Wednesday, August 09, 2006

R.I.P. Otto, 1992–2006

I mentioned to someone, in passing, one day at work that I was sort of thinking about getting a cat, and in less than a week she showed up on my doorstep with a black-and-white cat she called "Oreo."

My roommate at the time already had a cat, which presented problems for making sure that the cat I had rechristened "Otto" got fed. After a couple of days of Otto simply hiding from the other cat, I spent twenty minutes one evening squatted down over the cat and her dish, knees and elbows on the floor, making a human three-wall shelter and "protecting" Otto from my roommate's cat. It was pretty much at this point that Otto decided it liked me, that Otto belonged to me, and it was never again a problem feeding Otto.

When Otto was young it would often awaken me by jumping onto the bed and licking my nose—usually at dawn's early light, whether or not I wanted to get up then. If I didn't, Otto would curl up on the bed next to me.

When I eventually got a roommate-free apartment, Otto had its only experience as an outdoor cat: My second-floor apartment didn't have screens on many of the windows, and Otto would step out of my living room window onto the roof of the bay window in the apartment below me, then perform an acrobatic leap onto the main roof of the house, climb and descend the steeply-pitched roof to the other side of the house, where a fire escape offered a descent to the world at large. Otto sometimes stayed away as long as two days, and always returned filthy, but Otto always returned.

Even when I took Otto to a friend's house while I was going to be out of town, Otto found a way to hide from everybody in the family of five—but when I returned, Otto heard my voice, and meowed its greetings from its hiding place.

Everything wasn't always wonderful with Otto. Its claws ruined a nice leather couch I had. I stopped putting up a Christmas tree after the first year because Otto knocked it down so often, I soon didn't have any mirrored balls left to hang on it. And when Otto would go into heat (despite the name, Otto was a female cat), the howls it made looking for a mate were anything but pleasant.

I probably didn't take care of Otto as well as I should have: The above indicates that I never had Otto fixed, or declawed. In fact, the cat had never been to the vet at all. And the last couple years of its life, I was never entirely successful at getting rid of its fleas. But Otto never took me to task for that—it just sat on my lap as I worked at the computer, occasionally putting its feet on my chest so it could lick my nose.

The last several years, Otto has been especially important to me. As I've tottered back and forth across the brink of despair, Otto was the one "person" in my life who wasn't telling me that it was all my fault, to stop being such a fuckup. Otto would just sit on my lap or on my chest, purr, and lick my nose. I like to think that was as close as Otto could come to telling me that there are some things in the world worth living for.

Otto has been that for me as well. When I've wondered aloud why I'm alive, what I have to live for, "taking care of Otto" is the one response someone could give that I didn't have an easy answer for. The thought of somebody taking Otto to be put to sleep, because I wasn't around anymore, did give me pause.

I got back from the casino today, and found Otto pretty much in the same spot it was in when I left. That's not unusual, but when I picked it up to put it in my lap, it meowed several times like it was in pain. I tried to give it some food, and Otto couldn't swallow it—indeed, could barely pick it up, its head was shaking so badly. When I brought Otto to its water dish, it seemed to try, and then fell over on its side. I notice Otto's belly is filthy, presumably at least partially because of its fleas, so I decide to clean Otto up a bit: and if I drown a few fleas at the same time, so much the better.

In the bathtub, Otto has trouble even holding up its head—and finally, Otto's breathing becomes nothing more than a few weak coughs, and Otto finally sheds its mortal coil. All this time, I'm having more and more trouble maintaining my soothing tone of voice—"You're a good kitty, Otto"—as my voice chokes up with tears.

Farewell, Otto. For pretty much my entire adult life, you were a better companion than I deserved. I hope wherever you have gone, you've got a warm belly to lie against, and a nice friendly nose to lick.