Saturday, October 25, 2008

In loving memory ...

Thirteen years ago I had to say goodbye to my best friend. CJ may have only been a cat, but he was a once-in-a-lifetime cat. I've had four cats since and if you added them all together, they'd never come close to what CJ was. He was truly special. Rick & I came home from school one day in 1981. As we were getting out of the car I heard a faint mew sound. I followed the noise up to a brick wall in my yard and there sat this little ball of fluff. He was the cutest thing I'd ever seen. He was way too young to have wandered off by himself. He wasn't even weaned from his mother. We're pretty sure someone had gone around dumping kittens off at various homes in the neighborhood. Rick & I took the kitten inside and tried to get him to eat. He wouldn't eat much, but then went off to sleep in my arms for hours.

He was a playful little guy, so I named him CJ, which was short for claws & jaws. He didn't have a mean bone in his body, but he liked to rough house, so the name fit. At the time, my brother and his wife were living with us and they had a cat named Mosh. The cats got along great. At that time, I let CJ come and go as he pleased. He was able to go outside through the dog door whenever he wanted. When he was just about a year old, I heard people outside yelling for me. CJ had gotten hit by a car right in front of my house. The driver didn't stop. I ran outside in horror and saw him by the side of the road. When we picked him up, a stream of blood rushed out from his behind. I knew he was hurt bad. This was in the evening and our vet office was closed, so we had to drive CJ to a pet emergency clinic in another town 30 minutes away. He was examined by the vet and given a "grave prognosis". The vet told us CJ had a broken hip, a concussion and a femur was broken in 3 places. He also had internal bleeding and there could be other things going on. The vet said his chances didn't look good. I had the option of putting him to sleep or going with surgery, which would be very expensive. In addition, surgery had no guarantees. I decided on surgery. It was a long process and the vet bills were outrageous.

CJ did very well with the surgery. It took a lot of time to heal. He wasn't able to move around, so Rick built him the cage you see in the picture above. The top lifted off so we could get to him easily. We put his cage in our living room so he could look out the window. He used to rub his head on the chicken wire and I remember being grossed out when he'd rub where his concussion scab was. He had a favorite blanket too. We had to keep clean blankets in his cage and since he couldn't use a litter box, we'd set him on unfolded disposable diapers. When the day came to wash his blue blanket, he wasn't happy. We'd put others in, but he'd push them aside. He loved his blue blanket. Eventually, his wounds healed and he was back to normal. He became an indoor cat from then on, which he didn't seem to mind.

Eventually, I moved from home and CJ went with me. He was our first baby. He was with me when I got married, he was with me during my first 2 pregnancies. He was the type of cat that would announce his appearance whenever he walked into a room. If I was sad, he was right with me. He used to lay on my chest and put his paws around my neck. He'd knead for hours like that until my hair was a teased mess. I could sit in one position for hours, just so I didn't disturb CJ. In 1990 he got a job as an editor of my newsletter, PET PALS! It was a pen pal newsletter for people who loved their pets. CJ was the editor and the whole thing was written in his voice. It was a lot of fun. CJ was even published book called Uncommon Cats, where he was featured in a chapter about working cats.

Over time, the effects of his accident took a toll on him. He had arthritis built up in his hips where they had been broken. He also developed renal failure, which he lived with for a long time. When he was 14 years old, it started getting the best of him. We were in the process of building our house and we were living next door at my ILs, all crammed into one big room. We finally moved into our new house, but by this point, CJ's health was deteriorating rapidly. As soon as we moved in, he started hiding from me. I knew his days were coming to an end. After 14 years, I had to make the decision to say goodbye. It was the worst thing I've ever had to do. I have 2 main regrets. The first is that I never got a picture of him in the new house. By that point, he was so sick and didn't look like himself. The second is that I had to take him to the vet at lunchtime and the office was closed. They took him in, but said they couldn't put him down until the staff came back. I couldn't stay because I had to pick my girls up from school. CJ perked up at that very last moment, as if he was saying goodbye. I regret not being with him, but in hindsight, it might have been for the best. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember a CD I had playing all that day, which I haven't been able to listen to since. I remember what clothes I had on as we drove him to the vet. It was an awful, awful day and I continued to cry for months.

Not a day goes by that I don't think about CJ. It's hard not to because I have his pictures everywhere. I have 2 on my bed stand, another on my dresser and one in my bathroom. In my living room there is a framed poster of CJ and he's on a digital photo frame that changes images. I have photo magnets of him on my fridge, he's in picture frames in the boy's playroom, the basement and in our office. I have a picture of CJ in my wallet and even in a little sunglasses holder in my Jeep. We buried his ashes at our home in California. When we made the decision to move to Montana, I couldn't leave him. I had Rick dig up his ash tin for me. I have it with me and I won't bury it again. Cats like CJ don't come around often. I've considered writing a story about his life. However, I'm not sure if anyone would find it interesting enough to publish, but who knows. Today is a hard day for me and I'm amazed how 13 years ago can feel like it was just yesterday. If you've read this entire post, I thank you. I realize it's very long, but CJ was just that special to me. I miss him terribly.


  1. That's a great slide show! There's nothing like a great cat!

    How fortunate that he choose you! :0)


  2. Thank you for sharing a few of your memories & photos of CJ, Rena. He was so big! He reminds me of those coon cats.


  3. Aww, Rena. This post really illustrates the bond between pets and their people, without being all smarmy about it. I can see why CJ was special to you; I feel your loss. I'm sorry, but I'm glad that you had 14 years with him - so glad that you opted for the surgery to save him, and that he recovered enough to enjoy a few more years with you. Lucky cat. ;)

  4. What a special cat...pets are such a huge part of the family.
    Loved the slideshow! My favorite was the one with the baby and CJ napping with your hubby!

  5. Beautiful story Rena, he was a very lucky cat.


  6. Some cats can be better companions than dogs. That's not to take anything away from dogs - I'm just a cat person.

    My current cat, Slide, is the sweetest animal ever. EVER. I got him from our local animal shelter after he'd been hit by a car. He'd been a stray. It's hard to believe this cat was ever tough enough to make it on the streets, because now he's a lovey wimp.

    He's only four, so I should have him for a while. God willing.

    Isn't there some saying about better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? Well, at least you had CJ.

  7. I completely understand about your love of cats. I've had some great cats. So sorry for your loss.

  8. He sounds like a great cat. Thanks for sharing your memories. HUGS!

  9. I can totally understand how you feel Rena, having lost my Bella recently. I regret not having a picture of her and the girls.

    A friend of mine did a similar thing to you when her cat was run over, she got in the newspaper and everything.

    They are beautiful photos too.

  10. Rena, What I sweet tribute. I know just how you feel. I too had a special cat in my life. I didn't have him nearly as long as you had CJ, but I still miss him.

    I say go ahead and write the story of his life. Write it anyway you want; in third or first cat, humorously or seriously. To heck with publishers, write it for yourself and your family.

  11. Rena...Thank you for sharing CJ's story with us...

    Furbabies are like our children...they hold a part of our heart in their little paws and we wouldn't have it any other way...Hugs...

    p.s. I think a story about CJ and his Pet Pals would be an adorable story...Hugs...

  12. Thanks for all of your comments, everyone. I appreciate them so much! Thanks for sharing some of your pet stories as well. Most people I know have pets who are special, but it always amazes me when I hear stories about those once-in-a-lifetime pets. CJ was definitely that for me!

    Bish & Brenda -- Thanks so much for your comments about writing CJ's story. Ever since I posted this yesterday, I haven't been able to get the idea out of my head. I think I'm going to write it. Even if no one wants to publish it, I'll have it written down for myself and for my family. :)

  13. Awwww, CJ was so cute. I miss my Smokey too. He passed away just before Jonathan was born. He was only a baby, not even a full year old. He had an enlarged heart. :'(

  14. Hi Rena. Your website is beautiful, and it is so nice to see your books after reading about them.

    I had a cat like yours as well. Our first child. I miss him so much.


  15. What a beautiful post. I definetely think you should write about his life--from his perspective--about a discerning cat's selection process finding the right person to live with. He obviously made an excellent choice with you.

  16. Thanks, Brittany. I liked your suggestion about it coming from his perspective. :)