Tatters, 199? - 2011
I was never a cat person growing up; my family always had dogs. Once I got through college, I lived in shared housing arrangements for the first five years of my work life (the joys of living in Silicon Valley)—so that meant no pets of my own. My jobs were also such that having a pet would be difficult, as I traveled a fair bit. So I remained petless for many years.
In January of 1994, though, I purchased my first home (shortly after moving to Oregon). In all ways but one, it was a very typical starter home: 1970s three-bedroom two-bathroom ranch with too much dark wood, not enough light, horrendously outdated kitchen, and and orange-and-white marble-look-but-plastic guest bath.
The one way in which it differed is that the home came with a guilt trip, which led directly to my first-ever experience as a cat owner…
On the day I moved in, I found a large container of dry cat food in the living room, along with a note from the prior owner. The note explained that she'd been feeding a neighborhood stray cat, and she was worried what would happen to him now that she was moving away. Given she provided a huge container of food, I felt it was the least I could do to continue her feedings. That night, I had my first encounter with the then-unnamed stray. He was incredibly friendly, and carried this attitude of "yea, I know I'm cool" that was somehow plainly obvious through his features and behaviors.
I continued the feedings for a couple months, noticing that this cat was somewhat feisty—he'd show up some evenings clearly having been in a scrape with another cat. Sometime's he'd have a bit of blood on his fur (he won!), other times he was just dirty and covered in twigs (he lost!). Eventually, I just started calling him Tatters, to reflect how he often looked when I saw him.
Maybe four months after I bought the house, Tatters showed up one night with his right front fore claw (the high-up claw) torn and badly bleeding. It didn't look like a fight injury; more like he'd gotten it stuck on something as he jumped down, and it ripped pretty badly. I wrapped the injured leg in some gauze and tape, and took him to the vet the next morning. (I put him in the garage overnight, on a used blanket for a bed.)
The vet called me at work with good and bad news. The good news was that the claw was easily repaired; the bad news was that Tatters had FIV, and the vet wasn't sure what that would mean for his future existence. The cost to repair his claw was high, as I recall—especially as I'd just purchased a home and was very "house poor." So I had to choose: fix his injured claw at great cost and not knowing how long he may live, or have him put to sleep. There was no way I was taking option number two, so I added "cat poor" to my "house poor" situation.
The vet recommended an expensive life-long FIV treatment regime, too, but I wasn't willing to make that commitment (as it was unproven at the time if it even did any good). I figured I'd just make sure Tatters was happy and comfortable for his remaining years, however many that might be, without going down the daily medication path. As it turns out, in hindsight this was an excellent decision, as he's been part of my life for 18 years. (I don't know how long he actually lived; he must've been at least one or two years old when I bought the home, as he was fully grown.)
After the diagnosis, I couldn't let Tatters be an outdoor cat any more—FIV is transmittable between cats, and I'd feel horrid if he infected someone else's cat. So he became a permanent indoor cat (with occasional supervised outdoor time in our yard). He also became an incredibly important part of my life, probably because he was so unlike a typical cat in any respect. I usually call him the uncat, or the dogcat, in fact, as his preference is to be on or around people at all times, not exhibiting the typical cat-like "I'm independent, and I won't come see you right now" attitude. With my history of dog ownership, Tatters was the best introduction to cat ownership I could've ever hoped for.
We've had an amazing 18 years together; he's been with me through four homes, my wedding, the addition of my wife's cat (who died a few years back) to our home, and the inevitable changes that came about when children entered our world. Through it all, he's been the most amazing companion, especially the last few years as I've worked at home. The house can seem awfully empty during the day, but he was always there at my side, just happy to be in the room with me.
So thank you, Tatters, for 18 wonderful years. I'll miss you greatly, as will our family. Rest in peace.