On the whole, I prefer cats to people and through the years I’ve been lucky to know many amazing felines. Especially Leo.
I lost him last summer. Through at least some fault of my own. He was only 3.
Leo gave his all to everything. He was enthusiastic, eccentric, hilarious. And above all, loving. He adapted, accepted, and enjoyed whatever came his way, to such a remarkable extent that I began to see him as a spiritual guide. He was always purring about something, with a motor that could be heard across a room. He purred when he ate, he purred when you looked at him, he purred as he walked around.
When I scratched the side of his chin, he would invariably lean too deeply into the experience and fall over. At which he’d shake himself and lean just as deeply, again. And again. I don’t know how long he would have kept it up – I always stopped first. During the scratch-lean-fall episode in this photo, he repeatedly slid off the arm of a chair and came back for more, purring all the while. I’m probably the only one who wants to watch this video of a chin scratch session, but you’re welcome to join me…
When we got a rescue dog, all but one of the cats soon figured out that the dog was afraid of cats, and made nefarious use of that knowledge. Leo never got the memo and fled at any sudden movement by the dog (who in turn would flee because Leo made a sudden move). Eventually Leo discovered that dog tails make fun toys and that launched a friendship between those two exceedingly cautious individuals.
Leo was enormous, standing a head taller than the other cats. He was galumphing yet graceful. One of my favorite things was the way his spine undulated as he strolled.
Another favorite was how he reacted if I tried to hold him. He didn’t like to be held, but he wouldn’t squirm away. Nor would he give in to it. Instead, he would stand stiffly on my chest until I released him.
He’s been gone for nearly a year yet it still hurts to talk about him in past tense.
Can you spot Leo in this picture? He started life as a tiny feral stray kitten. I’m grateful to the shelter worker who devoted extra hours to handling him, to give him a chance at adoption. The feral kittens don’t often get out of the building.
As Leo grew – and grew – he maintained the view that everything was larger and tougher than he was. Tougher, perhaps was true. Such a gentle and humble nature – not descriptors that often get applied to cats.
Leo adored and admired my older cat Luna, who became his mentor in cat behavior. Luna is innately a cool feline dude and he was patient with Leo, but Leo never quite got it. The cool feline thing.
Leo was friendly with all other cats. When I left Missing Cat flyers on doorsteps I heard from more than one neighbor, ‘I used to see him all the time, he hung out with our cat(s).’
It’s safer, of course, for cats to stay indoors, but they’re so much happier outside. So I let them out during the day then locked them in at supper time. Every morning I’d get a knot of anxiety when I opened the cat door, and breathe a thanks when they were safely back inside. But I knew that if they could talk they’d tell me they’d rather live short interesting lives outside; so I honored those preferences. Until recently.
Last summer I was away from home for nearly 3 weeks, on work trips with a vacation sandwiched between. Leo, especially, hated it when my suitcase came out and I left home. I was the only human he had any bond with.
A few days into my trip, I got a phone call that Leo had stopped coming inside. He was hanging out down the street but wouldn’t come home.
When I got the call, I was enjoying a lazy afternoon by my brother and sister-in-law’s pool. The trip took on a taint after that call. I was thousands of miles from home. I’ve rarely felt more helpless.
I love traveling but I am a complete homebody and always get homesick. When I’m away from home, I use the moon to connect with my absent loved ones. I look up, know I’m seeing the same moon that they are, and with that can better enjoy my time away.
On that wretched trip, my last night away there was a gorgeous full moon. That night, like every night since the phone call, I tried to send Leo thought messages while I stared at the moon. Silly, of course, unless it wasn’t. Go home buddy, I’ll be there soon.
When I woke up to catch my pre-dawn flight, I was swept with dread, a certainty that something terrible had happened to Leo.
I’ve got a lot of if onlys.
If only I’d kept the cats locked in the whole time I was away. Sure they would have been miserable and driven my daughter crazy. But.
If only I’d flown home early, right after I got that phone call about Leo. Sure it would have cost lots of money I didn’t have. But based on neighbors’ reports, he was around, people saw him – until right before I got back.
If only I’d paid more attention to numerous indications that the drought was driving more wildlife down from the mountains and into my neighborhood. Once I got back home from my trip, I learned from neighbors that on every block, multiple cats had gone missing of late. Coyote sightings increased from occasionally to daily. I could have realized some of that earlier.
I could have done so many things differently.
Our neighborhood is empty of cats now. Some are now forced to be indoor cats, like my unhappy campers. Actually, mine now have a giant dog-run cage thing that lets them go slightly outdoors. One of them thinks the cage is cool, one is indifferent, and one of them thinks it’s a cruel trick.
They used to love to hang out on this patio, as Luna and Leo are doing in this photo. Leo was always in one planter or another. He was rough on the plants.
A couple months into Leo’s disappearance, I took down the signs I’d posted around the neighborhood. It wasn’t intentional, my putting them in his favorite planter.
I found myself incapable of trashing the posters. They sat in the planter through the winter. Finally, after the rain ruined them, they no longer felt connected to Leo and I could recycle them.
I don’t know what happened to Leo. No remains have been found. But then that’s how cat disappearances go. Certainly, no one has called about his microchip number. I’ve been searching shelters and Craig’s list ever since; although sporadically now, eleven months later. I’ve been blessed with volunteered help, well-wishes, and miracle reunion stories from numerous wonderful strangers; and I’ve been harassed by ‘we found your pet’ scams.
Perhaps a coyote didn’t get Leo. But that’s by far the most likely scenario. Beautiful warm night, full moon, Leo chasing bugs, doesn’t notice the pack until…
Every damn time I walk outside, I still have a flash instant’s fantasy that he’ll come running up from god-knows-where he’s been.
I hate being outside in my neighborhood at night now, especially when the moon is bright. I need to get my moon-gazing back. It was one of my favorite things about being alive.
I usually honor my animals with memorials when their lives conclude, but I haven’t been able to manage one for Leo. For almost a year, I haven’t been able to look at photos of him and have shied away from my memories.
But I need to get past that. Avoiding memories is worse than losing him. It’s like he never existed, never graced my life at all. Nothing could be more wrong than that.
Leo, your presence in my life was such a gift. I miss you so much.
Hope to see you on the other side.