When I was six and Jen was four years old, our parents bought a house on the Northwest Side of the City. After we moved in and got settled, my parents decided that it was time for Jen and I to learn the joys and responsibilities of our first real pet. Enter Snuggles, formerly known as Inky, a smallish black and white cat with energy and personality to spare. Jen had changed the cat’s name as an homage to her favorite entertainer at the time – the Snuggle fabric softener bear from the TV commercials.
We had a lot of good years with Snuggy. However, when I was 14, my father made the careless error of leaving the front door open. Somehow Snuggy slipped out, and though this had happened before and ended with his safe return, it was not to be this time. Jen and I were heartbroken. I can still go back to my journals at that time and read the girlish renderings of life without my favorite little guy.
By the Fall of my junior year of high school, my parents had separated. I stayed living with my father in that house on the Northwest Side. By now it had been two years since I had last cuddled Snuggy. It was a warm, autumn day in 1994 and I was leaving the house to go out. I have forgotten where. As I was walking toward the street, I turned around to face the hedges, and out from underneath them, at that very moment, crawled Snuggy’s doppelganger.
He walked right up to me and started rubbing his face on my hands. I was stunned into silence. It looked just like Snuggy! This cat was acting just like him too. To complete the test of my gut instinct, I opened the front door to the house again. Snuggy walked right in and made himself comfortable. But this didn’t make sense. Snuggy had been gone for two years. This cat looked like him and behaved like him in everyway, but by then Snuggy the first would have been 8 years old. This creature didn’t look middle aged at all.
Not long afterward, a visit to the vet confirmed that this could not be the same cat. For one, he had front claws and Snuggy the first did not. But secondly, and this stopped my blood cold again, this cat was only 9 months old. Guess how old Snuggy the first was when we first got him? Right. I am not a very superstitious person by nature, but how else to explain a cat that looked and acted identical to Snuggy the first, who crawled out of thin air from my bushes at the same age as his predecessor, came inside the house and acted like he had always known my father and I? I couldn’t fight it anymore, and this new pet was forever known as Snuggy II. In time, he was just Snuggy, and as I grew older, the two Snuggys sort of became conflated in my mind into one adorable being.
15 years later, I am 31 years old, and Snuggy is still with me. We lived apart my freshman year at U of I, because pets were forbidden from living in dorm rooms. But as soon as I was able, I got myself an apartment and Snugs came to live with me. He moved back with me to Chicago after graduation. He has been with me through countless boyfriends, heartaches, grad school, marriage, and an ill-fated year of suburban living.
A couple days ago, my friend Gary was over. He and Snuggy go a long way back, and Gary was giving my man some affection when he noticed a small brown spot under Snuggy’s chin. One of my cat’s many quirks is that he is a habitual vomiter – always has been. I wiped him off thinking it was remnants of his last heaving spell and went about my business.
Yesterday, I woke up earlier than my alarm, which was great. I thought I would get a good start on the morning. But as I was feeding my cats (I have two, including 5 year-old Jordan), I noticed that Snuggy, my 15 1/2 year old baby, was eating out of the side of his mouth. I went in for a closer look, and after checking him out, noticed that he was drooling and letting his mouth hang open. Looking down further, I noticed a small open sore along the jawline. I tried to get a hold of Eddie but he left his cell charger at home this week and wasn’t at his desk in SC – not that there was anything he could have done anyway.
I rushed Snuggy to the vet where he was diagnosed with a rotten canine tooth that had swelled his whole jaw. I felt so bad for not noticing earlier, but he was doing everything normal – eating, sleeping, no crying to let me know he was in pain. A few more days and he would have had a blood infection – maybe died. The vet gave him a 48 hour shot of antibiotics and sent me home with a 7 day course to give him starting Saturday.
He needs an oral surgery to extract the tooth and treat his gums, but here’s the complication. At his advanced age, and since he was already in the early stages of kidney and liver failure two years ago, the vet is not certain he would survive the surgery. Blood and urine work coming in this morning will decide. If he can take it, the surgery will take place on Monday morning. If not, he’ll finish the antibiotics and the doctor will try to extract the tooth with local anesthetic.
Either way, I am seriously having to confront Snuggy’s mortality. He has been my life partner in every way that counts. How many times did I cry childish tears on Snuggy’s back while he squirmed underneath me? How many times during a cold winter did I let him crawl under my covers so we could share body heat? How many years now have I been giving him a weekly bath with Johnson’s Baby Shampoo because he has gotten too lazy to clean himself? How many piles of vomit have I wiped up that shot from my virtually toothless lion king (Snuggy has had extractions before).
Snuggy has had a good, long life. But I am the one who needs your prayers. I do not know how to live in a world without him. It’s been too long. Even more frightening and dispiriting is that I know somehow that after this Snuggy, there will never be another.