|Sammy McGwire, a few days before his death.|
Cats often get labeled as being unfriendly creatures. That was not Sammy. Sammy loved people. On the rare occasion when I would have guests, Sammy could not wait to try out the person's lap. He was easily the friendliest cat I've ever had. He would fight to sit on a lap or snuggle with you under the covers, where he would often spend the entire night.
About four years ago, Sammy disappeared. He was already old at that point, looked to be in failing health, and frankly I thought he had gone off to die as animals often do. It was so unlike Sammy to disappear. He always could be found in or around the house so his disappearing was very unusual. My remaining cat, Leon, would go out to the stoop and stare out waiting for Sammy to return. Very depressing to watch. Two weeks dragged on and no Sammy. Finally, my dear friend, Tasha, and I went to pick up a kitten for Leon to have company. We ended up getting two sister cats, Thelma and Louise, who were a few months old. Then after three weeks of being gone, Sammy suddenly showed up. He had gained weight and was looking much better. I joke that Sammy apparently went on a three week vacation. He certainly came back in better shape than he left. I was, however, left with four cats, over my three cat limit.
Sammy was a stray. He walked into my house in the late summer of 1998, came into my house like he had lived there all his life. I remember I had a big wrap-around desk and Sammy jumped up and started walking around, passing very stinky gas as he explored my workplace. (It had to be his diet because that no longer was a problem after I started feeding him.) I decided I would name him after which player - Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa - won the home run chase that had consumed baseball fans' interest that year. While McGwire won the home race, I thought Sammy was a better name for a cat. Hence, the very friendly stray cat became Sammy McGwire.
Sammy then shared the house with two other cats - Tony, named after my favorite Reds player of all time, Tony Perez, and Flynn, also a stray, who was named after former Reds utility player Doug Flynn. I had gotten Tony almost immediately after I bought my house in November 1989, while Flynn, like Sammy, just walked in my door a few years later and made himself at home. They both predeceased Sammy.
While I don't know how old Sammy was at death, my guess is he was 17 or so.
The last few years of his life, Sammy developed hyperthyroidism. He was constantly begging for food, but no matter how much I fed him he continued to lose weight. Still he was healthy and happy until today when he laid down and died. We should all be so lucky.
I have often wondered why the death of a pet affects people so much. It is often said that the pet is part of the family. But I think it is more than that. Because most of our pets live much shorter lives than we do, as they age we see our own approaching mortality. Their fate in dying, on a speeded up time table, is our eventual fate.
Pets are also a connection to our past. During that decade or two that we spend with that pet, we are together during the significant highs and lows in our lives. As Sammy passes on, I tonight reflect on the good times and the bad times that happened in my life between 1998 and 2013. Rest in peace, Sammy McGwire.