It was the summer of 2014. Late afternoon, I was on my way home from Dallas, where I'd been paying a visit to the SMU Paleontology Lab. I'd had a nice lunch with my friend Mike and gotten to look at some really cool fossils, and was ready to get home, put my feet up, and maybe play a little SKYRIM before bed. I was almost home - I'd gotten off of I-30 onto the service road - when I spotted a tiny scrap of yellow fur almost dead center in the middle of the road. I thought maybe it was some kid's stuffed toy, a Beanie Baby perhaps, but as I passed it I saw that it was a tiny kitten - and that it was moving.
I pulled over and got out of the car, walking back to where the helpless little thing was wriggling in the middle of the road, trying to get his feet under him. I picked him up and checked him out. He was obviously dying - there was blood coming from his nose and ears and the corners of his eyes, which were barely open. I doubted he would last the hour. I certainly didn't want him to end his brief existence as a bloody smear on the asphalt, so I carried him to the shade of a tree several feet away from the road and sat him down on a soft clump of grass. At least he'd die comfortable, I thought, and turned to walk away. Then he lifted his tiny head and started mewing at me. My heart melted.
I scooped him up and carried him home on my lap, worrying that he might expire before I could even cover the five minutes to my driveway. My girls came out to meet me and I told them: "We're NOT keeping him; I just want to see if we can save him and find him a good home." We put him in a cardboard box - a very small one at that! - with a couple of dishtowels to keep him warm. After he had rested for a bit, I went to the store and bought some canned cat food and put it in a bowl, mixing it up with warm milk. We lifted him out of the box and set him in front of it. Those tiny nostrils flared and he began eating as fast as he could, gulping down half the can in a minute or so. I picked him up and put him back in the box, where he promptly curled up and went to sleep.
For the first few days, he was too weak to climb out of the box, but once he got his strength back, he was suddenly all over the house. We carried him around on his back like a baby, and my wife and daughters laughed when he would try to suckle their fingers. He would curl up to sleep inside my shoes, climb the chair when I was sitting down in it to sit on my shoulder, and delighted in chasing our grown cat, Gina, all around the house. He grew up to be a gorgeous yellow tom with a gentle heart and a striking puzzle pattern on his back that looked almost like a face from some angles. He had such a soft purr you had to put your ear up to his chest to hear it, but he was the most loving and docile cat I have ever owned. Needless to say, all that nonsense about "finding him a good home" lasted less than 48 hours. WE were his good home.
We named him Fortuna, Latin for "Lucky" - or just Tuna for short. He was a wonderfully quirky cat. He loved watermelon and cucumber, and went nuts for any kind of lotion or salve with menthol in it. When my wife was taking a bath, he would sit on the edge of the tub and lick soapy water off of her arm and shoulder. He LOVED curling up in the bathroom sink, or stretching out in the empty bathtub, especially on warm summer days. He got along with everybody, even our dogs and goats. Well, almost everybody. The sugar gliders just looked too delicious for him, so we eventually gave them away to save them from becoming "Tuna Snacks." He quickly became an indoor/outdoor cat, letting himself out if the door was not latched, and standing on his hind feet with his front paws against the door and mewing if he needed our help. He was a mighty hunter in the land, specializing in field mice and sparrows, although he was not above chasing squirrels - I don't think he ever caught one. He also delighted on hopping up on the kitchen table while my mother-in-law was sitting there. She chased him down so many times I swear he thought his name was "CAT! Get off the table!"
When one of us was sick, he'd be a great "medicine kitty," curling up next to us and letting us pet him for hours. At night, especially during the cold months, he loved to get right between us, usually on top of the blanket but sometimes under it. And no matter how old he got, he never protested when I scooped him up and carried him on his back, paws in the air, while hugging him and calling him my "kitty boy." We've had many cats over the years, but Tuna was uniquely mine from the first day. I've never been so attached to any feline in my life.
Last Wednesday, I was on the way home from work with some meat to grill when Rebecca called me and said: "Dad, Tuna's hurt. Something's wrong with his tail and he's got a big gash on his face."
I met her at the vet clinic, and my first thought was one of relief. The cut on his face was ugly, but his eye was not compromised. He also had a long gash on his tail, but it wasn't too deep. I could see, though, that his tail was hanging limp. I was concerned, but not too much so - I mean, I would still love him if he became a bobcat, right?
But as the days went on, it became apparent that his injuries were much more devastating than we realized. His tail had been broken and dislocated right where it joined onto the sacrum, and that nerve bundle also controls a cat's bladder and rectal functions. He was just as sweet, friendly, and curious as ever when I went to see him the next day, but the vet's tone was serious - if he couldn't regain digestive function, his quality of life would be severely compromised. I wanted to keep him alive - OH! how desperately I wanted that. I asked them to keep him over the weekend, to monitor him, just to see if there was any hope of recovery. There wasn't. Our vet was as kind as he could be, but he explained that even if we managed to physically force the waste from Tuna's body as it built up, it would be a painful process that would leave him prey to all manner of infections, internal bleeding, kidney stones, etc. My hopes faded as I realized I wouldn't want that kind of life for my poor little kitty boy. So this afternoon, my wife Patty and I went to the Animal Hospital to see him on his way.
I held him and cried so hard, as Tuna sniffed my face and licked away the salt of my tears. He purred and head butted us to be petted and have his ears scratched, then after a few minutes of being loved on, he decided to explore the examination room. What did he do? He found the sink and curled up in it, looking up at us with a satisfied air. I had Patty take one last picture of us together, and then when the doctor came back in, I held him and petted him until the drugs kicked in and the end came.
Oh Fortuna, my sweet, brave, kitty boy, you were gone all too soon. No more quiet companion by my side as I watch TV or read a book, no more inquisitive eyes watching me as I take a long hot soak at the end of the day. No more warm furry lump in the bed between us at night. You lovely cat, I wouldn't have given you my heart if I had known you were going to break it so soon!
That's a lie. Of course I would have.
Oh Tuna, sweet boy, we barely knew ye.