A Tale of Two Kitties


For the next installment in the Adoption Tails series, we have a special guest post written by Jacques Bouchard, who grew up with many cats throughout his life and is a self-proclaimed lifelong cat lover. Recently, one of his four cats passed away from cancer.

Jacques has written about his time with Mr. Monahan, the role that the special cat played in his family, and how he and his wife have worked to honor Monahan’s unique personality and special character, while remembering that many other cats are still in need of a forever home. And that adopting a new kitten (Ollie) can also be an acceptable part of the healing process, for both humans and fellow felines.

A Tale of Two Kitties

By Jacques Bouchard

Spectacular Mister Monahan

Sometimes, we need our rescues as much as they need us. This was especially true with the story of myself, my wife Jessi, and Spectacular Mister Monahan.

Jessi and I had just celebrated our wedding and were living together for the first time in a home we’d recently purchased. We’d spent many weeks visiting local shelters, relentlessly searching for the perfect cat to join the two I already had: Zoey the Brave and Sweet Coraline.

We found Monahan mostly by accident. We were on an unrelated road trip and had spotted a shelter kitten adoption sign at a pet store we happened to be driving by. We knew he was the one we wanted right away and adopted him on the spot. His name, Monahan, was in honor of Pat Monahan of the musical group Train – their song “Marry Me” was played during our wedding dance. The signs were all there – Monahan was born a month before our wedding, and one day before we closed on our house. He was our first baby.

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Monahan as a baby.

I’m a lifelong cat owner, and after years of adopting cats with various physical and emotional challenges, I was heartsore. For this reason, and also because this was Jessi’s first cat, I wanted to help pick out a happy, healthy kitten.

What we got was that and more. Healthy as a horse (and about as appropriate as an indoor pet), he stampeded through the house, destroying things, pulling pranks, and generally wreaking havoc. For a short time, we even worried that we might not be able to keep him, especially if we were planning on a baby.

But despite the challenges, we believed in his heart, we believed in us, and we believed in the commitment we made when adopting him. For more than a year and a half, we worked on his behavior issues every day, in every way we could think of – even if it meant waking up in the middle of the night to be consistent with a rule or boundary we’d set. Jessi was especially determined not to let her first experience in cat ownership fail, and she showered him with an almost never-ending supply of love and guidance.

Somewhere down the line, Monahan decided that he loved us back, and that being a good boy was much more fun. His personality completely turned around, and he became the most loyal and proactively good cat I’ve ever owned (albeit still a knucklehead). And at the center of his life, in all things, was Jessi.

As creatures of habit, Jessi and Monahan built an elaborate series of routines together that I only partially understood. While this is only part of the picture, some of the ones I do know about include:

  • Whenever she took a shower, he’d sit in between the curtain and the clear liner. She’d splash water at him, and he’d try to catch it.
  • When she put on her makeup, he’d sit on the sink and watch her, and try to lick anything that got close to him. As she walked out of the bathroom in her robe, he’d ride out on her shoulder, and usually almost kill her when he ran (clawed) his way down her back to jump off.
  • When she fed the fish, she’d give him one food pellet. This pellet, which weighed about a zillionth of an ounce, was the single most important thing in his entire life. After her, of course. Jessi would patiently, daily, explain to him that he was a cat, not a fish. He seemed to forget that a lot.
  • When she brought up the laundry, he’d jump in the hamper and ride up with her.
  • He’d race to beat her through any doorway she walked through. Because there might be danger, maybe, and he had to check it out first. If he guessed the wrong room, Jessi would laugh and taunt him, like a big sister teasing a little brother.
  • Whenever she came home through the garage, he’d meet her at a shelf built into the end of the basement stairs. Coming in, she’d call out “Mona Mona!”, and you could hear him thundering through the house to meet her, skidding to a stop when he got to the shelf. He’d flop on one side to be adored, and we’d hear the coconut-like sound of his head thunking and hitting the shelf. He did very little without over-the-top enthusiasm.
  • When she slept, he’d curl up by her, with one paw stretched out to rest on her shoulder.

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Like many of the best cats I’ve had, Monahan also took on a job. While our older girl, Coraline, would care for us when we were sad, and Zoey had an uncanny knack for caring for the sick, Monahan became Defender of The Universe. His noble and dramatic mission required constant vigilance – meaning that he had to leap up and check out any and all strange sounds in the house, investigate every knock at the door, and dispatch with extreme prejudice any insect or mouse that entered the premises. He also had a touching way of looking out for his sisters, and always found a way to let us know if someone was locked in a room or otherwise needed our attention. He was especially attentive towards Jessi, always needing to know what she was doing and if she was OK.

When we adopted our fourth cat – Matunuck (named after East Matunuck Beach, where I proposed to Jessi) – Monahan was a critical part of integrating her with the family. Matunuck had been abused as a kitten, and was tremendously anxious as she grew up, screaming and struggling if we touched her or picked her up. Monahan became a knight in shining armor to her, following her around and caring for her at all times. Once, I saw her hit him in the face and screamed at him. He flopped on his side and looked at her peacefully, saying “I’m here for you. Let’s not fight ever.” As she grew up, they became an inseparable pair – and quite the romantic couple!

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Monahan and Matunuck on a date, watching our frogs.

Underneath this happy story, Monahan’s health had been failing, probably for months. We first noticed the lump on his side on a Friday; I had a trip to a conference in Atlanta the following Wednesday. By Saturday morning, he was noticeably weaker, and when he wanted to watch Jessi put on her makeup, he couldn’t jump to the sink without jumping to the toilet first. We brought him to the vet for tests right away, but as a seasoned cat owner who’d been through this many times, I knew the signs. They weren’t good.

On Sunday night, Monahan didn’t join us on the bed, instead sleeping on top of his cat scratcher nearby. Jessi didn’t want to bother him, but I brought him over anyway. “I don’t want to upset you,” I said, “But this might be the healthiest he ever is again. We need to make the most of it, just in case.”

I was amazed at the lump, and how big it was. Everything about it looked like cancer, and that seemed impossible to me; he was only three! We spent well over a thousand dollars working with an excellent vet, testing for every possibility, pushing cancer out of our minds, and hoping for a treatable ailment. Jessi and I talked about what we could afford to do for him. We’d have to postpone some work on our house, but if we could spend a few thousand dollars and have him for fifteen more years, we wanted to do it – whatever it took.

When I had to leave home for the conference, I felt like I was abandoning my family. Monahan was so thin now, and I struggled between saying goodbye and not giving up hope that he’d be OK. I felt tremendously upset for my wife – Monahan and I were her core supports at home, and neither of us could be there when she needed us most.

On Wednesday afternoon, Jessi sent me an e-mail saying that Monahan had cancer and was going to be brought in for the final time that evening. With nothing to do, but unwilling to stay alone in the hotel room, I visited the Georgia Aquarium, and wandered around. I remember standing in front of the beluga whale tank for almost an hour, watching these graceful, gigantic creatures dance slowly through the water in front of me. I felt very small and powerless.

That night, Jessi told me on Skype that Monahan had been so good, and she had been so proud of him. She pointed at the scale to be weighed, and he walked over to it on his own and sat there obediently. He never fought, never meowed, and never grew anxious: his trust in Jessi was complete. He was weak, but he never showed us any signs of pain through the entire experience. His only thoughts were of taking care of her. It was his final gift.

Prince Ollie

If it hadn’t been for Ollie, this could have been where our story ended. I cut my trip short and came home as early as possible. Jessi spent the days until I returned at her parents’ home, not wanting to be alone. I checked in as often as I could, and there were many, many tears.

It was heartbreaking for our little clan of cats too – Monahan had been the charismatic leader that brought them all together. Zoey grew reclusive, sleeping on top of our kitchen cabinets and never coming down except to eat or use the litter box. Coraline began to act “old,” complaining often and slowing down. Matunuck tried to bond with the other cats but they were lost in themselves. Once, Jessi forgot that Monahan wasn’t with us anymore and called his name. Matunuck recognized it, perked up her ears, and began to search around, hoping he would somehow come bounding around a corner to be with us again. It was terrible to see.

Ultimately, Matunuck’s sadness was the tipping point that drove us to look for a new cat. We could tell she was remembering him and grieving – she picked up many of his habits, like waiting for us at the end of the basement stairs or begging for fish food. One night when I wasn’t home, Matunuck lay in bed curled up at Jessi’s side, with one paw on her shoulder. We weren’t sure if we were ready to move on, but for Matunuck’s sake, it was time.

We felt like traitors as we looked from shelter to shelter for a new kitten. “I’m just here for a refill,” Jessi had awkwardly told one shelter owner, her voice cracking as she tried to act casual. No one was fooled.

You know when you find the right cat. We’d seen many great cats and kittens in the next few weeks, but when we found Ollie, we knew immediately. It was like sonar – something bounced back from nowhere to let us know we’d hit on something real. And as we held him and felt that connection, we noticed that the cat in the next cage was named “Mona”. There it was – the blessing we felt we needed.

We named our new little boy “Ollie” after the former owner of Peter Potts Pottery, a special place for us where we’d bought our table settings as a wedding gift to ourselves throughout our engagement. Giving him this man’s name was a small way to tie our new little boy into our love, and into our family.

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Ollie a week after adoption.

Matunuck adopted Ollie immediately. He became the center of her world, and a tremendous source of healing for her. When Ollie was too small to explore the entire house, we trusted her in the room alone with him, letting them bond. When he began to explore the rest of the house, Matunuck put herself in between him and the other cats during their initial growls and hisses, remaining calm but looking them in the eyes. “He’s mine,” she told them. “He’s family.” Protecting him showed us a new side of Matunuck – her true strength, her nurturing side, and the power of her love. The other cats respected that, and they love and look after Ollie now. He’s become our new glue. And Matunuck loves romping with her new baby and playmate.

When Ollie was first introduced into the family, Jessi struggled with the urge to “replace” Monahan with him. But Ollie wasn’t Monahan. He behaves perfectly – we haven’t had the slightest trouble with him. He’s bold and fearless, where Monahan would hide under Jessi’s skirt when he was scared. He doesn’t physically protect the house, but he’s emotionally protective, looking into our eyes and gently touching our cheek with his paw, as he tries to understand what we’re thinking. He brings in a whole new kind of energy.

While Monahan really needed us, and many other families may have given up on such a challenging cat, Ollie needed us in a different way. When we adopted him, he was part of a misfit group of cats who were very sick. Some were missing limbs or tails, and many others had fleas, worms, were malnourished, or were vomiting during our visit. He needed people like us, who could recognize him for who he was, and take a chance on him. We were his hope.

I think the first day of healing started when Jessi was holding Ollie on our couch. He was lying in her arms on his back, all four limbs extended in his upside-down “Superman” pose. He woke up suddenly with a small meow, crawled partway up her chest, and looked into her eyes with such love and trust that it brought Jessi to tears. Since then, he’s been building his own routines and traditions with her, and opening a whole new chapter in her heart.

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Ollie and me on the couch.

Writing this story has been very hard for me. We both still miss Mr. Monahan, and we’ll never forget him. However, even as I sit here with red-rimmed eyes, Ollie is coming in to check on me, curling up in my arms while I type. It’s one more of his small, daily gifts of healing, and a reminder that we made the right choice. That’s the most important part – these constant reminders: “Stop working for a minute. Make time for love. Remember to laugh. Forget the serious things once in a while. Take down some of those boundaries. Smile, or I’m going to accidentally do something so cute that you’ll have no choice. Somebody loves you. Somebody is here. In my way, I’ll always be here.”


Jacques Bouchard works for DragonSearch, a Digital Marketing company with a passion for pets. Along with his four cats, he and his wife also take care of aquariums, two frogs, and a SATO rescue dog. You can find more of his writing, as well as that of his fellow Dragons, on Twitter at DSFido.

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A big thank you to Jacques for writing and sharing his story of Monahan and Ollie. The love of a cat can definitely help heal the heart, but we never forget the ones who came before.


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52 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Kitties

  1. And now I need some (not just one) kleenex. Beautiful story. I love the aspect of a new cat helping to heal and re-bond the family. It always makes me sad to hear people, in their grief, say “No more pets. I can’t take the hurt.” I always want to say, “But what about the joy, before the hurt. Don’t you want that again? Maybe *different* joy, but still.

    1. My grandfather feels that way. He fall in love with animals even harder than I do, and I think it’s wounded him deeply. You can see him light up, then distance himself, when he meets a charismatic furry friend. We’re so like each other that it taught me an indirect lesson about taking steps to avoid falling into that position myself.

  2. This story of Mister Monahan, Jesse & Jacques was very touching, and real. I too have gone through the pain a few times of losing a beloved cat. I find that adopting again is the solution. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. It means a lot to me that you were touched by this post. I put my heart deeply into this, and I was happy to have this opportunity to share memories of him with others who would appreciate it. With cats, I think it’s especially wonderful that they’re all so different, because each one fills that missing role in your life, but none of them are the same. Once you get to know them, they never feel like they could replace the other, but at the same time, they themselves are irreplaceable.

    1. Thank you for sharing your time to read it! Ollie has been such a fantastic boy — so bright, happy, trusting, and optimistic. He brings us light and love whenever we see him, and it’s wonderful to come home and see my wife curled up with him and the other cats — helps me know that she’s always being in a place filled with love and comfort.

  3. I have lost several cats over the years and I always end up with tears streaming down my face but after a day or so I have to replace the “one that came before” with another cat to love and care for.

    1. Me too, unfortunately. It’s the sad part of taking on cats with challenges such as old age and poor health. By coincidence, all of my previous cats since living on my own were male, so it was strange when Monahan left, because suddenly I had three female cats.

      I didn’t mention this in the post above, but all of our cats have voices that we give them and speak for them with. Monahan’s voice sounded like somewhere between a 50’s style sitcom kid and a college frat guy. When he was energized and we’d hold him, one of us would say “Mom! Not in front of the guys!”. Jessi would ask him who the guys were, and we never really had an answer.

      When Monahan passed away, we pretended he finally went to be with “the guys” — my other male cats — up in heaven. Who, of course, were always watching. ;-)

        1. When we got Ollie, we had SUCH a debate about which voice he’d get. We tested out voices for weeks until we had one that felt right. :-) Sometimes when we’re cooking together or doing chores, I think we talk more as our cats than as ourselves!

    1. Yes — that’s a very important message in this for me. There’s so much need for these little ones to have a home, and so much opportunity for them to help heal us when we’re grieving. Thank you for your comment, and for taking the time to read our story.

  4. What an incredible story. 18 months ago, I too felt a lump in Bear’s back. After a long surgery to remove it and a week of waiting, we were fortunate that is wasn’t malignant. My heart breaks for Jacques and Jessi and their cats … I remember what it was like to have my world shattered … a sense of safety and the world making sense gone … and even though Bear’s okay, I haven’t trusted it for a minute even as I appreciated him in a million new ways. It’s amazing that the cat we need the most seems to find us at just the right time … and there’s one thing that transcends death and pain and fear … love. It heals … it lasts forever … it’s what matters in a world of distractions and diversions.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about Bear, and so glad he’s turned out to be ok! Going through situations like that can really open your eyes to things, and can sometimes open hearts in unusual ways — letting us love more deeply and appreciate what we have. Ollie is definitely the right cat to follow Monahan. He’s full of love and playfulness and sensitivity, and he’s done so much to bring our family of humans and cats together. Cats are wise in ways we’re not, and have their priorities well in place, which can be a great teaching experience, and a great way to keep us focused on what, as you said, is what matters — love. :-)

      Thank you so much for reading!

  5. Cried throughout this story. Just tweeted to Jacques who we saw/met at Blog Paws Chat last night. I have always believed that the only way to heal that hole in your heart after losing a beloved pet is to reach out to another who needs a loving home. Thanks for sharing. XOCK, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Jo

    1. It was nice to talk to you last night, and meant a lot to me to hear from you today, and know you read this. It sounds like you have a wonderful clan of your own — which is also heartening to know! Blogs like this and BlogPawsChat really help us understand that there are many who think like us, and helps bring us together. :-)

  6. A beautiful story, and though I have tears and my heart hurts, I appreciate you sharing the story of Monahan and Ollie. Last October, we lost our 10-year-old Chase Bird to cancer, and his little sister Abbey changed from a being a happy-go-lucky playful kitty to a much more sober one. I felt at first that it was too soon for my husband and I to adopt another cat–it would be too hard on our hearts, too disrespectful to Chase Bird. But we decided that Abbey needed a companion and we needed to share our home with another cat in need. So we adopted Natasha in December and Connor in February. Abbey and Connor are especially close, and Abbey is once again playing, though I realize that she will never be the same, as my husband and I will never be the same. Thank you again for sharing your story.

    1. Never the same, but maybe better off for the experience. :-) It’s amazing to see how Ollie not only helped Matunuck, but has brought our cat Zoey out of her shell. She and Monahan weren’t the closest, and Zoey was always kind of a sore loser when playing – would get frustrated and growl if she wasn’t winning enough. But with Monahan, she’s the cool big sister. And as a 18-pound female (we think she might be part Norwegian Forest Cat), she’s SO big and fuzzy compared to his sleek, tiny self. It’s so heartwarming to see.

      Thank you so much for reading my story — It’s good to know others have made this decision too and, while hard, found it to be a good one. <3 I wish I could see pictures of them!

  7. This is such a lovely story …so many things I loved. Love that they stuck with him in spite of his early behavioral issues, love that his wife was determined to make it work, love that Monahan took care of Mantunuk, love that the cat next to Ollie’s cage was named Mona, and love that Mantunuk took Ollie under her care in a similar way as to how Monahan had taken care of her!

    1. It means a lot to me to hear that, Pip! It’s interesting how cats will hand down a sort of culture to the next generations. Our past cats have set a tone that the new ones usually adopt, which helps so much. For example, while Matunuck was learning to trust us, she could see our other cats acting calmly around us and enjoying our company, which I’m sure helped her understand we were safe. Similarly, when we first got Ollie, he was anxious when we had visitors over, but the other cats rush to the door to greet new people, and he got caught up in the energy. Ollie imitates Matunuck a lot as he’s growing, like jumping on top of our aquarium hood when I walk by to ask for attention (which always works!). They do wonderful things, intentionally and otherwise, to help perpetuate the good relationships you’ve had with previous ones. I’m so grateful for that.

  8. To my husband, Jacques.. Thank you for sharing our story. I have written comment after comment, but ended up deleting them and rewriting them in efforts to try to explain how well you captured this memory. Thank you for doing such an amazing job and helping others out there who may be experiencing the same thing.

    1. Love you, Jess! I miss writing about our stories together. It always helps me remember how special what we have is to me. <3 Let's hope for many more years of babies – furry and otherwise! ;-)

    2. Jessi, Jacques did such a brilliant job writing this story. I really felt like I knew your kitty clan – and completely felt the loss and devastation at Monahan’s passing. And then felt the joy with Ollie again as well.

  9. What a beautifully written post. Each cat is different, but each touches our hearts, souls and lives in its own special way. Thank you for sharing, Jacques.

  10. Thank you for reminding me of and letting me feel the fun and love of Monahan once again. Though he was a crazy boy at times, on his serious side, he was a fierce protector and guardian of Jess. Ollie is in a way a tribute to the wonderful 3 years we all had with Monahan.
    Beautifully, thoughtfully and sensitively written and tenderly expressed. Thank you.

    1. He definitely was, and I really appreciated that about him. His whole world was Jessi, and there was nothing he did that wasn’t for her. On a lighter note, he was also the most _fun_ cat I’ve ever had — he had a way of making everything a game, and being excited about so many things.

  11. Thank you for sharing Monahan and Ollie with us. It was beautiful written and hard to read through tears. If we are very lucky, we’ve all had a heart cat of our own. The experience of so much love and loss unites us.
    Maggie (who misses Tommie forever)

    1. You’re so welcome, and thank you for reading our story! I’m glad you were able to experience something like this with Tommie — it’s heartbreaking to lose them but only because they’re so worth it.

  12. What a beautiful story, and one I can completely identify with. Losing Truffles so young and unexpectedly, when I adopted Mudpie shortly after I struggled with feeling like I was “replacing” Truffles. Of course I wasn’t, that would be impossible, and Mudpie has turned out to be the most amazing blessing. I already can’t imagine life without her, even though Truffles will always live in my heart. Thank you for sharing your beautiful fur family with us today.

    1. Thank you for sharing this with me! Isn’t it amazing how we always find a little more room in our hearts for another little one? I was thinking about that this morning — Ollie was following me around the house. He’s picked up this habit of standing on his back legs and stretching his front paws as far towards me as he can, reaching out to me. I take him in my arms, and he’s so happy he can’t hold still, nuzzling and purring and shifting around. There’s no way you can’t let that kind of love in. :-)

    1. Thank you. It wasn’t fair to him — he worked so hard and changed himself so much to be a good boy. He deserved to have earned a long and happy life. But we’re glad that we were able to make him happy while we did have him.

  13. This is an amazing story of love and loss. It is so true for each of us. When I look for a new kitten, I feel like a traitor and my heart is heavy. Somehow seeing that tiny face wanting love turns the sadness into hope.

    Jean

    1. That’s a great way to think of it — turning sadness into hope. There’s so much potential for goodness in each kitten, and sometimes it’s up to us to give them the chance they need to bring it out. :-)

  14. What a beautiful story and very well told. I read it with a mix of tears and smiles, recognizing so many familiar patterns with our cats in our house. Mr Monahan was a beautiful soul and I’m sure he left huge paw prints on Jacques and Jessie’s hearts. So glad they have found solace in Ollie who is continuing the paw print legacy of his predecessor, Mr Monahan. 😽

  15. What a beautiful tribute to Mr. Monahan – it brought more than a couple tears to my eyes. It is a celebration of his life, and also of Ollie’s appearance in your lives too. I found myself smiling at both their antics, amazed at how different they are, and happy at how they each filled a special part in your household.

    1. Cat onwership itself feels like a celebration of life to me as well. Jessi and I went on a long trip this weekend, and Ollie was so happy to see us when we came back that he almost couldn’t control himself. he met us in the basement and was kneading his paws on the shelf he was so excited. He was walking in circles and rubbing his face against ours and calling out to us — he couldn’t decide what to do first, so he tried to do it all. It’s kind of like when Christmas gets a new meaning as you live it through your children. Unexpected things are so exciting or special to cats that the feeling can’t help but rub off on you too.

  16. Cats really do leave paw prints on your heart! What a beautiful story. I can relate, just very resent.” I lost my golden Persian Sedona. A few short months after that my beautiful ragdoll cat Ms Winters. My beautiful rescue calico. I believe she is my animal soulmate Summer Breezes has been diagnosed with diabetes. She receives two insulin injections every day and I am so thankful I have her. Within the past year and a half. I lost my mother-in-law barbara , my father in law Johnny and my precious Grams my heart, and my two Beautiful fur -baby’s Their has been many tears shed here for all that I have lost!

    1. What a comfort and blessing you must have been for all these little ones! :-) It can be so sad when a cat or other pet is sick, but on the other hand, they’re so lucky to have someone loving and responsible to see them through, whatever the end. My heart aches for your losses, even as I know they were in the right home.

Any thoughts to share?