His Pantheric Majesty: In Memoriam of Lucky (the Panther)

When Lucky first came to our apartment, he was a kitten who had been living rough; a feral cat living on the Native Reservation south of Hamilton proper, near Grand River. He was found at a gas station; probably one of the ones owned by GRE, the company I did graphic design for back in the Noughties. He was loaned to us on the understanding that he would take care of the mice and would be taught some manners, so that he could become a traveling companion to my sister’s boss. He had sets of sharp claws and teeth, and loved demonstrating their effectiveness on anything he could, including, quite frequently, my wife’s forearms and ankles. It took us years of careful work to settle him down to a civilized manner. he never did become a traveling companion. He became ours.

He was never truly a bad cat. Comes to that, he was rarely a cat at all. Mostly, he seemed to think he was on par with dogs and raccoons. In essence, he was the perfect example of the Canadian short-haired urban mini-panther. He was often called Panther, by most folks who knew him well, and even a few who didn’t.

The extraordinary thing about our relationship with the Panther was, he really did seem to love his monkeys. He adopted our monkey friends with great equanimity and generosity of spirit. He could meet a new monkey for the first time and decide they belonged to him, and he meant it; every time they came to see us, he would behave with them exactly the way he had previously. He was incredibly intelligent, and learned how to train his monkeys like a true master. He also learned new behavioural ticks on an almost weekly basis. He had a rudimentary understanding of cause and effect. He knew the simple stuff like can openers (even though we rarely use one) and such from day one, but it was the millions of other little things he picked up along the way that made him an incredibly complex and fascinating creature to know.

I would write something like, ‘If he had been a human…’, but the fact is, he pretty much was a human. He had more human behaviourisms than nearly any other cat I’ve known, and I’ve known and helped civilise a good few of them in my life. Lucky was extraordinary. I hardly considered him a cat at all. I mostly just called him ‘my handsome boy’.

The thing about pet owners, and especially ones who don’t (or perhaps can’t) have children is, they often develop what most folks consider to be an unhealthy attachment to their animals. I’ve been guilty of this a few times in my life, making friends with a cat on such a deep level of bonding that it was very hard to let go of their memory whent hey did finally go. I grew up around rotating menageries of house pets, so I learned the ropes pretty early, even though I have wicked allergies to dogs and cats alike.

For the longest time, after I moved out, I refused to have any pets. I didn’t relent in this until after Dawn came to live with me, when we were having problems with mice, and Dawn was in need of a furball to help keep her sane. Lucky came to us at pretty much the exact right time for Dawn, and I just gave in. I kept my distance at first, refusing to get too involved, and allowed Dawn to basically spoil the cat rotten. Then, when Charlie moved in with us about a year or so later, I started accepting that we were cat owners, and started doing things to help keep on top of the situation.

When Lucky or Charlie would stay out late at night in bad weather, I would be out in it looking for them. I slowly but surely became ‘The Food Monkey’, adding feeding and litter cleaning to my morning routines (I’ve been a little lax with the litter as of late).

When Charlie hadn’t come home after a bad rain storm, we were told by our neighbour Gary, the Block Mayor of Claremont Court, that an orange cat had been run down on the rainy street outside. We went out to investigate in the rain, and found a cat stretched out in a heap on the garbage container at the store. We couldn’t identify our cat. We honestly couldn’t. He was a wreck. We weren’t sure it was him. So we covered the cat up and went inside to wait for our Charlie to come home. Obviously, he never did. We took the cat flap out of our kitchen window and put it into storage, and swore we’d never let our cats out without a leach and harness again. Fortunately, we had already been leash training Lucky from kittenhood. We just got more stern about it.

And we became staunch haters of speeding drivers on Stinson street… and later all streets. We worry for children and elderlies crossing the roads, but we also worry, inordinately so, for all the critters that try running across its two lane expanse and get run down by speeding commuters who refuse to slow down in the city limits, so used as they are to driving in highway conditions that they barely pause to notice that they’re scaring the hell out of everyone as they whip past.

Unlike our Charlie, Lucky had a healthy respect and fear of moving vehicles. He dreaded the sound of the buses passing by, and it took us years to get him to calm down when they did. We never quite broke him of his fear of lawn mowers or vacuums. He would bolt under the bed at the merest sight or sound of ‘the monster in the closet’.

Lucky made many friends, and made a few enemies, too. A certain nameless boxer who got loose and nearly mauled him ruined his love of dogs for almost the rest of his life, in the last couple of years. In recent months, he’d started to mellow a bit towards some dogs again, but it took time, and he was never really the same. His love of meeting new people was a little more guarded and conditional, as well. He had to be told by Dawn to ‘be social’, at which point, his tail would shoot into the air and he’d waltz over to greet them in a civilised fashion.

In all things, Lucky was a paradox. A fearless, tireless hunter and a craven coward, a kindly father figure to our Babykat and a nasty curmudgeon to big dogs, a sweet tempered fool and a savage predator. He was our little boy. He was wonderful.

My happiest thought is of him waking me at 4 am last Wednesday morning to be petted and snuggled. If not for that, I’d probably feel even worse. If I’d know he was actually dying, I’d probably have spent every waking moment with him.

The phone call that effectively ended his life took place on Thursday, July 10th. It was the third or fourth call we’d had with the vet since the day began. He had been opened up to check for and remove stones from his bladder. We were informed that there were no stones. However, we knew that wasn’t all there was to it. The vet who checked him had already determined that there was a solid mass in his bladder, and the x-rays had confirmed that. Opening him up revealed tumours on his bladder, which had already entered the urinary bladder wall. There really isn’t a procedure for that; at least, not here in Hamilton, as far as I know, and not anywhere I’ve been told of. His life was coming to an end, and the only options we had were to heavily medicate him and bring him home to die, or have him put to sleep before he woke from the surgery. They closed him up. My mother went to say goodbye. I stayed home to take care of Dawn. We were wrecked. We still haven’t really recovered.

Lucky was a perfect, deranged, furry little boy. I haven’t cried this much over an animal since I was a boy. Some things never change. But they never, ever last long enough, unless there’s pain involved. Life… you can keep it. I’ll take fiction, thank you.

The Last Photo of Lucky I Have

The Last Photo of Lucky I Have

Thank you for reading. Please have a good day.


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