I adopted Dante and his brother Chaucer when they were about eight weeks old. On a rainy night right before Halloween 2003. From a farm, during which visit someone (not me) had to shoot a possum that got into the barn.
Dante and Chaucer were part of a litter of five boys: a big gray kitten, two orange kittens, a brown/gray striped kitten, and a kitten so light beige he was champagne-colored. When the striped kitten immediately laid belly-up on my foot I knew he was my Chaucer (I had that name picked out years ago), but it took a bit to decide which of the other kittens I would take. Then I realized the little champagne-colored kitten was being pushed away from the food by the bigger kittens. So I decided that he would be mine, too. He needed a name to match Chaucer so I named him Dante.
He grew up from a tiny one-pound fluff ball into a rather round-in-the-middle cat, with dainty, turned-in front paws and a slim tail. His coat darkened to a solid beige color with darker stripes on his legs, tail, and tabby “M” on his forehead. He had the softest fur to snuggle. He loved having “brain” and chin scritches. Lots of them.
He loved his toys, usually the ones his brother was playing with first, with emphasis on the cheapest things around: cardboard boxes and milk jug rings. He had special dislike for the “kitty in the mirror” who frequently talked smack and needed correcting. Dante and Chaucer frequently napped in a little kitty pile, the way that sibs often do, and they loved all the soft furnishings, especially my bed (even under the covers).
He was the one who would give me kisses when I held him. Even if he was also gifted with the nickname “Hissy Pants” since he would be the first to hiss when annoyed, particularly as he aged. (He also got called Baby Kitty, since he liked to be held burp-a-baby style.) He had this weird meow that sounded like “moo” so sometimes I would moo back.
Dante both equally loved and hated the “got your tail” game, which involved me touching the very tip of his tail. He would growl and pull his tail away….then start purring and lay his tail back over my hand to do it all over again. He had the best purr and was a champion snuggler. But he didn’t like my friends or family that much. He always had to let you know it was his house. Unless you were the piano tuner, electricians, plumber, or cable persons – those guys were always presented with his tummy to rub.
Did I mentioned he had the softest fur? He hated having it brushed, with any kind of brush. He yowled so loud I worried the neighbors would think I was murdering someone. Unless I was trying to trim his claws – then it sounded like I was being murdered.
He wasn’t very fond of cat treats or even his food (though he was usually first in line come mealtimes) but he loved people food. Especially cheese – the sharper and greasier the better. He could hear me open the deli drawer in the refrigerator – even if he were sound asleep in the basement – and come running to wind around my ankles and beg for cheese. I only ever gave him small crumbs, though. Cheese isn’t the best food item for cats. To offset his gourmet tastes Dante would drink water out of the bathtub after I finished showering.
He loved to sit on a chair by my desk and look out the window, chattering at the birds in the backyard. I suspect he chose this spot because it just happened to be over the furnace grate in that room because he also liked to sit with his face over the grate in the bathroom when the furnace was running. He loathed car rides, which is unsurprising being an indoor cat. Unfortunately that is where this story ends – a car ride to the vet.
Friday night I came home from work to find that Dante had started having diarrhea. Everywhere. So I took him in to the emergency vet and they started treating him for a bacterial overgrowth in the gut. But when his blood work came back in the morning the blood chemistry showed renal failure and a further workup showed that it was likely due to his age.
In other words, untreatable.
With this news, the fact that his diarrhea wasn’t responding to medication, and he was refusing to eat or drink, I had to decide to put him to sleep. I have never sobbed harder in my life. I had hoped for a few more years with my crotchety old geezer before saying good-bye or to be able to let go slowly. I had not anticipated such a short illness of less than a whole day. The vet’s office was wonderful. They let me sit in the exam room with Dante as long as I wanted, rocking him in my arms, crying, and watching the snow falling outside the window with him one last time. I said “I’m sorry” and “Mama loves you” too many times to count, I kissed his tabby “M” over and over. When I was ready, the vet came and gave him a sedative and the euthanasia solution through his IV while I held him. My Baby Kitty was gone in less than a minute. They let me stay in the room and hold him as long as I needed. Until I felt ready to lay him down and kiss him good-bye.
I have never felt so selfish. I felt so guilty, wondering if I missed something that would have had me taking him for a checkup earlier, that maybe it could have been caught and treated and I would still have my baby for a little while longer.
I came home, laid down on the floor, and sobbed. I held Chaucer until he protested I was squeezing him too tight. I watched as so many friends commented on my post containing the final picture of my Dante, taken just before the vet delivered the bad news. I have never been so grateful for my friends. Even complete strangers came across the post on Instagram or Twitter and offered their condolences. I will never be able to thank everyone enough.
I never had a pet before I adopted my boys. I had fish as a child, but a tank of guppies is nothing compared to a cat. I did not know it was possible to love them this much. I felt ready to break for a few hours. But I made it through the first day of missing him. I called when I got out of the shower “Where’s my Dante kitty?” before I remembered he wasn’t here. I almost cried at the grocery store when I remembered I wouldn’t need as much cat litter. I cried when I got Dante’s collar and tags out of my purse, to hang them on a frame with his picture, and Chaucer came running, crying, when he heard the tags jingle; Chaucer sniffed all around the collar and tags and let out the saddest meow that had me scooping him up to cuddle immediately. I am crying now typing this.
I am writing all this because I don’t want to forget my Dante-kitteh. My sweet, grumpy dude mooing his way around the house. I am so grateful for the social media era, that I took so many pictures. There are times today when I’ve done nothing but sit and stare at my last picture of him. There is no way out of this but through.
Rest In Peace, Dante. Mama loved you so much she had to let you go so you wouldn’t hurt anymore. I hope I gave you the best life a cat could possibly have, with all the love and snuggles you wanted. Chaucer has only just started to realize that you aren’t hiding somewhere in the house, that you’re gone. If you’re watching over us, please help him understand. Love you, Baby Kitty. Always.
In memoriam, Dante Ward, September 1 (?), 2003 – February 17, 2018