Goober, 2004-2020

Our oldest cat, Goober, died at noon today. He’d been suffering from kidney failure for some time, and this week things took a turn for the worse: he stopped eating and drinking, and was close to the end on multiple fronts. So we took him to the vet and had done what needed doing.

Here are some things you should know about Goober:

He was a big cat. When we first saw him at the Arnprior animal shelter on 28 July 2004, he was larger than the other kittens in the room. There were a lot of other kittens in the room, dozens of them, and they were passing infections back and forth. Goober—then called Mervyn—seemed a little bigger, a little older, and possibly a little harder for the shelter to place; also maybe a little healthier, a little more robust, but we’ll get into that later.

When we took him home we referred to him, temporarily, as the Itty Bitty Kitty, which is the kind of name that tempts fate. (My ex’s corn snake, Little Guy, ended up being neither.) Which is to say that Goober got large. Within a few years he was over seven kilograms, and he maxed out at about ten and a half kilograms. That’s approaching Maine Coon territory, though Maine Coon owners laughed at us when we talked about how big Goober had gotten. But, guys, the point was that Goober wasn’t a Maine Coon.

When Goober was younger he could move a lot. When he was a kitten he behaved like one, and like all our cats to date, he was a cat that fetched, chasing plastic springs up and down the stairs before he settled into his middle-aged chonkdom. He spent most of his life well up the chonk chart, and toward the end started having arthritis and mobility issues. Cleaning himself was a problem for a while, which meant that for a while we had to wipe up after him.

Over the last year or two as his kidneys started to fail his weight started dropping, which paradoxically meant that he was a bit more mobile in his old age than he was as a younger, chonkier cat. Near the end, though, he was pretty shaky: a pile of bones and fur and phlegm, aerogel in the shape of a cat.

He was a bold cat. Goober was born without a single fuck to give. He was a cat that stood his ground. While Doofus will get down from there at the snap of a finger, and Scourge will bolt at a loud noise, Goober would generally speaking not budge. He would stand athwart just about anything. The other cats are generally reticent when strangers come to visit; Goober actively sought company out. He especially liked to sit on the chests of smaller people and crush them. He welcomed kids. He wasn’t afraid of dogs: he’d simply punch them. He wasn’t afraid of the vacuum; he’d simply sit there and allow you to do it to him. To run away was simply more effort than it was worth.

It would be easy to assume that he was a passive cat: when the younger cats arrived, he gave up his kittenish ways, like chasing springs and playing with cat toys. It was more that he was willing to delegate: it wasn’t important that he play with the toy; it was important that the toy be played with. And he had cats for that. But if you had food he wanted—usually dairy, and especially cheese—he would pull it out of your hands if he could. (Of course he was food-motivated; just look at him.)

There were only two times I ever saw Goober truly frightened. One was in January 2007, when he got loose for a week. In the dead of winter. We were beside ourselves with worry and stress; I made laminated lost-cat posters and covered the town with them. I walked every street, shaking a food container and calling his name. (He had come when we called, at least indoors.) It turns out that he hadn’t gone far at all: he was in the junkyard of the garage across our back lane, and the first couple of times we spotted him he was so terrified he didn’t recognize us—he ran like hell. (Yes, there once was a time that Goober could run like hell.) It took a week of hiding in the cold and little to no food to wear him down enough for us to grab him, hiding in an old refrigerator. He was filthy, and we had to give him a bath. He’d also lost a pound or two in the ordeal, which he would more than make up for—as if to say, I will never let myself be thin and hungry again, and moreover I am going to build up a magnificent margin of error.

The second time was three years ago, when we first moved here. Each of our three cats had a very different reaction to the new house. Doofus appeared to have no trouble at all. Scourge hid under the covers for more than a month. And Goober? He took one look at the new place and said, nope. I’m outta here. For the first few days we had to prevent him from making a run for it out the front door. He actually got out, too, during a chaotic afternoon where the main water shutoff valve failed and was spraying water into the basement while I was trying to install a new ceiling lamp in the master bedroom, the front door was not properly secured, and Goober thought this is the time to make a run for it. As though he’d stepped through the back of the wardrobe and was trying to nope his way out of Narnia and back to the spare room.

He was not a healthy cat. He had lifelong health issues that could be traced back to that room he shared with several other germ-infested kittens at the Arnprior shelter. He came to us in need of deworming: he could eat and eat and not get any nourishment, which no doubt gave him an appetite that was healthier than necessary. And his sinuses were congested from the start: we didn’t name him Goober by accident. He’d run through courses of antibiotics to clear the snot out of his head, which would only work for a while. His respiratory issues were lifelong, and led to other issues. He was a mouth-breather, which led to dental issues, and in 2011 he had a bunch of teeth pulled. And they probably contributed to his lack of activity, which led to obesity, and arthritis. In the end it was kidney failure that got him, but by that point his sinuses were a constant rattle, and his heart was under stress. He had a lot of things wrong with him. To be blunt, we didn’t expect him to make it to sixteen: in the end, Goober outlived several cats who were ostensibly healthier than him, though the last couple of years were suboptimal.

But even with his long list of health issues Goober managed to be something else: charismatic. He was alert and attentive—especially if food or scritches or catnip were to be had. He was friendly. He literally converted at least two of our friends into cat people. Others openly threatened to take him home with them. Goober also made for a really good photographic subject; I suspect that had I been remotely interested in making him big on social media I could have pulled it off. He was a large cat that was larger than life. He had a personality. He had a fandom.

And now he’s gone. We’ve buried pets before, and Goober has been in decline for some time. We saw this coming, but it hurts all the same. This is the first cat either of us has had for their full span of life, from adoption to death: others died prematurely, or our parents had them before we were born or after we left. And this is the first time either of us has had to be the one to make the decision to make an end. Not that it gets any easier, I expect.

And now he’s gone, and I have to change the last line of my bio to “their two cats, and an uncomfortable number of snakes.” It’s astonishing how much our lives have been centred on this messy, high-maintenance beast, and the space his absence creates, and not just because “keep an eye on this declining and occasionally incontinent cat” is no longer on the to-do list.

And now he’s gone, and I wonder how the two remaining cats will react, for whom Goober was practically their surrogate parent, and whether their dynamic will change now that the creaky elder cat isn’t there to attend.

Mourning pets always seemed to run the risk of being a bit too much to me. But this time it’s Goober. Goober’s gone now. Damn.

Over sixteen years I’ve taken literally thousands of photos of this cat. More than three hundred are available at Flickr. The featured image at the top of the post, taken last Saturday, is literally the second-to-last photo I took of Goober.