Milo is the name of the greatest cat of my life (so far).
We first met on moving day. John and I were so lucky to move out of our cold, deathtrap of a basement suite into a perfectly average and peaceful little apartment. We were suddenly walking distance to a public transport hub, and at least 3 major grocery stores.
We parked the moving truck and headed up to the apartment. John stops and says "I forgot to mention, the landlord left something in the apartment..." As soon as we entered, there was a soft "meow". Milo was spread out in the middle of the empty floor, and let us pet him without incident. His litter box was tucked away in the bathroom, and clearly hadn't been cleaned in days and days.
Our new landlord *Alice arrived to take Milo to the animal shelter. With teary eyes, she told us of her fear that he would be euthanized, and her regret that she was unable to take him home instead (Metro Vancouver housing is very unwelcoming to pets). Since we love cats, we offered to take care of him for however long she needed. And so we went on to become emotionally attached to our temporary fur-babe. He was six years old.
After a month, as promised, Alice came and retrieved Milo, leaving our home empty of cat. It was hard to let go.
As usual, time passed. We rented for 6 months. Then Alice sold the apartment to us and left town. We were so excited to finally get a cat of our own. On my birthday in 2010, I received a beautiful mama tuxedo cat, who was found abandoned in a forest with a litter of kittens (and infected with tapeworms). I named her Magellan, Maggie for short.
Soon, we received a call from Alice, who wanted to live life to the fullest and take some years off to travel the world. She pleaded with us to permanently adopt Milo, assuring us that he and Maggie would eventually get along fine. She drove hours to deliver this cat, leaving him with nothing of comfort: no food dish, no bed, no toys, nothing with his scent. He was a changed man that day.
His terror was aggressive. Anytime we came close he would scream at the top of his lungs and lash out. It was like sharing a home with an angry badger. We left him in the bedroom, regularly visiting until he got used to his new home. Maggie immediately disliked him from the start. John and I actually slept on the couch every night for an entire month. Milo had nowhere else to go.
I'd never had a male cat before and was shocked at how affectionate he became! I could hold him like a baby. He would give the best hugs. His purr was so loud you could hear it from the next room. He talked to us like we were cats. He would tuck us in at night and made sure we fell asleep before he did. John and I were his big, stupid kittens.
Maggie would never come to trust him, though.
Eventually, Milo started having health problems. Every summer he would end up in emergency with urinary blockages from the stress of heatwaves and us going on weeklong camping trips sometimes. He was such a sensitive boy. He turned into such an angry, stressed-out monster at every hospital that veterinarians were shocked that we kept him as a pet. Every trip came with an $800 - $1200 vet bill and a LOT of trauma, so we stopped going on trips together. Since 2011, one of us would always stay behind to care for the cats. I got a lot of "helpful advice" during this time.
"I would just put him down."
"Take him with you on your trips."
"Send him to a boarding service."
It was as if no one believed or heard my stories, and frankly, I was getting tired.
Milo got worse.
In 2016, Milo was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. His lungs had filled up with so much water that his hard, shallow breaths caused him to rock back and forth. The hospital pulled the water out with syringes and estimated that this traumatic procedure would buy him an extra six months of life, assuming we would be willing to spend a little under $200/month from then on to medicate him.
Since the procedure was already done and he could breathe again, we agreed and adjusted to our new expensive and high-maintenance cat.
Milo would continue to amaze and terrorize vet techs for another two years.
What really complicated things was how horribly mismatched our cat family was. Milo was smart and stubborn as hell, and preferred to eat his meals in small bites over the course of several hours. Maggie was extremely insecure about food, due to her past-life as a forest survivor; She gobbled her food in seconds, hid under tables to catch crumbs, and worst of all, spent hours obsessing over and trying to steal Milo's medicated food.
Feeding Milo got harder and harder. His medicine tasted bitter, AND it had a side effect of suppressing his appetite. This is why he became so shockingly thin. We had to come up with new "tricks" constantly. Tension was really high: we were always yelling at Maggie as she tried to steal his food every 10 minutes. As soon as she stood up, we were on suspicious alert. If we left the room for any reason, we had to put his food away because she would pretend to be asleep just to get that second of opportunity. It was a mess.
In July, we had a heatwave and the cats melted. Unbeknownst to us, Milo was reaching his limits and he was too uncomfortable to eat much, which meant he wasn't getting his medicine consistently. It snowballed until this past Saturday when he stopped eating entirely. Sometimes he gets into a sulky mood like this, knowing it makes us crazy and we start bribing him with his favourite junk foods. I feel guilty that we went on with our day, berry picking and having dinner with family while quietly worrying about what new trick we were going to pull on our friend at home later that night.
But nothing worked, and Milo started hyperventilating at 10:30pm. Thank goodness there was an overnight hospital just a ten minute drive away. The x-rays and blood tests were practically instant. His lungs were 60% full of water again, and his liver was failing. His last experience on earth was screaming at us in terror while techs with thick work gloves held him down to sedate him.
We could have emptied his lungs again and took him home, but we thought the repeated trauma was too cruel. We chose to say goodbye. While the process was torturous, the decision itself was easy.
I really did think I would feel better this morning! I thought I was going to ride a wave of relief: no more worrying, no more mealtime tension. Maybe we can even go on vacation and just have someone drop by to feed Maggie like a regular cat family does. I figured that Maggie would be very happy to be Only Cat again and that her whiny temperament might improve some. I figured that my regular exposure to sadness would have dulled this experience considerably. Made it "old hat".
Truth is, I woke up this morning and for the first time I was not comforted by my purring friend. As predicted, Maggie remained unaffected as if Milo never existed at all. She kept to herself and offered nothing. She doesn't prrrp us good morning like he would.
Nobody barged in while I used the bathroom. Serving the cat breakfast was easy and drama free. I didn't have my usual back-and-forth morning cat conversation. Nobody followed me from room to room. Nobody purred next to me on the couch.
I hadn't realized how impossibly HUGE of a presence that Milo had had in the room, even during the morning nap routine. I just assumed that I loved each cat equally, but petting a sleeping Maggie didn't give me the usual chemical rush I was expecting.
I feel kind of guilty and weird about it. I feel resentful that the world just keeps spinning. I feel silly about having all of these feelings over a small animal while there are bigger problems in the world. Worst of all, I feel awful that I relied so heavily on on Milo's extraordinary skill of comforting his people. Especially knowing that I was unable to provide him even a fraction of comfort while he was screaming for his life on the examination table, thinking we were all conspiring to murder him. Finally, and for once, he was right.
I miss him.
*Fake name, obvs
Hello! I'm Melissa, and here you'll find some behind-the-scenes footage of an artful life. Won't you join me?