We buried the oldest member of our household, besides Rob
and me, yesterday.  Diesel was 11
or 12 years old, maybe older, and I think there was not a finer cat

 When we first moved to our little white house in State Road,
the realtor informed us, after papers had been signed, that the house came with
a bonus feature—two cats, one of whom was pregnant.  Shortly after moving in, we were blessed with six additional
cats for a grand total of eight cats and one dog.  Friends and family quickly adopted the five healthiest
kittens, but we kept the tiny weakling and named him Bug.  He was solid charcoal gray except for a
white line above his upper lip that I called his “milk mustache”.  He was cranky and cantankerous, and he
fit quite nicely in the palm of my hand. 
In fact, what he loved more than anything was for me to put him on his
back in the palm of one hand, his head resting between my first and second
fingers, and to stroke his belly with the other index finger.  It turned out that Bug was neither weak
nor unhealthy; he was an actual “dwarf” cat.  He lived with us for a little less than a year before he was
killed by a car as he chased a mouse across the road we live on.  I can only surmise that it was the
pursuit, or the capture, of a mouse that killed him since we found a dead mouse
next to his body.   It was
heartbreaking, and I mourned the loss of my tiny little cat. 

 But as fate would have it, the woman who had run over Bug
with her car reappeared two months later with a gray tabby cat she called
Diesel.  She had rescued him from a
gas station, she said, but was unable to keep him, and since she had killed our
cat, she thought we might be interested in taking in a new one.  What could we say?  We took the cat and bought a litter
pan, because she said she had kept him in the house and preferred that we make
him a house cat.  I distinctly
remember watching Diesel inspect the entire perimeter of our house, finally
coming to the litter box, sniffing and immediately using it, and then settling
in for a nap.  He had decided that
he would adopt us.

 Over the years, he became an important member of the
family.  He was even loved by our
spoiled and sometimes hyperactive Greyhound mix, Murphy.  The two became quick friends, sharing
our bed with each other and plotting schemes to pilfer the ham left unattended
on the dining room table.  They
were our first children.

 However, Diesel, like many of us, went through a rough
patch.  He began to put on weight
and eventually had gained nearly twice his body weight.  He also began to pee on my
houseplants.  After a trip to
Mexico, which left him at home with a drop-in cat-sitter for an entire week, he
got really pissed and filled the pot with the ficus tree with the most
foul-smelling stuff I’ve ever had the misfortune of discovering.  A trip to the vet was necessary.  After several months of
anti-depressants and little improvement, our vet said the next step would be an
animal psychologist in Raleigh. 
That night, I took Diesel home and opened the front door.  I had to draw the line somewhere and an
animal psychologist was it.  Diesel
became an outdoor cat from that moment on.  I was sick with worry that he might be killed by a speeding
chicken truck or a wild animal in the woods, but Diesel was made to be
outside.  In a very short period,
he lost all of his depression weight and was happier than ever, and my house
was no longer the cat toilet.

 Despite a letter years later that was addressed to “Mr.
Diesel Libbert” and was from a law firm informing Diesel that he was eligible
to participate in a joint action against a pharmaceutical company that
manufactured his anti-depressant, Diesel suffered no long-term damage.  He was healthy and happy and came and
went of his own accord.  It was a
good life.

 On Saturday, Diesel came in from the cold for one last
time.  He slept on the bathroom rug
in front of the heating vent, and while I knew he felt more frail than usual, I
assumed old age and the cold weather had him down.  By Sunday, his breathing was forced, and he had to stretch
his body out to its full length and fight for breaths just to get enough
air.  He was weak and barely
moving.  I called the vet and wrapped
him in Harper Lee’s furry blanket for the trip to the doctor’s office.  After a lengthy wait and an x-ray that
the vet said might kill him because of his critical state, we saw what I had
known in my gut was probably true. 
Diesel’s chest cavity was almost completely filled with fluid; his lungs
were crushed to less than a quarter of their normal size.  The vet said that there were four
possibilities; three of them were terminal, and one would involve an extremely
expensive surgery at NC State that Diesel would most likely not survive.  He said it was the worst case he’d ever
seen in a cat that was still living.

 It was clear that he was suffering; I signed the paper.  It was a strange feeling.  As I held him and rubbed his head and
as the needle was inserted, he raised up and fought for just a moment, but it
was quick and, I hope, painless. 
There was a part of me that hated to kill something that was so
obviously strong and willing to fight; those are two characteristics I find
immensely admirable, and I have great respect for it.   But I also know that I did the right thing, the
merciful thing.  It was not
necessarily merciful to me or to my two children, one of whom was absolutely
crushed, but it was a merciful end to a good life.

 I told Harper Lee not to worry about Diesel.  In my mind, I can picture him running
through a grassy field, much like ours. 
It’s surrounded by woods, and on the far side, a dog emerges.  He runs across the open grass and
shouts, “Diesel, I haven’t seen you in so long; I’ve missed you!”  It’s a story that I tell my kids to
allay their worries and fears, but I hope it’s true.  It should be true.