He adopted us.
We came around the side of our apartment building on Alki one early summer evening to find him on the walkway. He jumped three feet off the ground when I reached out to touch him, but he didn’t run. He followed us up the stairs and stopped at the doorway, watching us for a while, chatting, until he wandered off to wherever he came from.
And so it went for the next few weeks, us returning home, him on the walkway, following us up to the third floor and waiting at the doorway, never coming in, but hanging out on the landing to chat, getting head rubs, and occasionally even sitting on my lap, but only if I sat in the doorway.
And then, after weeks of this routine, always stopping at the threshold, he decided to come inside.
We had George put to sleep the year before. George had mega colon, a condition where the walls of the large intestine become weak, making it hard to pass stool normally. He had surgery to remove the affected section of his bowel, which bought him maybe a year before the disease progressed and he was too weak to eat or use the litter box, and we had to take him to the vet one last time. And then that day a year or so later that Leo decided to enter the house, he walked with purpose straight past three open doors and into the second bedroom and found the small basket of cat toys we hadn’t been able to bear parting with, and Leo took out one of George’s toys and began to play with it as if he had known it was there all along.
And then one night a week or so later, he didn’t leave the house at the end of the night like usual. Instead, he walked straight over to one of the living room chairs, jumped up, curled into a ball and went to sleep. And my wife and I looked at each other and thought, “He’s not leaving.”
And so he became part of our little family. He had no collar, and the vet said he had no microchip. We’re not even sure how old he was. The vet speculated he had been abandoned or kicked out of his house or circumstances had changed such that he wanted to get away from home. This was not uncommon, he said.
We named him Leonardo, after DaVinci. He seemed intelligent and empathetic and occasionally stubborn, like an artist, so the name seemed to fit. Later when we got Lucy as his companion and he acted like a cranky bachelor towards her, “Leo” seemed to fit him better.
Leo liked to play, as all cats do, but mostly he liked to sit on our laps or lay on any blanket that covered our legs or bellies, which was a-ok with us. We developed a routine, and Leo kept us to it. Saw us off to work in the morning, greeted us when we got home, rounded us up for bed and tucked us in. Like clockwork, every day for 12 years.
I’m not kidding about the routine. I started calling him the majordomo. At a certain point in the evening after we had wound down from dinner, Leo would prowl around agitated or start meowing or sometimes just sit and stare at us, all these ways of letting us know it was time for bed. He would monitor our activities as we got ready. Many nights he would wait outside the bathroom while I brushed my teeth and then he would walk right beside me, marking my pace exactly as I made my way to the bedroom. As soon as I was in bed, he would stand on my chest and purr, and often lie down on top of or beside me. When Louise got into bed, he would nestle next to her and lay there until he knew we were both sound asleep.
As much as he and I were bonded, he really preferred Louise. He wanted to be on her lap or beside her the minute she would get home. Almost every night he would stand on her lap while she ate dinner, purring and just wanting to be close. He wasn’t afraid to demand affection. If we were scratching his cheeks or head and we stopped too soon, he would pull our hand back to his head with his paw. The guy was a love sponge, soaking up every minute of affection and closeness he could take, and releasing it back to us, especially when he knew we needed it.
Yesterday was our last day with him. What we thought was kidney disease turned out to be cancer and it had moved in throughout his body and taken its toll. And though he was right beside me and so present – so Leo – purring, taking care of us while we were taking care of him, his body was breaking down and the list of his maladies was long and the end was inevitable. Leo deserved to live a long, healthy life and die in his sleep. What he got was this.
We brought him home from the emergency vet to keep him comfortable and give him as much love as we could before the end. We spent a good 28 hours with him, making plans for the end, giving him love, and supporting each other through our grief. I tried not to cry, but it was so hard and I failed often. He was with us for much of our married life. With us through two moves, two of us going to grad school, two burglaries (which must have been terrifying for him), through job and life changes and our grieving over lost loved ones. He was a constant. Faithful, kind, loving, gentle. It’s hard to contemplate life without him in it.
All we can do now is be grateful for the time we had, for the fact that he decided to become part of our family and that he committed to our life together every bit as much as we committed to him. We’d have been much poorer over the last 12 years without Leo. We’ll miss him terribly, but we’re so lucky to know what we’re missing.
Rest in peace, my friend, and thank you for being a part of our lives. I love you now and always.