Strait Up: My furry teacher

I’m writing this column three days after an event that I had been fortunate enough to postpone for most of my life, but hoped I would be able to put off for just a few more years.

 Cathy and I said a sad goodbye to our oldest cat, Mombo, on the afternoon of April 18. He was just over three years old and had lived with us for nearly the entirety of that brief but eventful lifetime, packing as much energy, happiness and zest for life as I’ve ever seen any cat – or human – display in a 36-month span.

  We made the difficult but humane decision to let a local veterinarian give Mombo peace after she and one of her fellow vets concluded that he was dealing with the feline ailment saddle thrombus. Essentially, it’s a blood clot that cuts off circulation to a cat’s bottom half, rendering him unable to move or even carry out basic bathroom functions.

  However, apart from giving you this basic information, I don’t want to dwell on the disease that took our boy. Instead, I’d rather share what I’ve learned from this little fellow in the three years since he was discovered, along with his two brothers, in a pile of sawdust at the L’Ardoise sawmill co-owned by two of my cousins. (Mombo got his name from the first five letters of their surname, Mombourquette.)

 He was the first cat that I have ever owned and cared for, either by myself or with anyone else. So, in that regard, he taught me a lot about the basic necessities of feedings, vet visits, and regular playtimes. (Yes, we got him toys. And yes, he loved his toys. We got used to the idea that pretty much every night at nine o’clock, no matter what we were doing, it was Mombo’s playtime.)

 But he taught me so much more.

 As he grew from a playful kitten into a sturdy cat and leapt from floors to the tops of furniture and doors – and, on several occasions, onto the shoulders of our friends, family and other visitors – Mombo taught me the joy of defying the laws of aerodynamics.

 He taught me that an animal can love a married couple equally and yet have two separate, distinct relationships with the man and woman of the house.

 He taught me that there’s no better TV set than the kitchen window and no greater entertainers than the birds at our back-deck feeders. (He also taught me new words to use to talk to the birds, most notably a high-pitched “ah-ah.”)

 He taught me that anything I was doing on our home computer was worth interrupting for a cat-cuddle when he walked across the keyboard and showed me those big old Mombo eyes.

 He taught me that suitcases are evil. But only when we’re leaving the house; they’re fun toys when we come back. And he taught me that no welcome-home is quite like the one we get from a loving animal.

 He taught me that no part of the kitchen is completely safe and secure when there’s even a remote possibility that a bag of treats exists, or even previously existed, in any of our cupboards or cabinets. I had to remove him from our main cupboards on more than one occasion during his final few days of life, as he sought a bag of kitten food that we had picked up for our younger cat, Grace.

 Speaking of Grace, another rescue that we brought home from Antigonish last September, Mombo also taught us about the value of getting along with others. Sure, they fought a little bit, often waging epic battles over which feline would take the coveted spots between our legs on the couch or next to us in bed through the night. But Mombo showed remarkable patience and a willingness to play with his new “little sister” and I know she misses him as much as we do right now.

 In his final moments of life, as I held him in my arms, Mombo taught me a powerful lesson about loyalty and trust that I will never forget as long as I live. And even his passing has given me important reminders of God’s love and kindness and that of the friends and family He has placed in our lives through the years, many of whom have comforted us over the past week.

 Most importantly, Mombo taught me that it’s worth it, millions of times over, to give my heart to a furry creature and to treasure every moment we get with those God is kind enough to give to us, even for the briefest of times.

 Thank you, Professor Mombo.