inquisitive and round buff tabby. He purposely got under my feet as I approached the stairs to my front door. When I paused and turned to him, he literally THREW his body on my feet, exposed his belly and waited for a snuggle. I obliged. He repeated this ritual every time I exited my door or arrived home. He did it to each of my sisters as they helped me move in, the whole while meowing up a storm. He loved to chat.
My neighbor told me that the previous tenant had left him behind when they moved out. Literally just abandoned him. She had been calling him Tom and leaving a bowl of food out for him, but she was clear that she couldn’t take him in.
I lasted maybe two weeks. It was almost October after all – in Connecticut that means nights get cold and … I just couldn’t deny that sweet mug. One day, he followed me up the stairs as usual, I opened the door and said, “Okay, come on in.” and he waltzed right into my kitchen like he owned the place. (He did live there before me, after all.)
I brought this cute, round, charming chatterbox to my vet to check him out. I thought what could he be? 3 or 4 maybe? All that fluffy fur, those bright green eyes. He had a mystery cough that I suspected was a hairball problem.
Nope. The doctor informed me that the cough was asthma – his lungs were in terrible shape. The stinky breath I noticed? Well, that was from all these half rotten teeth – the ones he had left that is, which were not that many. No, no, my new friend was at least 10 years old and Dr. Mixon (a very good vet by the way) suspected he was more like 12.
So, okay – on some medication for asthma, on a diet to lose some weight, okay, I can handle an older cat. Well, the only one who never really understood how old he was… was Tito.
I could sit here and type story after story about this sweetly tenacious soul. There was so much personality packed into that tiny frame. I’ll try to give you the highlights (no promises I won’t come back and tell more Tito stories though. It is the only thing making my heart feel a little lighter at the moment.)
Firstly, Tito Cat loved kittens. Like he LOVED them. Best Daddy cat I’ve ever known. I remember bringing Dave home as a baby and keeping them in separate rooms to try to give them time to acclimate. I remember being so nervous that Tito would hate him and I’d have to find this kitten another home. They tore a hole in my carpet trying to get to each other through that door in the middle of the night. I woke up and finally just gave them what they wanted and crossed my fingers. Would you believe that my 17 pound giant just put one paw on Dave’s head, knocking him to the ground, then covered him in kisses? They have been inseparable ever since. Dave even tried to nurse from Tito a few times. I’ve never seen the like. Until, that is… Schmoo came home with us a couple years ago. Tito again became Daddy cat – I think it may have been his favorite role.
Another thing to know about Tito? He loved me. My sisters called it obsessed – but pshhh, it was just love. Big, big love. Tito would sleep in my bed next to me, under the covers, with his head on my pillow. I would wake up to his big green eyes just STARING at me. It was hilarious. He wanted to be with me all the time – he followed me everywhere. (I had zero problems with this plan.) I’ve always suspected those assholes who left him behind were never very nice to Tito. I may have been the first person to really love him. He knew it and appreciated it. I don’t think he ever forgot. Now his devotion was adorable, but it was also a little tricky in one area. He hated men. Well, specifically, he hated any men that came to my house. He would stare and hiss. “You want to pet me? I think not, dick!” BITE. Yeah, he didn’t want to share. In fact, he hated a certain guy named Steve for a long while… but they won each other over in the end. Tito learned how to live in a family, how to share me and share space and he became the alpha in our household. Even above the dog. Seriously.
Above all else though, Tito loved life. (I mean, he loved food almost as much, but…) Tito was the most tenacious, strong, brave, tough little animal I have ever had the honor of knowing. 6 years ago, his hind legs started to wobble a bit as he walked. We noticed, but weren’t sure what to make of it. He took a couple of falls running around a corner too fast and we started to get worried. The vet couldn’t find anything wrong, so we just kept an eye on him… and then one day he lost the use of his legs completely. More tests, more x-rays, visits with a cat chiropractor (yes – they exist) – they could not figure out what was wrong. We made a special litter box for him and carried him everywhere he needed to go. We started bringing him outside for fresh air and to lay in the sun. The doctors were at a loss. They told me I needed to let him go, arguing that his quality of life was going to be terrible. But, I refused. I saw the look in his eyes. The determination. He was as sharp as ever, he was eating, he was using the litter box (with my assistance, but I was willing to keep assisting). It wasn’t his time yet. Steve started making plans to build a cart to help him get around. (See? Told you they became friends.) A couple weeks passed and one day…. he stood up. Very wobbly, but he was using those back legs. Over the next couple of days, he started taking steps… and then running. He was back. (Never the same – always a little wobbly and stiff legged – but back!). Back to the vet – and nothing. They still could not figure it out. The vet called it a miracle. He said he had never seen anything like it in his 20 years of practice. Tito Cat loved life and he never quit.
This week, upon learning that his liver was failing and other organs were soon to follow, I made the hardest choice any friend to an animal must face. I agonized over it. In the end, I decided to let him go so he would not feel any more pain. I pray it was the right thing to do. I miss him with my whole heart already and I will miss him until I take my own last breath.
I am so lucky he found me.
I will never forget the feel of his soft cheek rubbing up against mine or his big belly flopping on top of my feet or the sound of his voice calling for a snack or a snuggle.
I love you, Tito. Rest in peace, my sweet, brave man. Thank you for being my friend.