This week we had to say good-bye to Toby, our cat of nine years.
We adopted Toby from the local humane society when he was about six months old. A tiny cat with a Maine Coon ruff and a bright-pink nose. We’d later learn that his nose acted as a sort of warning device. When he was stressed or excited, it was so pink it was almost red. When he was happy and calm, his nose turned so pale it almost blended in with his white fur.
He was meowing a lot at the shelter. We thought, well, he’s stressed out, he won’t do that at home. We were wrong. Toby was probably the most vocal cat I’ve ever met. He had a whole range of meows, going from a tiny little noise we called a “murple”, to a shrieking, ear-burning witch yeowl. It could be…challenging, to say the least.
To match his meow, he had the loudest, most melodic purr in the whole world. Some days you’d hear him at the opposite end of the house, all by himself, purring.
When we brought Toby home, he hid behind the shower curtain for three days. We thought, ok, he’s not going to be a lap cat. That’s alright. Then one night he was up on the couch with us. The next, briefly on a lap. Before long, Toby was a nothing-but-a-lap cat. He absolutely loved to snuggle, and if it wasn’t convenient for you, tough.
In the mornings, I sit on the couch and journal with a blanket over my knees. He demanded to crawl under the blanket. (Which I’d have to lift up for him—his method of getting under a blanket involved hitting it repeatedly with his paw. Super effective.) He’d sit in his little fort, purring. When I worked at the computer, he’d sit up in my lap with his paws draped over my arm. When I’d curl up for a nap, he’d curl up against my stomach. His favorite? If you had your legs stretched out with a blanket over them. The space created a hammock that was perfectly Toby-sized. He’d stretch out long, sticking out his front legs until they almost reached your face.
He taught us that he liked to play fetch. One day he carried a toy over in his mouth—one of those plastic “fur”-coated mice that rattles a bit when you shake it—and dropped it on the couch. We didn’t want to play, so we tossed it away. Seconds later, there was Toby again, with the toy. It didn’t take long to figure out what was going on. You could throw a mouse across the house, and he’d bring it back at a run.
We quickly realized that Toby had a lot of anxiety when left alone all day, so we got him a kitten. Cecilia was probably three months old when we brought her home. It took Toby about a week to warm up to her, but the two quickly became inseparable. Almost every afternoon, you could find them napping together, wrapped up around one another.
Every once in a while they’d have “silent cat battles”—the most epic fights, but totally devoid of any hissing or meowing. The only way you’d know they were happening was when their tumbling bodies crashed into furniture.
Toby loved to groom. He groomed Cici all the time (sometimes against her will), and the dog also came under his line of fire. His humans, too. He’d sometimes lick your arm until it hurt.
I have a friend who works in special education who jokingly diagnosed Toby with autism. Semi-jokingly. There may have been some truth there. He did respond really well to her deep-pressure calming techniques.
We weren’t sure how he would handle the dog. Any dog that visited in the past, he’d run and hide in my closet. And he was nervous about Louie at first. But the two quickly became friends, batting at one another and playing. If Louie got too rough, Toby fought back. It wasn’t uncommon to see the eight-pound cat chasing the 25-pound dog through the house. They liked sleeping near each other, usually just barely touching—a paw extended, booties bumping.
We usually had to lock him up at dinner time because he was always interested in the food on our plates. Cheese—he’d lose his little mind over cheese. Tuna, of course. If I wasn’t paying attention, he’d steal shelled pistachios out of the bowl. Oh, and peanut butter toast. Every morning he begged for my peanut butter toast and tried to steal the scraps. (Sometimes successfully.)
Toby made me laugh. Always.
He got sick about two months ago. The medicines helped for a little while. But when he stopped purring, we knew it was time.
There won’t ever be another cat quite like Toby. He was a total weirdo, our special little guy. All the hours I’ve spent writing, Toby was there, sitting on my lap, curled up on the desk. Just happy to be near me. My friend.