Some things cause your heart to soften. One look and you melt into silly love. That’s what happened when I met Sylvester, the world’s friendliest kitty.Sylvester. Happiest little buddy ever.
It was 10 years ago. I was living in Rancho Cordova, a suburb of Sacramento. We had a big backyard with a tall, leafy shade tree and soft green grass. My kitchen window overlooked the yard, and as I cooked I would gaze out. One day I noticed a black and white cat hiding in the bushes. Day after day, I saw him there.
“Honey,” I said to my husband, “have you seen the cat hiding in our bushes? I think he’s homeless.”
My husband, not yet a cat lover, shrugged off my comment. “We have a cat,” he said.
The next day, when my husband was at work, I took a dish of cat food and placed it in the middle of the yard. A few hours later, it was empty. I filled it again. This time I watched from the window. The kitty crept out from the bush, looked to his left and his right, and gobbled up the food.
After the third day, I brought the food out and stayed. The cat didn’t hesitate to approach the dish. He even allowed me to get close. Each day I moved closer, and by the third day I was petting his head. He was so filthy my hand would be covered in a black film after I petted him. Yet, after a few days, he started to lick himself clean.
Within a week, the happy cat would sit on our back stoop and cry for food. What a sweet serenade he sang! I always eagerly obliged his request. I sat outside for hours every day, petting him—and falling deeper in love with this little buddy.
Soon after, I told my husband we should name him. Even my husband had started setting dishes of food and water out for the cat. Since I already had a cat that I had owned before I met my husband, I decided to let my husband name this feral cat.Sylvester with his alley cat pal, Tigre.
“He looks like Sylvester,” said my husband, quite matter-of-factly. Indeed, he does look like Sylvester from the cartoons! He now had a name. He was officially part of the family. But, would he like my other cat?
Thandi, my beautiful ginger-toned fluff ball, is a princess through and through. On top of that, she’s a momma’s girl. She doesn’t like other people, and I sure as shine-ola didn’t expect her to take kindly to another cat. We initially intended to let Sylvester remain an outdoor kitty, allowing Thandi to rule the inside roost. But that didn’t happen.
One night, I was reading in bed. Brendan (my husband) called me to come to the living room. I pulled on my slippers and walked down the hallway to see our black and white Sylvester sitting quietly on a rug in front of the back door. He wasn’t wandering, just sitting patiently.
Thandi sniffed him, hissed a bit, and properly walloped him across the nose with her clawless paw. Sylvester merely pulled back and tried to make himself invisible so as not to offend her majesty.
Somehow, it worked. Thandi accepted little Sylvester into our lives. It’s not to say she ever learned to love him like Brendan and I, but she made it work.Sylvester and his neighbor pal, Otis, waiting for guests to arrive at our party.
It took Sylvester a while to adjust to indoor life. Our once-feral cat tried to climb our Christmas tree one year, knocking it over and breaking a lamp in the middle of the night. It took forever to teach him to use a litter box. But eventually, he caught on to our more refined ways.
Sylvester nestled his way into our hearts a little more each day. His cheerful personality was infectious. As soon as we walked into a room, he would run over to greet us. Any time there was an empty lap (and even when our laps were full with plates of food or the other cat), Sylvester needed to be in it. He would gleefully pounce at the chance to be loved, and return our kindness with loud motor-like purring and a dance of happy paws kneading.
Sylvester never wanted to be alone. If Thandi was sleeping in a chair, he would jump up to sleep there too—always to her dismay. If we had friends over for a backyard BBQ, Sylvester would wrap himself around the leg of every guest, attempting to make new pals. When my best friend, Johanna, spent the night in our guest room, Sylvester joined her for a night of cuddles.Sylvester waiting for someone to cuddle with.
Little Sylvester was a lover. At night, he would work his way between my legs, or climb onto my shoulder. He started each night by lying on Brendan’s chest, doing his kitty paw dance, and then asking for a neck rub. When I awoke each morning, he was always laying next to my heart. As soon as he spotted my open eyes in the morning, his purr box would start up. And if I didn’t wake up in time for his self-determined breakfast hour, he would sit beside me and cry until I stumbled out of bed and poured fresh food into his dish.
Every cat has their quirks, and Sylvester’s larger than life personality gave us many hearty laughs over the years. Once, he sprinted into our bedroom at a race horse pace. In an attempt to launch himself through the air and onto our window ledge (where we had placed a tiny cat window seat), he missed his target completely, slamming himself sideways into my dresser and landing with a thud on the floor, looking utterly embarrassed and only a little dazed.
Sylvester was quite a good eater, always eager to taste whatever Brendan and I were having for supper. He would steal bites of popcorn, Thanksgiving turkey, tuna sandwiches, eggs, and even BBQ’d ribs. (The latter, he stole from the trash in the middle of the night, tipping it over with a loud, awakening thud.) More than once I caught him sneaking onto the “set” of my blog photo shoots, hoping to grab a tasty morsel. He stole bites of corn once, and his prize catch: an entire jumbo shrimp.Sylvester was an accommodating cat. He let me dress him in a Santa hat for a photo opp.
If I was ever sad or crying, Sylvester would come to my side immediately and lay down next to me. He didn’t mind if a tear or two fell on his shiny, clean coat. His main goal in life seemed to be to make people happy and bring us cheer.
Whenever we took Sylvester to the vet, (which in his hard, alley cat life, was sadly far too often: he had kidney crystals which eventually led to an operation, he had a painful cyst, he had heart disease, and based on a recent x-ray, our vet told us he was also once shot—he still had a bullet stuck inside him), the workers would always praise his willing behavior. They could poke him, prod him, and even shave him, and he would simply make it easy.
In these last few months, our poor little buddy was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, a disease so rare in cats that a veterinary heart specialist told us Sylvester’s was only the second case he’s ever seen in his career. The first kitty with the disease lasted one month. Our wonderful Sylvester lasted five. Even when the vet sent us home with a prescription for five kinds of medication, Sylvester made it easy on us and willingly gobbled up the pills crushed into his tuna.
In the end, he died because his heart was too big (that’s the scientific result of his disease). Yet, we didn’t need a doctor to tell us this. He demonstrated that large heart of his in a gazillion glad ways in the 10 years we were fortunate to know him.Lovable Sylvester with Brendan.
This weekend, he stopped eating his food. He wouldn’t let us give him his medicine. He was too weak to do kitty paw dances, and often too weak to purr. He made it easy for us to decide when it was time to let him go.
I woke up this morning, and sweet Sylvester was lying next to my heart. He lay quietly, working hard to breathe. After we called our vet to make the appointment to bring him in one last time, my husband and I lay back down on our bed, hearts breaking. Sylvester jumped up to join us, and for the last time, started purring to his giant heart’s content.
We are lucky, lucky humans to have been blessed with a kitty as loving and happy as Sylvester. His life brought us pure joy. He made my husband a cat lover, and our Thandi an accepting companion. He comforted me through many difficult years, and made us all laugh and smile.
Now, there’s a hole in our living room where his cat tree once stood. Instead of two kitty dishes, there’s only one. The house is missing much joy and sunshine. And my soft, soft heart that Sylvester melted into butter with each kitty paw dance, is weeping.Best friend, Sylvester.
Goodbye, best friend!