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5/25/2020 2:24 pm  #1

A Eulogy for Toby (my ancient cat died)


In 2002 my brother was an engineering student at West Virginia Tech in Montgomery, West Virginia. At the time, someone (likely an idiot) was breeding Bengal cats in his neighborhood. As many of you probably know, Bengals are a cross between Asiatic leopard cats and house cats. Adoptable Bengals are supposed to be at least F5, meaning five generations from the wild cat crossbreeding. Anyway, this amateur breeder was evicted from his or her home, a bunch of the half-wild cats ended up on the street, and my brother caught a pregnant female. (She was not an F5; I later saw her and would estimate she was half leopard cat. She once horrified my sister-in-law by making a seven foot leap and snatching a bird out of the air right in front of her.) My brother ended up with a number of handsome Bengal kittens, probably F3, and needed to find a likely sucker to adopt the excess.

On May 12th, 2002, I went to my mother’s house for a Mother’s Day barbecue. My brother and his wife were there, and they had two tiny Bengal kittens with them – one dark and the other golden-furred. They were so small that they were still crawling on their bellies. At that time my wife and I already had a couple dozen cats in our large house, and I was reluctant to take any more. But they really were handsome and strange, and they needed a home, so in the end they went home with me. I tentatively named the dark-furred kitten Rascal and his brother Sunshine, but my wife pretty quickly renamed them Barnabas (for the oversized fangs they both had) and Tobias. They were ensconced in a large wire cage in our library, to eat and grow in peace until they were large enough to join the bigger cats. My wife fretted over Toby’s swollen belly, because we had lost a kitten to FIP in 1999, but it turned out to be just worms and gas... and maybe an omen.


In due course they were large enough to join our existing cats and became part of the household. Barney was a handsome tabby with dark stripes and a few spots, and a very strange “razorback” of fur running down the middle of his back. Toby was a more obvious Bengal, with the usual spotted golden fur and typical Bengal face. They were both solid blocks of muscle unlike any house cat I have ever seen. Barney was very quiet, only occasionally making a harsh croaking sound like a crow. Toby was loud and challenging, and would get right up in your face, peel back his lips from oversized fangs, and unleash a chilling scream. Barney was shy and, although he liked being petted well enough, mainly kept to himself. Toby gravitated toward us and, although he was far from a lap cat, was willing to lean against us on the couch and purr. Though he was just one of many cats for years, and not really the “favorite” of my wife or myself, he slowly worked his way into our hearts. When we moved in 2008 to a smaller home, we had to find new homes for most of our cats, including Barney. Among the eight cats we kept was Toby.


At our new home my wife determined to have a closer relationship with Toby, and moved him into our bedroom at night, something he had never been allowed before. He responded by curling up on her side of the bed every night and generally becoming friendlier to us. Years passed at the new house, and our cats passed away one by one. Toby himself had several health scares. In 2010 he vomited uncontrollably and screamed when his abdomen was touched; we feared the worst, because we had lost a cat to stomach cancer a few years earlier. It turned out to be a bladder infection. In 2013 he again vomited uncontrollably and was admitted to the vet for observation. My wife came home to find our little calico Pumpkin unconscious in a puddle of her own urine, and soon we had two cats at the same vet with every expectation that both would die. Instead they both came home, and Pumpkin lived until almost the end of 2014. In January of 2016 Charleston was buried in 22 inches of snow, closing the vets and making the roads impassable. That very night Toby, then nearly 14 years old, once again vomited uncontrollably, leaving us to watch helplessly with near certainly that he would not survive. Instead he shook it off and ate normally the next morning. In late 2016 we lost the only other cat who came with us from our old home, leaving just Toby and three cats we had adopted later. Around that time Toby was put on heart medication for a valve problem that is common in Bengals.

Toby was a strange animal, in many ways hardly a house cat. He glared. He screamed. He made strange grunting noises. His long bony tail (a “rat tail”, my wife called it) was never raised in greeting. Strangest and most glorious of all, he took to unleashing a series of ghastly trilling howls once or twice a day, in the stairwell where the acoustics were best. I have never heard anything like them, even in videos of other Bengals. But then again, I don’t believe he was quite a Bengal in the technical sense. He was so rare and beautiful, even as the years passed and his rock solid muscles began to waste away and his bones began to protrude, even as his walk became stiffer and stiffer. A few years ago my wife put a heating pad on the couch, and Toby spent most of his time thereafter sleeping on it. Then she put a set of plastic steps at the foot of our bed, so he could more easily join us there every night. No matter how frail he became, he always dragged his bony body up the stairs to be with his people. I would be lying on the bed, and suddenly his inquisitive face, golden muzzle gone completely white, would appear, as Toby climbed the little staircase to willingly crawl on my lap and fall asleep. I stroked his bony shoulders and told him everything would be okay. I knew better, of course. Everything since 2016 (or should that be since 2002?) was borrowed time, and the bill was going to come due sooner or later.


In February of this year I was having a going away party for one of my staff. My wife was supposed to attend, but at the last minute she called me and said Toby was yet again vomiting uncontrollably and was going to the vet. I waited, numbly going through the motions at the party, with absolute certainty that my wife would call to say he had been euthanized. But she didn’t. He had been given fluids and sent home. From then on Toby refused to eat the dry food or cans that the others ate, and I undertook a campaign of finding canned food that he would eat. He would eat a certain flavor for a few days, then refuse to ever touch it again. I persevered, frantically bought more foods, and kept him eating. He continued to sleep on his heating pad and mount the little staircase to join us on the bed. He was so ancient and withered and handsome and sweet. Several months before, he had begun playing a game where he followed us into the bathroom and hopped into the bathtub, demanding a drink from the faucet. We always humored him, even at three in the morning, and he emerged with dripping muzzle and paws. Toby turned eighteen on April 15th, and like every one of the last few years it seemed more amazing that he was still with us and more inconceivable that he ever wouldn’t be. I have been off work since March 15th, and thankfully spending more time than usual with Toby. As I had meant to do for years, I finally put an electronic recorder on our banister and captured his eerie howling. The cry of the wild!


On Saturday May 9th, in fearful symmetry to the situation when Toby was a kitten, my wife noticed his abdomen was swollen. We took him to the emergency animal clinic the next day, and spent the day waiting in our car (courtesy of COVID-19) while the fluid was drained and a battery of tests were run. Nothing showed a definitive problem, and the fluid was clear and not unusual. Was the fluid buildup related to his heart problem? It was impossible to say. They wanted to keep him overnight, but we didn’t want to lose even one more night with him under the circumstances. He came home with water pills. Our regular vet saw him the next day and didn’t seem overly concerned, even talking about sending him to a heart specialist in Virginia. He ate pretty well on the 11th, raising our hopes that this was just one more health scare he would survive, but poorly the next day and barely at all on Thursday or Friday. I petted him a lot and cried at his expanding abdomen, for the water pills weren’t working. While Toby roamed restlessly around the house (something I had observed in the past when a cat was attempting to “escape” from pain), he would often just lie down exhausted and sleep regardless of the location. But he never ceased climbing the stairs to our bed, and he never stopped demanding drinks from the faucet. And he never stopped howling in our staircase until the very end. We’ve had a lot of cats over the years, and I’ve rarely seen that kind of bravery and love.


On Friday the 15th I was sitting in our computer room waiting for my wife to return from the job where she’s “essential”. Toby had left his dinner almost untouched and had fallen asleep beside the computer desk. I saw my wife open the door into our living room, which is visible through French doors from the computer room. She immediately looked on the couch for Toby, then moved the couch, thinking he had crawled under it and died. Or maybe that he had died and I hadn’t wanted to call her at work and tell her. I showed her Toby, lying asleep on the floor, and told her he hadn’t eaten much. My wife looked down at his frail body with abdomen fully swollen again, and said it was time. I started to argue, to say that the vet could drain the fluid again and maybe change his diuretic medication and give him something to stimulate his appetite, but she cut me off. “Honey, he’s tired.” And she was right. He had been the best almost-cat in the world for over eighteen years, and he had earned a rest. We had to let him go.

Toby rode to the vet on my weeping wife’s lap, wrapped in a big white towel and still screaming what sounded like defiance every couple of minutes. The worst part was that we couldn’t be with him at the end, due to COVID-19. Our last five minutes with Toby were spent crying over him and petting him in the car while we waited for the vet tech to come and fetch him. The vet tech kindly promised to stay with him until the end. Our last sight of Toby was his rumpled golden head poking out of the towel as the front door of the vet closed behind him. Ten minutes later the same vet tech returned to say that Toby had gone peacefully while this kind stranger petted him. We thanked him and I drove home blinded by tears. I’m not religious, but I think I understand why some people are; it seems impossible that this gigantic personality could just be gone. But he is. Toby was with us for eighteen years and three days, but tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, and all the days for the rest of our lives, and the rest of forever, there will be no more Toby.


I am gutted. Toby was my last link to a lot of things, including my brother who died in a car crash in 2018. I cried a lot more for Toby than I ever did for my brother. But my brother made his own choices, many of them bad. All Toby ever did was love us and live to an incredibly advanced age for a cat, and we made the choice for him. Toby was the cat we had the longest. The previous record was held by our very first cat Widdershins, who lived with us from 1996 to 2012. But she collapsed one day and was clearly dying, so euthanasia was an obvious necessity and mercy. Most case, including Toby’s, are not so clear-cut. Maybe we should have done more, pursued more heroic measures? Maybe he could have had more time with a reasonable quality of life if we had? We’ll never know. We still have Stormy, Bandit, and Hobbes – all great cats, none of them Toby. We have lost so many wonderful cats over the years, and I’m very tired of having my heart broken. Sometimes I think we should find good homes for the three we have left and be done with it. But Bandit in particular loves me – he follows me everywhere and licks my hands like a dog – so I guess I will bear the pain for their sake. We owe it to them for the love they give us, whether for a few years or almost two decades.

The house is very quiet now.

Michael Sipe 1979-2018
Rest in peace, brother.

5/26/2020 5:14 am  #2

Re: A Eulogy for Toby (my ancient cat died)

Thank you for sharing, BA23: very heartfelt and poignant.

"Rhialto said sternly: 'Sarsem, your conduct has been less than wise. Need I remind you of this?'
'You need say nothing! In sheer disgust, discharge me from my indenture! The humiliation will be an overwhelming punishment.'
'We are not so cruel,' said Ildefonse."
Jack Vance, Rhialto the Marvellous

5/26/2020 4:12 pm  #3

Re: A Eulogy for Toby (my ancient cat died)

Thank you for sharing this wonderful story, Ben, despite its sad conclusion. Our Elvis had a bladder infection a few years ago, and after emergency surgery, he's been on a special diet. We try make sure he eats nothing else, but he is a scavenger and a vicious moth hunter (our cats are indoor cats). I'm truly sorry for your loss, and thankful that you were willing to share it as you have. What joy Toby brought to your lives! A big hole by a big personality that will never be filled, yet leaving memories to cherish. Ben, I'm also saddened to hear about the loss of your brother. I've been through that (my brother died in an ATV accident many years ago), so I know what your family has been going through. In closing, I do love the pictures of Toby and will in fact share this whole thing with my wife. Peace, my friend. ~Jeff T.

HYPERBOREA- A Role-Playing Game of Swords, Sorcery, and Weird Science-Fantasy

5/26/2020 4:41 pm  #4

Re: A Eulogy for Toby (my ancient cat died)

Beautiful and heartbreaking.


5/26/2020 11:38 pm  #5

Re: A Eulogy for Toby (my ancient cat died)

Thanks, guys.

Michael Sipe 1979-2018
Rest in peace, brother.
     Thread Starter

5/27/2020 3:03 am  #6

Re: A Eulogy for Toby (my ancient cat died)

Thank you for sharing about Toby. He is such a distinguished gentleman in those later pics! I did not understand how the death of a long time animal companion can hurt as much as the loss of a human relative or friend until it happened to me; the moment I gave permission to euthanize my cat I felt like I had killed my best friend and was completely unprepared for the grief that followed.


5/27/2020 6:48 pm  #7

Re: A Eulogy for Toby (my ancient cat died)

Incredibly sad. Our animal companions mean so much to our lives. I am so sorry.

“How can I wear the harness of toil
And sweat at the daily round,
While in my soul forever
The drums of Pictdom sound?” 

5/27/2020 11:36 pm  #8

Re: A Eulogy for Toby (my ancient cat died)

Thanks, guys.

It is a terrible decision to make for another living thing. We've had to euthanize several cats over the years. including very young cats and even kittens who were terminally ill, and it never gets any easier.

Michael Sipe 1979-2018
Rest in peace, brother.
     Thread Starter

5/28/2020 10:47 am  #9

Re: A Eulogy for Toby (my ancient cat died)

That was a wonderful story. We are a cat family and have had to make that decision many times. It never gets easier and each time tears get shed. Each cat had their own personality and is individually missed.


5/29/2020 9:50 pm  #10

Re: A Eulogy for Toby (my ancient cat died)

I appreciate everyone's kind thoughts.

Michael Sipe 1979-2018
Rest in peace, brother.
     Thread Starter

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