Our cat, Reinhold, didn’t have many friends (even if he had a decent number of Twitter followers). Although handsome by feline standards, with fluffy orange and white fur and a face suitable for national cat food campaigns, Reinhold’s disposition towards most who aren’t in our household was best described as, by and large, hostile.
In his estimated fifteen-odd years, Reinhold bit or scratched us, our friends, relatives, neighbors, contractors, caretakers, veterinarians, UPS drivers, Girl Scouts, and pretty much anyone else who ventured through the front door. When most cats feel threatened, they run away. Reinhold was a big believer in Stand Your Ground, and he felt threatened by nearly everything. Over the span of his career, we estimate that he drew well over a pint of blood (mostly ours), and we lived in constant fear that he might one day escape the house, after which the neighborhood children would start to disappear, one by one. Thankfully he never did.
We knew what we were getting into when we adopted him and Cougar (with whom he was already bonded) twelve years ago. They’d been living in a room in a foster home for over a year, unable to mingle with the other cats in the home and unshowable at adoption fairs because of Reinhold’s habit of screeching, hissing, and generally channeling Satan when in the presence of other living beings. But Mrs. Storm had seen his picture in a rescue agency’s binder, and it was love at first sight. And the first time we visited him, he exhibited no signs of being the Destroyer of Worlds that he was reputed to be.
Us: He’s incredibly sweet. And what an incredibly loud purr! We’ll happily take them both.
Feline Foundation foster family: Ummm…no.
Us: Why not? He seems to like us.
FFFF: You should come back again next week. You need to see what he’s really like before making that kind of commitment.
On the second visit we saw the whole truth. One moment you’re petting a beautiful, purring cat; the next moment OH PLEASE DEAR GOD DON’T LET HIM HURT ME. But Mrs. Storm could see the loving critter inside the snarling beast, and we decided that her efficiency apartment would make a better home for him.
The first day was frightening. Cougar hid under the bed, but Reinhold made the kitchen his citadel, and would screech whenever either of us came into his line of sight. Even hearing us move in the main room would start him growling, a sound not unlike an old hand-cranked fire truck siren winding up.
The first night was utterly terrifying. The second the lights went out, the kitchen demon’s siren began to fire up a mere five feet from the bed. Ten minutes after the lights went off, something fluffy and menacing landed with a dull thump at our feet. We froze. He began his jackhammer purr. A breakthrough? I started to move my arm. He yowled. I quickly pulled the covers up over my head. I might have cried a little. But Mrs. Storm assured me that he was all bark and no bite, and that he would not in fact rip our throats out as we slept. Probably because of exhaustion brought on by abject fear, I did eventually get to sleep, and to this day there are no scars on my throat.
Of course Mrs. Storm was wrong about him being “no bite,” and we do carry scars on other parts of our bodies from the years it took to learn what set Reinhold off and why. But once we did, and began to earn his trust, we were rewarded with a feline companion whose depths of affection (on his terms, of course) were nearly boundless. Reinhold always wanted to be near us, would come when called, and always met us at the door when we arrived home. Upon return from road trips, the first thing I’d see as I turned the key was Reinhold bounding down the stairs, eager to cash in on overdue scritchin’s. Although he never permitted us to pick him up, he would often seek our laps, where he’d stretch out and stay all day if allowed. And every night he’d cuddle up with us and ease us to sleep with his loud yet soothing purr.
Of course he never lost all of his semi-feral ways. But for us, his lapses of incivility became just another facet of who he was, like a charming uncle who sometimes shivved people for no apparent reason.
The extra caution and occasional bloodshed were worth the rewards of having earned his trust and affection, and we thought Reinhold was strong and stubborn enough to live forever. We’d nearly given up on him three months ago, after his weight plummeted from his lifelong fifteen pounds to just over seven. That time it was a thyroid condition, from which he rallied after treatment.
But one can only hiss and screech at the Grim Reaper for so long before he collects. A bowel condition compounded Reinhold’s recovery, hectoring him until he was no longer capable of eating or drinking. Still he sought us out, even using some of his precious energy to manage to purr in his final days, comforting us all.
Cats are excellent at hiding their pain and distress, which can make it difficult to know when you’re no longer doing them a favor by keeping them alive. Our vet told us that Reinhold would let us know when it was time for him to go. We also researched how to make the decision. We determined that as long as he was eating, drinking, pooping properly, moving without obvious distress and, most importantly, responding to us, that his pain wasn’t excessive. This was a cat whose ferocity made 300-pound plumbers cower in fear; for him to show any weakness at all was exceptional.
Saturday morning Reinhold was curled up in a ball behind a couch on the first floor, as out of the way as it gets in our home. He no longer responded to us talking to him, not even flinching an ear. Never had we seen him like this. It was time.
We made an appointment to have Reinhold euthanized at our home the following Monday. We coaxed him into sitting on the bed with us, and over the next two days we spent our time with him there. His lucid moments came less frequently, and it became clear that it hurt him to be touched anywhere except for the top of his head. As much as we wanted to pet him, we knew it wasn’t a comfort to him anymore. And holding him? Although a lap cat, never in his life were we able to pick Reinhold up for more than five seconds before his feral instincts kicked in.
Thankfully, the vet and technician arrived on Monday before major organ failure occurred. The procedure was quick and humane: Reinhold was given a fast-acting sedative, and we were able to pet and comfort him as it took effect. Then we had some time to say our final tearful goodbyes, after which he was given a drug that stopped his heart. He went peacefully.
In death we were finally able to hold Reinhold in our arms. As much as we wish he’d allowed us to do so during his fifteen year life, to him it was a source of great stress. But for us, at that moment, it helped us let go.
Some might say we were crazy to choose to live with the feline equivalent of Jekyll and Hyde (particularly those who met him “in the fur”). But the sorrow we now feel is a testament to a simple truth: the love you give pays dividends as love in return. As with people, no pet is perfect. In Reinhold’s case, he started out as a holy terror. But with generous doses of love, patience, and understanding, our lives were enriched beyond measure.
So while we’ll feel sad for a long time over the loss of Reinhold, we also feel grateful to have known him as a unique being who was able to overcome his fear and mistrust, to become a beloved member of our family.
Rest in peace, Mr. R.