I made it out of the Corps just in time to catch Katrina in New Orleans. Returning to the city in the immediate aftermath of the storm, I was collecting some left-behind items when I heard something from another room. Investigating, I moved an end table aside and was surprised to find four kittens huddled together, perhaps days old, with a mother nowhere in sight or sound.
The four of them were small enough to fit in a shoebox. There wasn’t a question as to what to do: I had them in that shoebox in my lap as we drove away, this time for good.
I didn’t want to name them yet, I didn’t want to invest. One of them wouldn’t eat or drink and died shortly after we got home; I don’t even have a picture of him. I still wonder about him when I see the others or think back to those days. The other three kept going, and they began to pick up their names as their personalities bloomed.
There was Duke, an inquisitive, mildly cross-eyed girl.
Chill, who over time would prove to be the loudest of the bunch, and horribly mis-named as a result.
Finally there was Wedge, a little puffball that would in time turn into a chonky boy.
They were great cats with distinctly unique personalities, and I was thankful I’d noticed them when I did. The years came and went, and they were happy companions to have around.
In 2009 Little Bit joined us, having been abandoned as a kitten, literally showing up on our doorstep. She’s an absolute sweetheart.
2011 saw Eby becoming part of the fray. Here’s him as a little three-legged kitten laying by the now-much-larger Wedge.
The years marched on. Life happened. The cats were always there, and working from home became that much richer as a result of their presence.
Eventually something would disrupt this, but for a long time it was fairly smooth sailing. A few medical scares, but nothing too severe.
Then, in late 2016, Duke came down with some sickness. Vet visit after visit yielded no clues. She was clearly miserable, and I had to make that decision that everyone who has ever cared about a pet dreads the most. It was gut-wrenching to realize that I was facing something I couldn’t identify or defeat.
I sat with her until the end, and the last thing she saw was a mixture of grief and hope that ending her suffering was the right move to make. I still wonder if there was more I could have done, or something I missed that would have been key to solving her puzzle. I think it was the right choice, but you can’t lose something you love without wondering what other possibilities there might have been.
Duke made it eleven years. She was a great cat, she was endlessly sweet, and I’m thankful for the time we had.
Sarah never met her. I dreamed once that I’d heard something under the bed, and upon inspecting, found Duke sitting there. In the dream I called to Sarah and told her that Duke was here, she could meet her now. It was one of those dreams that’s so seamlessly real that you wake up believing it to have happened. It took a few moments for reality to reassert itself, for the loss to return. She was a great cat.
Since then, out of that original litter of four, it’s been Chill and Wedge remaining, with Little Bit and Eby having joined the family along the way.
Wedge was an often clumsy goofball, but he was a sweet one. He’d be the first to greet a visitor, and his affection was immediate and unconditional. One morning I woke up and walked into the living room to find the cat food bowl, and the mat under it, sitting in the middle of the room, not a single bit of spilled food between where it should have been and where it was. I was amazed, wondering what sequence of events could have transpired to result in that.
It wasn’t until I reviewed the Nest footage that I discovered that Wedge had been eating, hooked a claw into the mat mistakenly, then when walking away discovered that the food was chasing him. So he scuttled away, dragging it with him. Little Bit saw this, came to investigate, and gave him a good slap for his shenanigans, and he managed to free himself from his pursuer. It was amazing. I’m so glad to have captured it on video.
Wedge was a big cat. After awhile, he started to lose some weight. It seemed positive at first, then it kept going and we realized there was a problem. He was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, and at his age and condition, one of the common treatments for it wasn’t viable. Instead, he was given meds to help, and they did just that, stabilizing the worst of it and giving him – and us – more time. He would eventually have some senior problems, but it was nothing we couldn’t handle. He was still a chow hound, probably even more so as a result of the condition.
I didn’t know what to expect for his survival chances. The meds weren’t something to stay on long-term due to potential side effects, but given his situation, it was the only choice we had. His quality of life remained high, he seemed happy, he was affectionate as always. You could tell the years and the disease were adding up, but he kept going. Speaking of Nest clips, here’s another memorable one where Eby for whatever reason decided that going under Wedge was the best route to take, and Wedge took it in stride.
We had a guest over not too long ago who turned out to be afraid of cats, and sweet little scrawny Wedge was trying so hard to say ‘Hello!’, not understanding why the reaction was different from the norm. He’d do that to anyone – he’d be the first to greet you, ever curious, ever affectionate.
Something changed recently, and it changed fast. He had developed a limp, had been staying more and more in his little padded box-bed, and seemed to be having trouble with movement in general. Yesterday Sarah realized that now he couldn’t seem to stand at all. It was one of those moments where even though you knew something was coming, you knew it was inevitable, it still hit harder than you’d expect.
So we went to the emergency vet. We didn’t talk about it, but we knew what was coming.
The vet was everything you could hope for in a vet, able to keep her kindness and compassion in an occupation where our pending loss was a sad reality of her day-to-day. She examined him and found that Wedge’s back legs had atrophied to the point where he couldn’t walk, and with everything else on top of it, there was no coming back. She couldn’t fix old age. Wedge still had his dignity, and the thought of forcing him to go on even as more and more of his self-sufficiency was lost was a selfish cruelty we could never impose on him. He’d lived a good life, had survived with his disease for longer than one could have expected, and as much as it hurt to finalize that decision, it was ultimately the right one to make.
We weren’t rushed. We had time to let him know one final time how important he was, how happy we’d been to have him, how much he was loved, how much he’d be missed. We pet him, held him, cried, and prepared to say goodbye to a companion who’d been on such a journey and been so reliably positive over so many years.
Knowing that it was coming didn’t make it any easier; I’m sure it never really does. The best I could say was that at least we were able to be there, that it wasn’t in pain, and that it wasn’t some sudden and unexpected tragedy.
I stayed with him, knelt down beside him, and talked to him as the final preparations were made. Cradling his head in my hand, we kept eye contact as I said goodbye and thanked him for everything. I wanted him to know, like with Duke, that I was there at the end.
A fuzzy Wedge-shaped hole punched through my heart as he died. He went peacefully; whatever pain he’d suffered was at an end. The bittersweet pain of his loss swept over us.
I thanked the vet, who had been so compassionate throughout, and who no doubt had seen this same scene play out an uncountable number of times herself. We arranged for his ashes and a paw print to be made in memorial. I’ll pick that up in the coming days, and then he’ll be able to rest beside his sister.
When Duke died, I didn’t really talk about it in public. I didn’t like the idea of spreading even a shadow of that pain to others. I almost didn’t write this up, but I decided his story – and Duke’s – was something to preserve and share. Something to celebrate their lives having happened in the first place. If one of them hadn’t meowed at just the right time, I may never have found them in the first place. I’m eternally grateful it played out how it did.
Duke and Wedge are gone but never forgotten. Chill, Little Bit, and Eby remain. Whatever you’ve seen me do over the years, whatever joy or entertainment you’ve had from my work or ShackTac, know that this wonderful collection of furry lost-then-found souls has been a key sustainment for me. A little part of them is in everything I do, and the fact that I’m here to even do those things in the first place is heavily influenced by them.
I make sure to tell them how much they mean, how happy I am to have them, and how much I’ve appreciated them over the years. You can never really say that, or show that, enough. Never taking it for granted makes it that much more meaningful over the years.
I will always second-guess how I handled Duke and Wedge’s medical issues, always wonder if I could have done something to lead to a better outcome. It’s in my nature; it’s an inevitability when the stakes involve the lives of ones you love. I feel I did the best I could, that we played the hand dealt to us the best we could, and that they both lived their best lives along the way.
I want to close out with something Sarah commissioned years ago, a wonderful portrayal of the cats as an RPG party. From left to right you have Little Bit, Eby, Chill – the loud minstrel – and Wedge, the goofy necromancer. I love how well this captures their characters. Duke was gone before Sarah met her, and the party’s been reduced again by one with Wedge passing, but the game’s not over yet, and whatever level each of them gets to, we’re going to make the journey the best it can be.
Thank you for your time in reading this. For fellow pet owners, I hope you and yours have many more years of joy ahead of you! The inevitable price paid for such wonderful companionship is a hard one to bear in the aftermath of that loss, but the years of happiness that we share along the way are no doubt ultimately well worth it.
Goodbye, Wedge, and thank you for having been a part of this journey. We were lucky to have had you with us for as long as we did. You are and will always be missed!