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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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