Rewind back to January 2002…the holidays over, the kids back in school, the decorations boxed up and put away. At the time, our children were 2, 5, 7, and 11. I had been up to my elbows in diapers and bottles and sticky fingers and sleepless nights for over a decade now. I had laundry to do, meals to prepare, school buses to catch. I had a toddler and a tween…life was busy and crazy, but great. We lived in a cute little house in a cute little neighborhood in Delaware, Ohio–had moved there from Pittsburgh, PA in May of 2001. I wasn’t working outside the home at the time, just hanging with my boys, having fun being Mom and Wife. In the previous 8 months, I had spent quite a bit of time feathering my nest. The boys were big enough that the toys were no longer strewn across the house like a landmine of colorful plastic; yet, they were young enough that I still had control over the chaos that their bedrooms have become now. At the end of most days, things were picked up and organized, neat and tidy…just the way we control freaks like it. After the first decade of parenthood, control (or the magical, unsuccessful quest for control — like looking for a unicorn, or a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow) was something I would strive for, every day. That’s why I said “no” when they would ask for a dog (we tried that, and a weimaraner + pregnant mom + three small kids + travelling husband = just too much — he was happy to be back on the farm with his original family!)
And then…one sunny, cold winter’s day, I heard this crying sound. I ran up to check on my napping baby boy…sound asleep. Back downstairs, I heard it again…and again…and again. Finally, I opened the door that led to the garage and there he sat…this tiny little orange and white cat. Cold and hungry. Crying for attention, just like the boys. Now what was I going to do….
I really did not want a cat. They shed. They make messes. They need to go to the doctor. They need brushed and fed and cared for…and I was already doing that for a whole house full of needy little darlings. I honestly wasn’t sure I could care for one more thing. I didn’t want any harm to come to the little fuzz ball, but I didn’t want to add one more thing to my list either. So I called a no-kill shelter. They were full. Could we please just tend to the cat for 5 days or so, then call back and check for an opening. Really, 5 days. Like the boys weren’t going to get attached in five days. Ok, fine. So, couldn’t let the cat starve, and I opened the only thing I could think of…a can of tuna. Who knew that if you fed a cat tuna, they would never leave! Next, I called a vet. I had babies in the house and he was a stray. What if he was sick? Who knew if you spent $250 at the vet for neutering, shots, and a good once-over, the cat would never leave! My husband, my sons, the vet, the shelter–they all said the same thing–“couldn’t you just keep him? He’ll be no trouble. We promise.”
What is a woman to do??? Compromise. Yes, we can keep him. But he will be an outdoor cat. Our youngest was suffering quite a bit with asthma and eczema issues at the time, and I didn’t want to make it worse by adding a possible cat allergy. The vet said we could make a lovely home for him in the garage. We got food and water bowls and a litter box and a bed and a heater. He had a really warm and cozy spot out there. The garage door would stay open a bit during the day so that he could come and go, and we made sure he was “home” every night, safe and sound and snuggled in his bed. He loved roaming the neighborhood, lounging in the garden and chasing after the kids. He didn’t mind having his tail pulled, and he loved having his chin scratched. He came home every day, and they fell in love with him. He really was a great cat, really no trouble at all. He would come in the house and play for a short time most days, but he seemed content and happy to be in his little home in the garage.
In 2003, we moved to Arizona. I couldn’t believe how quickly he adjusted from garden cat to desert cat. He had the same set up (except we couldn’t leave the garage open during the day–scorpions, rattle snakes–just not a good idea! So he would come in the back door and go to his food, water, litter box and bed in the garage. I think this is where he gained legend status. He travelled in the back of the van across the country, survived adventure after adventure in the great southwest, and came home every night to tell the tale! A white cat outside at dusk in the desert–let me just say coyotes and owls–but they never got Lyle! He was a master hunter, bringing us “gift” after “gift” and he was tough–got into many cat fights–but NEVER lost!
Things changed when we moved to New Jersey in December of 2004. Our garage was detached from the house, so I had to finally give in. He became an indoor/outdoor cat. Litter box and food moved to the basement, but he still loved to be outside. And like all the other places he lived, he became king of this neighborhood. We would find him lounging on lawns and porches up and down the block, clearly in charge of all the other outdoor cats! The other families loved him and told us they thought it was great that he felt comfortable enough to lounge where he pleased. He wouldn’t wear a collar, but eluded the animal control van that goes up our street every day. He never lost a fight in Jersey either. He spent his days lounging in the sun or the garden, chasing bunnies and catching mice, and every night, he would tap on the family room window when he was ready to come in for the night. The kids created a facebook page for him, and he made friends outside of the Park Road block. He was a superhero. A rock star.
Lyle and I had our own special relationship. I didn’t want him to shed on my furniture or cause me any extra work. He got that. He respected my space–didn’t tear up the sofas or the curtains. If I walked into a room and he was on a table or a counter, he would get down right away–I didn’t even have to ask. He sat on laps, but not the couch; he slept on beds, but only in the one bedroom he was allowed to go to. He didn’t get sick–never. Only had to go to the vet for fleas once, and regular shots. He really was no trouble. And over the years, the last one in particular, my heart softened a little and our little understanding grew deeper. We were friends, without a lot of pomp and circumstance. We had a mutual respect and fondness for each other. And sometimes, when no one was watching, I would talk to him and scratch his little chin.
Three weeks ago, Lyle was lounging in the garden and killing mice. Two weeks ago, our fuzzy little friend got sick. Really sick. But in true Lyle-style, he let me take care of him and he didn’t cause any trouble. I gave him his IV fluids and he sat still for me. I gave him his pills, and he would just open his mouth and swallow them. No trouble. And as he became physically weaker, he was still no trouble. He sat on laps and had his chin scratched. And in true Lyle-style, he didn’t want it all to end in the vet’s office, where he never had to go, because he was never sick. Nope–not for him. In true Lyle-style, he picked a morning when everyone was home. He laid down, and drifted off. In his own house, in his own bed, in his own time. After just a few hours of “love rubbins” and farewell wishes from his favorite friends, he just drifted off. No trouble at all.
Our hearts are broken, but we know the legend of Lyle will live in our hearts and our family lore forever. We placed him in a special spot in the garden, with his favorite things. There will never be a cooler cat, and I’m sure that he’s already become king of the neighborhood in his new peaceful place, chasing mice and chillin’ in the sun. When Grant was 7 or 8, he wrote a little card that still hangs in our kitchen. It said, “To myself, from myself. Peace is a cat. Meow.” Now we are sure that Lyle is not just a peace cat, he is the peace cat. You were a good cat, Lyle, really no trouble at all. And I bid you farewell, my fuzzy friend…farewell.