If you ask any pet parent, animal-lover or rescue type they’ll tell you. Although many animals may have captured their hearts, there is always “one” that burrows so deep inside that the heart starts beating for two.
For my husband, Don, and myself, that “one” was an emaciated, beat up kitty who showed up at our door 12 years ago and promptly declared the joint his. The vet guessed him to be somewhere between 7 months and a year old, but there was no debating he was four hungry pounds of pure attitude. No shrinking violet this one, he meowed with a Jersey accent, swaggered like a thug, preferred wrestling to cuddling and since he was too puny for a proper mob name like Johnny Roastbeef, we eventually settled on calling him Little Man.
Many people have similar stories, but what made this one so unusual was that Little Man chose a door with no children, no pets and a man of the house who had no desire for either. It’s not that he didn’t like animals, Don just liked perfection more and wasn’t interested in introducing cat hair, claw marks and litter boxes into our rather tidy life. It took all of 48 hours and four pounds of badass to change that.
Thinking back, we were totally out of our element. We promptly bought toys, cat trees and scratching posts to entertain him, but Little Man wasn’t interested in any of them. He preferred sharpening his nails on a couch. Toys were only fun if there was someone there to throw them. And his preferred dining time was somewhere around 3am.
We adjusted our lives accordingly. We really didn’t have a choice. Little Man laid down the law.
In his world, our yard and the accompanying woods belonged solely to him. If a neighbor’s dog made the mistake of crossing that line, he’d be chased home by our tiny hellion. On the other hand, Little Man liked to welcome each human visitor personally. If you were male, he was apt to fall in love with your shoes. If you were female, he’d more than likely rummage through your purse.
Many of our animal friends said “It’s dangerous, you can’t let him go outside.” However, if you ever met Little Man, you’d know it wasn’t up for debate. Instead we set a curfew (daylight hours only) and insisted he always come when he was called. For the most part, he abided by the rules unless a chipmunk or other hapless small animal crossed his path. If that were to happen after sunset, we’d launch a full out search in pajamas and flashlights until Little would come sauntering up like “What’s the problem, bro?”
There were times we wondered if we had just adopted a cat or a de facto watch dog. On daytime nap breaks and at night, he’d sit by the window and growl if anything on two legs or four had the gall to enter his property. Once spotted, he’d then race to the door demanding to take care of the interloper. The first time it happened I yelled “NO.” He stopped, turned, looked at me and then ran full speed and smacked me in the leg. “NO” was not a word he took kindly to.
It wasn’t that Little Man was difficult, he just knew what he wanted and wasn’t shy about asking for it. He insisted on joining Don for walks in the woods and on yardwork days, was always willing to pitch in. Sometimes that meant dive bombing and rolling in mulch and others, launching surprise attacks from behind the bushes. He was certainly an independent type, but always liked to have “his people” nearby.
Perhaps you’re thinking, who could possibly fall head-over-heels for a headstrong, nutcase like that? The answer was – everybody.
If you came to our house for any reason – a party, a family gathering or were just coming to do some kind of work – the first person who greeted you would always be Little Man. (And if you were bearing food, he’d be on you like glue.) A few years back, a local magazine came to take photos of our garden. Every time the photographer would set up, Little Man would run into the shot and roll over. In fact, that well-rehearsed move earned him the nickname Stud Muffin among the ladies at our vet’s office.
Early on, it became clear rather quickly that, in this family, I was the third wheel. I loved this big, bad kitty more than I’ve ever loved any animal, but he only had eyes for Don. The same guy who never wanted a pet was now the chosen one.
I tried everything from doling out treats and home-cooked chicken to hours spent creating games like “rubber band man” and “fishing pole” in the hopes of winning his favor. He tolerated me holding him and smooching his big head and belly, but Numero Uno had already been determined. Little’s main man was Don. In fact, it was while watching the two of them together that the idea of “having a soft side” first took form. I kept wondering if this Type A “I don’t want a pet” perfectionist could suddenly turn into mush because of one ballsy, bruiser of a cat, would the same hold true for other guys? It was worth finding out and with the help of Lori Smyth and Caroline Griffin, I got the answer pretty quickly. It was a resounding yes.
I still remember with some embarrassment attending one of Caroline Griffin’s Anti-Animal Abuse Commission meetings back in 2011 and telling the group why the recent string of animal abuse incidents had hit me so hard. I showed them a blow up of Little Man and explained how he’d changed our lives and how the thought of anyone, let alone a kid, hurting him was beyond my comprehension. In hindsight, I’m sure the group thought, “You’re telling us about a cat? We deal with hundreds of them every day,” but there was only one that had burrowed its way so deep inside my heart.
Last week, Don and I had to face a painful truth.
Little Man’s heart could no longer keep up with his larger than life persona. After learning how bad the situation was, we asked the hospital to remove catheters and IV’s and we took him back home where he belonged. I fed him little bites of tenderloin and Don spent the night on the floor with Little Man’s big head nestled in his hand.
On Thursday, June 15 – the three of us went to his vet’s office. Over the past 12 years, Little Man has occasionally tolerated me holding and cuddling him, but Don had always respected his wishes and restricted his display of loving to rigorous head rubs. On July 15, Little Man lay cradled, for the first time ever, in Don’s arms as he purred peacefully and made his way across the Rainbow Bridge.
The words of Winnie the Pooh are now etched in my heart “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying good-bye so hard.” For Don and myself, Little Man was truly the “one.”
In memory of the kitty who changed our lives forever, we’re setting up the Little Man Fund to help other Baltimore street kitties who aren’t so lucky. We’re working out the logistics as we speak, but wanted to thank Cindy Wright, Genny Resch and Carole Alexander for their generosity in honoring our little boy and inspiring us to do something positive in his name.