Monte & Me

I saw a post on Facebook recently that completely broke my heart even as it made me seethe with anger. A local Humane Society posted a short video of a 10 year old beagle that was surrendered to them because its owners “no longer have time” to take care of her. This poor animal was peering out from the cage, trembling and panting with fear and confusion, abandoned like a bag of garbage by some family that obviously didn’t deserve the love of a good dog in the first place. It was absolutely heart-wrenching to see, and I’m positive that dog’s sad face will haunt me for a long, long time.

This is the beagle Scout. Don't ask me to post the video, it's too depressing.

This is the beagle Scout. Don’t ask me to post the video, it’s too depressing.

Thankfully, many others saw the same post I did and had the same reaction as me. Offers to adopt the dog came pouring in, so at least this one sad case will have a happy ending. Many more of them won’t. I’m telling you, I have to admire people who are willing to work at animal shelters. There’s no way I could do it. I’d probably go home in tears every day, heartbroken to the depths of my soul as I saw way too many terrific pets being euthanized because the people who promised to love them and take care of them suddenly found them an “inconvenience”. I don’t understand this thinking at all. I mean, your dog or cat wouldn’t abandon YOU, would they? Of course not. Only a human being could be so thoughtless and uncaring as to discard one who loves them unconditionally.

I haven’t set foot in an animal shelter in over 11 years. It’s not that I don’t care about the animals… in fact, it’s the exact opposite. My heart can’t take the sadness. It affects me on a very deep level, so the only time I’ll go in a shelter is if I’m ready to adopt an animal that day. The last such time was a day I’ll never forget.

It was a cold January morning in 2002, and I stood inside the Humane Society looking every bit the broken man that I was. I had lost my closest friend Tigger a few weeks before and I was still grieving, to the point where the skin under my eyes was red and raw from the constant wiping of tears. Of course there were people who looked down on me, not understanding how I could be so upset about losing “just a cat”. But Tigger wasn’t “just a cat” to me. He had come into my life as a tiny black and gray striped kitten when I was only 10 years old, an age where I still thought that Tigger was a clever name for a cat. For the next 17 years he was the only constant through many, many changes. Through puberty, divorce, high school, girlfriends, my first apartment, bad jobs… he was always there for me (and only me). See, Tigger flat out didn’t give a shit about people and treated them with indifference or outright hostility. But he adored me, and that’s all that mattered. I still remember how he’d sit on the back of the couch behind me, his paw resting on my right shoulder in an obvious display of endearment. He was MY friend. He was my anchor. He meant the world to me.

Then came the dark days. Tigger got sick… really sick… and a visit to the vet brought bad news. I remember sitting in that vet office, weeping like a child as I had to make the toughest decision I ever hope to make. I barely remember the drive home without him, crying so hard I could hardly see the road in front of me. It’s still difficult to think about now. I knew I had lost my one true friend, and to make it worse, I had to go through it alone. It’s true that I did have another cat, Sadie, who would go on to live 20 years herself. But even though I loved her too, Sadie was never my “buddy” the way Tigger was. He had left behind a huge void inside of me that needed to be filled, which is what drew me to the Humane Society that day.
I had come in thinking I wanted a kitten. In fact, a visit to the Pet Finder site had me seeking out a charcoal-colored kitten named Smokey, which was the same name as the dog we had when I was growing up. (Maybe it was fate or something?) But when I saw Smokey in his cage, he was sleeping and seemingly didn’t want to be bothered. I reached through the cage and stroked the fur on his back, but he merely glanced at me and put his head back down. So, I continued down the line, feeling the sadness of these unwanted cats washing over me. I paused at several other cages, looking for some sort of connection. Some of the cats seemed interested in my presence, some didn’t. But then… in the very last cage, right at eye level, this large orange cat stood at attention as I neared him. He looked right at me and started rubbing his entire body up against the cage, his throat vibrating with the loudest purr I’d ever heard. He was a fluffy, handsome cat that rubbed his face and head and caressed against my fingers, walking back and forth in his cramped cage as if he was showing off his beautiful orange and white fur. I was taken with him right away, but… he wasn’t a kitten. He was a cat, and a pretty damn big one at that. I had to remind myself that I had come for a kitten, not a cat.
Looking at that face, I never stood a chance.

Looking at that face, I never stood a chance.

I glanced at the sign on his cage which listed his name as MONTE. Underneath that, handwritten in a girlish scrawl that immediately tugged at my heartstrings, it said “I’d be more than happy to come home with YOU!” It was then that I remembered I had seen Monte on the Pet Finder site as a “Featured Pet”. He had been found wandering as a stray in some apartment complex, left behind after his owners had moved away without him. This in itself was bad enough, but it was also in the middle of a snowy January. It was hard for me to fathom somebody leaving such a sweet animal, an animal who definitely still had a lot of love to give.

I walked back down the aisle of cages for a second look at the cats. I made another visit to Smokey’s cage, but he once again paid me no mind. I saw a cat that reminded me of Tigger and he was friendly enough, but somehow it didn’t seem right to get another cat that resembled my previous one. It would be like I was “replacing” him, and there would be no replacing Tigger. I spent a minute or two with a white cat, who playfully batted at me through the cage. And as I got toward the end of the row of cages for a second time, Monte stood up once again, practically bending the bars of his cage by rubbing against them so hard. I hesitated to pet him again, not wanting to get attached to a cat I had no intention of adopting. But I couldn’t help myself. I scratched the side of his neck, listening to his purr resonate against the dreary cement walls.

A young female employee approached me and asked if I had any questions. “Actually, I do,” I said. I pointed back and forth between Monte and Smokey, asking, “Between these two cats, which one do you think has a better chance of being adopted?” She didn’t hesitate at all in her answer. “Probably that one,” she said, pointing at the kitten Smokey. “The other cat is older and he’s been here longer, so…” Her voiced trailed off.

I walked back over to Monte, who was still purring and watching me intently at the front of his cage. I couldn’t resist petting him through the bars again as he pushed his fluffy body against them. The employee watched this for a moment and asked, “Do you want me to open the cage?” I paused for a second, then nodded my head. This is the moment my life changed. As the door swung open, Monte crawled out directly into my arms and laid his chin on my shoulder. I remember feeling this huge lump in my throat as I rested my forehead against him and cradled him in my arms. I could tell he needed to be rescued so badly, and part of me thinks he somehow knew that I needed to be rescued, too. The employee, sensing something more than just some random guy and a cat, stood quietly and let us have our moment. That was all it took for me. I turned to her as my eyes welled up to the point of almost overflowing and whispered, “Okay.”
“Okay?” she said, a bit startled. “Are you sure? Do you need some time to think about it?”
“No,” I told her. “This is him.”

We filled out all the necessary paperwork as they slapped an ADOPTED tag on Monte’s cage. They also removed his bowl of food, as he was scheduled to be neutered the next day. Before I headed out to my car, I hesitantly asked if it was all right if I went back to see him one last time. I was already feeling protective of him and didn’t want to leave him, even if it was only for a night. The employee seemed a bit touched when she told me yes, of course I could go back and see him. Monte and I spent a few more minutes bonding through the bars of his cage, but when I went to leave the room his whole demeanor changed. It was like watching a flower wilt. His proud posture and loud purr were gone and he dejectedly curled up in the corner of his cage. No doubt he had been through this before. He’d probably seen plenty of people come into the shelter, give him some fleeting moments of attention and then leave without him. Maybe he thought I was never coming back, too. I had to wonder if his whole life had been like that; brief periods of love followed by abandonment. But Monte had no way of knowing that he wouldn’t be abandoned again, not EVER. He had made a friend for life this time.

monte1Life in my apartment drastically changed after his arrival. Monte wasn’t a kitten, but he was a young cat filled with plenty of energy and mischief. He was also totally starved for love, so much so that he stuck to me like glue for at least the first two weeks. It was hard not to trip over him because he was always underfoot, rubbing up against my legs anytime I stood up. I had a hard time getting dressed for work in the morning because he was always trying to jump from the floor into my arms. But I couldn’t ever be annoyed by him, since he was so sweet and loving. He even tried to make friends with my other cat Sadie, but she wasn’t having it. Their first meeting entailed him bounding playfully up to greet her, only to be met with a swat and a loud hiss. I actually felt bad for Monte as he shrank back from her, looking at me reproachfully as if to say, “What did I do to her?” During mealtimes for the cats, Monte and Sadie would head for their food bowl at the same time, and Sadie would plain smack the shit out of him. (Fortunately for him, she was declawed.) Monte would stand there, take his smacks to the face like a man, then eat as if nothing had happened. He never returned her aggressiveness, even though he could have made mincemeat out of her if he so chose. I refused to have Monte declawed, a procedure I’m very strongly against, so the apartment and certain possessions of mine paid the price.

Oh, those claws! One time he was chasing a fly and actually tore a hunk out of the drywall. He shredded the fabric on my box spring all to hell, too. I was lucky he spared the furniture, but nevertheless I bought him a floor-to-ceiling cat tree just to be on the safe side. It lasted barely a year. Monte tore the thing to ribbons and pounded it to pieces like you wouldn’t believe. It was awesome to see him run full speed into the room, LAUNCH himself into the air and power his way to the top of his tree, the whole room shaking. I wish I had some slow motion video of that… it could totally make the National Geographic Channel. So, needless to say, that tree didn’t last. Neither did the second one. As for the third? It collapsed not more than a month ago, and I’m still debating about whether or not I’m going to buy a fourth one. But I need to do something to keep him entertained, since birds don’t congregate outside the windows of my apartment like places I’ve had in the past.

Monte putting the finishing touches on the destruction of Cat Tree #3.

Monte putting the finishing touches on the destruction of Cat Tree #3.

My old apartment, for example, had a balcony which was frequented by a number of birds. I would throw bread out there to feed them, because for Monte watching the birds was his favorite pastime. It was the equivalent of watching a great movie for him; he’d crouch down and stalk them, his eyes focused like a laser and his tail twitching. The birds would happily eat the Wonder bread provided to them, unaware that a screen door was the only thing separating them from certain death. Monte may have been affectionate and loving but he was still a cat and, as such, a hunter. One time on a warm day I was sitting with Monte on the couch watching TV when I suddenly heard a commotion from my bedroom. It sounded like something was hitting the blinds on the window over my bed, which seemed odd to me, especially since I was on the third floor. I ran into the room to see what it was, only to discover a bird flying around my room, repeatedly ramming into the blinds and trying to get out. As I stood there puzzling over how the bird got into my room in the first place, I saw an orange blur out of the corner of my eye moving at a rapid speed. Before I was even able to react, Monte leaped into the air, used my bed as a makeshift trampoline, snatched the wayward bird midair with his claws and bit down. Blood spattered against the wall like a bad horror movie. The poor bird never knew what hit it. One second it was flying around, the next second it was dead. Meanwhile, Monte hopped off the bed, the bird hanging limply from his mouth, and casually trotted out of the room. I was shocked and stunned, feeling badly for the bird, but also feeling somewhat impressed with Monte’s prowess as a hunter. He was such a badass with those claws of death!

Monte also turned out to be a pretty good judge of character. I think a lot of animals are. Like dogs, for example; you can have the sweetest dog in the world, but it will still growl at some people. Likewise, Monte was friendly with most people (especially women), but with others he kept his distance. At one point I was spending time with a woman I was really, really crazy about. She was coming by to see me a few times a week, and each time Monte would hop up next to her on the couch, eying her warily. She would go to pet him and he would duck his head down, sniffing at her suspiciously. At first I thought he just needed to get to know her, but before long it became apparent that he flat out didn’t like her. It wasn’t a jealously thing with him, either. He had been affectionate with other women I’d dated, but not HER. It really bothered me at the time, but later on I realized he was right to not trust her. It’s like he knew something about her that I didn’t, since I was blinded by this woman’s charm and beauty. I never forgot that, and to this day I watch to see how Monte reacts to women I bring home. If they get his seal of approval, that goes a long way with me.

You know, people refer to their pets as their “best friends” to the point where it long ago became a cliche. In my case, I really do mean it. Monte is definitely my best friend, hands down. I’m the first to admit I don’t have many friends. It’s not the way I want it–it’s just very difficult to be friends with me. I don’t let many people get close, and since I have no wife or kids my inner circle is very limited. Besides, the more people know about you, the more things they find to criticize. It’s different with Monte. He knows EXACTLY who I am, warts and all, and accepts me unconditionally. He’s seen me at my best and my absolute worst, but my shortcomings mean nothing to him. He’s an ideal companion. Just last night I was watching a baseball game on the couch, and Monte was hanging out with me, as usual. He was sprawled out on the cushion next to me, his back against my leg, washing his face and occasionally tapping me with his paw for some attention. It’s our little routine, and the way our relationship has been since the day I first brought him home. I gave him a second chance at life all those years ago, and now he gets from me all the love and doting that I have nowhere else to give. We need one another.

I can’t believe that it’s been over 11 years since I found that love-starved cat at the Humane Society back in 2002. Sometimes I wonder about the people who abandoned him, and how they could have done something like that to him. When I think of how he was just abandoned in the snow, I get really, really angry. But I can’t help but feel grateful to those people as well, because in a sense they gave me a tremendous gift. Their loss was my gain. I truly hope Scout the beagle’s new owners feel that way, because all good animals deserve a loving home. I realize that Monte is getting older, and now and then I consider what my life would be without him… but I don’t let myself dwell too much on it. It’s better to appreciate him while he’s still here, so that’s what I do. Truly great friends are difficult to find, and I feel extremely fortunate to have found at least one.

Thank you for rescuing me, Monte.

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One Response to “Monte & Me”

  1. Beautifully written.
    Those depressing animal postings is why I quit Facebook.
    Thank you for writing something so awesome!

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