by Dr. Steve Best -
I first arrived in Austin, Texas in 1987, by way of
Chicago. The following year, I decided to rent a house in the charming
Hyde Park area of town. Since I have been a cat lover my entire life, it
was not a problem when the current tenant told me the house came with a
cat. With great interest, I asked where he was, and the tenant escorted
me to the back porch. There, sleeping on the middle step was the most
massive and magnificent cat I have ever seen. It was love at first
The cat was two years old, with a dense gray and brown
coat, and freakishly large paws that made him look like an escapee from
the island of Dr. Moreau. One could easily mistake this gentle giant for
a wild bobcat or a raccoon, as did many frightened people. Only months
later did I learn that he was a Maine Coon, a particularly large,
gorgeous, and intelligent breed of cat whose origins are surrounded by
fascinating myths and folklore.
He was named after Theodosius, the last emperor of a
united Roman empire, a rather violent fellow intolerant of any religious
preference but orthodox Christianity. I cannot take blame for this
abominable name (although he certainly carried the air of a proud
tyrant), but fortunately he also had a nickname, "Dos," appropriate
enough since he was big enough for two cats. For the next 13 years, Dos
was my constant companion, my confidant, my shadow. Through every book I
have written, Dos was always
there with me, lying on stacks of papers, helping me get through the
I soon learned how intelligent and special he was within
the first week of my privilege to be his caretaker. One day, after
walking a couple of blocks to the bus stop, I noticed that Dos had
followed me the entire way, and I had to turn around and lock him in the
house. Otherwise, he was determined to
ride with me on the bus. Soon, I realized that following me down the
street was a habit with Dos, and so every night after midnight we
adopted the custom of taking a long walk together through the town, with
no dog ever able to intimidate him. Sometimes during the day, to the
delight of all onlookers, we would actually jog together for a block or
two until one of us tired.
Dos had lots of quirky habits, like quacking instead of
meowing, drinking out of the bathtub, sleeping on his back with all four
paws extended in the air, and purposely knocking keys and books off my
desk at night until I let him go outside (I observed him doing this many
times at 3 or 4 a.m. as I pretended to be asleep). I also noticed how
much he liked to ride in the car, and he put his paws up on the
dashboard to look out the window excitedly. Dos had this act down way
before "Toons," the cat from Saturday Night Live. Unlike most cats, Dos
liked to ride in the car for relaxation, and I often took him with me on
errands around town. In size, intelligence and many habits, Dos was like
a dog (or Roman emperor), enough to make me wonder about reincarnation.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Dos played a
major role in my dating life as a happily single bachelor. For whenever
I spoke to women about him, they always wanted to meet him and I never
had to say, "So, want to go back to my place to listen to some music?"
Like an overprotective parent, Dos always could sort out the good from
the bad, and any prospective girlfriend both had to receive his approval
and to absolutely adore him (and yes, sometimes he got the bulk of
attention and affection!).
One unfortunate visitor was greeted with a roaring hiss. As always, Dos
was right; that one just didn't work out.
When I finished my PhD and took a job at the University
of Texas, El Paso, Dos drove with me the whole way, sitting in the front
seat of a clunky U-Haul van. He never uttered a quack, but after an hour
or so knew it was no ordinary ride and that we were leaving Austin for
good. We moved so many times together, dislocation had become routine,
and he always excitedly explored his new surroundings. Dos never strayed
far from home base unless we were walking together. Whenever he was
AWOL, a quick whistle always brought him into sight within 15 seconds.
This summer Dos turned 15. During the last two years, he
began to move a little more slowly, ambling ponderously across the
landscape like a Brontosaurus. Still, I thought this King of Beasts
would last forever and outlive me.
Yet with a horrible, unexpected suddenness, my delusion
was shattered. A couple of months ago, I noticed he was gasping for
breath. I rushed him to the vet and got the terrible news: Dos was
seriously sick with cancerous tumors in his lungs. I brought him home,
which became a hospice, and we began to make our final peace and loving
gestures with each other. Two weeks ago, Dos left the world. He died on
the vet's table, his head cradled in my hands, fighting for the breath
his weak body could no longer give him.
Through the years, I have lost many animals and family
members, but oddly enough, I have never seen anything living die. To
watch the being I loved most, my best friend in the whole world, take
his last breath right before me, to hear the death rattle in his lungs,
to see him writhe and struggle for a life he was not ready to give up,
was unbearably painful. I could not stop the torrent of tears as I
hugged his lifeless body in my arms and kissed his massive head.
Only a fellow animal lover could make sense of the claim
that an animal -- not a human -- could be one's best friend. After all,
skeptics would say, Dos didn't talk to me, didn't tell me he loved me,
never thanked me for anything I ever did. How naively, myopically wrong.
Animals do not need human language to communicate to us and express
their deep love and appreciation; they do just fine with sounds,
gestures, and unfathomably deep eyes. In fact, they do better, since
they never lie and their faithfulness is unfailing.
When my human friends who understood what I was going
through expressed sympathies over my loss, I replied, "Dos was family --
only closer." Grief over the loss of a beloved animal can be deeper than
that over a friend or family member, since typically we spend more time
with our animals and our love for them is more pure and unconditional. I
never could understand what Gandhi and others meant when they spoke of
unconditional love until I put it in the context of what I feel for
nonhuman animals. No matter how many times Dos broke glass bowls,
knocked over lamps, or clawed the furniture, anger never tainted the
pure force of love. The challenge is applying this kind of peaceful
attitude to the two-legged animal known as Ego Maximus. And that is
where I usually fall short. But if I see humans as having tails, pointy
ears, and whiskers, I sometimes do better.
No one who met Dos could help but love him. Time and
time again, the most ardent cat haters were won over his charm,
personality, and often cranky independence. Strangers would stop and
take pictures of him, and then give them to me later, as is the case
with the first picture link below.
Dos and I went through everything together, good times
and bad. He was always there for me; and now he is gone forever,
irreplaceably gone. I loved him as much as any love could possibly be
given. I take comfort in how we enriched each other's lives and our
friendship crossed species boundaries.
And so, Dos, I offer these words that we never needed in
your memory. Goodbye, my wonderful friend, I will never forget you …
Go on to Anytime You
Think You're Not Making a Difference..
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