By Martin Kidston
Working at the Havre Daily News more than 17 years ago, a woman from a Hi-Line ranch came to the office carrying a brown shipping box. She placed the gyrating box on the floor and made the announcement – she had a litter of kittens to give away.
This was my first job at a daily newspaper and, feeling responsible at long last, I stepped to the box to take a look, ready to claim my first adult pet. Inside the box sat six mewling kittens, all fur and blue eyes. They deceived me with their gentle appearance, however, and when I reached in, I was left with a shredded, bleeding hand.
Whether in haste or with intent I do not know, but I withdrew my injured hand holding a little orange cat. Just six weeks old, he was no bigger than a soda can and weighed just as much. When I got him home he spent the first three days hiding behind the refrigerator, too afraid to come out.
When he emerged, we launched a lifetime of friendship.
I called him Snooey.
Over the last 17 years, Snooey has lived a life of adventure, following me throughout my newspaper career. When I landed a job at the Helena Independent Record, Snooey settled into our little apartment and climbed his first tree, proving both agile and daring in his ability to reach seemingly insurmountable heights.
In 2010, the editor of the Billings Gazette offered me a job running the Wyoming Bureau. Snooey and I were off again, this time to Cody. There on the scenic Rocky Mountain Front, Snooey spent the long summer days sleeping amid the splendid hollyhocks.
We reversed course two yeas later when I took a job at the Missoulian. I always considered Snooey to be a conservative cat, but in the Garden City he settled easily into his liberal surroundings, where he was content in watching the deer that strayed into his humble little yard.
To understand my affection for Snooey, one must understand Snooey himself. He walked like a supermodel, one foot placed with poise before the other, his head held high. He wouldn’t drink from a bowl of water. Rather, he preferred his water fresh from the fountain. On evening walks around the block, he often sauntered by my side, taking in the fragrant summer evenings.
Snooey was enjoying life and I took pleasure noting the way he chose to spend his time, most of it with me. We took lazy winter Sundays on the couch watching football. When I wrote, Snooey was often at my feet, or trying to get in my lap, something I wouldn’t permit as it made typing impossible. But he told me when he wanted something and I always complied. We understood each other this way – the way two living things can communicate without saying a word.
It was on a fall afternoon two years ago that I noticed a change in Snooey. It was subtle at first, almost imperceptible, and I passed it off as aging. We were both getting older. Snooey was 15 and I, well, I was nearly 45. Neither one of us were as lively and strong as we were a decade earlier, but this is life and that’s how it goes.
The changes began to accelerate. While I gained weight, Snooey was losing it despite his veracious appetite. Concerned, I took him to the vet where a blood test named the cause. He had hyper thyroid disease, a cruel but common disorder in cats that increases their metabolism to unsustainable levels. No matter what he ate nor how much, he grew thinner and thinner. His soft orange fur became unkempt. His back legs stiffened. His thirst became unquenchable.
Two weeks ago, Missoula was blessed with days of summer rain. Undeterred with the downpour, Snooey began climbing the backyard tree. I watched him through the window, wondering if his thirst had driven him mad or, perhaps, if he had a momentary flash of youth, the way we all do from time to time.
From that window, I watched him tumble from the tree.
He wasn’t hurt, but I was.
Over the past week, Snooey continued to decline, though even then he showed moments of brilliance. One recent evening he took to chasing a fluttering moth under the glow of the porch light. On a rare evening with no obligations, we found time again for the couch. He laid on my chest purring, though something was missing from his yellow eyes – that cunning spark that made him Snooey.
My days with corporate journalism ended on my own accord in January of this year. Snooey was there from beginning to end, and he was there when I launched the Missoula Current. It has kept me busier than I’d like to be, but I haven’t been too busy to notice how Snooey has sought corners and isolation these past few days. When I woke this morning and went to the kitchen, he didn’t follow per his custom. He was laying in the bathtub with his chin on his paw, still unwilling to eat.
The Pyrun Veterinary Hospital made room for us. Holding two syringes, the doctor gave Snooey one shot for sedation. The doctor said “he’s sleeping now,” and in all appearances he was. Snooey lay on the table, his little tongue curled between his lips, his body limp yet peaceful.
The second shot stopped his heart, as big as it was.
He passed with his eyes open.
As I sit here thinking about, still sniveling like a third grader, I try to reflect on Snooey’s good life. He’s not at my feet, and that’s the hardest part. But he lived proud and strong and was a friend to the very end. I’ll miss him and remember him always, though I’d be happy to offer my lap if he were here to take it.