Monday, May 07, 2007



By the end, Herbert was practically immobilized by diabetes; diagnosed in October, he never responded to insulin and spent the last six months of his life in a long, slow, downward spiral. Even at 30 units of Vetsulin each day, he showed no signs of improvement, refusing to clean himself and lacking all interest in the outdoors, where he used to spend his summers slaughtering shrews and small birds. Instead, he passed his days napping uncomfortably and waiting for the next can of wet food, which he consumed ravenously and without joy, his poor body screaming for nourishment that neither nature nor pharmaceuticals could supply. When we weren't looking, he poached food from our plates and gobbled unsentried sticks of butter. It was funny for a while, and then it wasn't. Last month, he took to shitting on the floor. Always the most fastidious of our three cats, Herbert must have felt the most extraordinary shame as his condition devolved. He began telling us it was time to go long before we were willing to believe him. As the cliche has it, he's no longer suffering. Still, his passing has crushed us.

He was an extraordinary animal. My wife picked him out of a litter ten years ago in suburban Minneapolis, largely because of the crazed expression on his face and his apparent zeal for life, which he showed by dangling from the top of the cage and howling incoherently. As a kitten, he fell into a toilet. As he passed into adulthood, Herbert was as fortunate as he was fearless. During his decade of misadventure, he survived a three-story tumble from an apartment flower box; wrestled with Rottweiler and Newfoundland puppies; recovered from infected puncture wounds suffered during at least three major rows with his rival across the street; and followed black bears as they lumbered through the neighborhood. He was a prolific murderer of small game, including earthworms and dragonflies. Had he been large enough, he probably would have eaten us as well.

Instead, he gave us many (and yet, through no fault of his own, too few) years of amusement and frustration, both of which are now at least momentarily indistinguishable, having blending into a staggering sense of loss. As a general matter, I don't think humans are worthy of anything resembling Heaven, but I desperately want to believe that our pets live forever.

Goodbye, Herbert. You'll not be forgotten.