My cat Gypsy was by then blind and near the end of his days, as his tumors kept growing and I was keeping him as comfortable as possible until the end. So I said sure, we'd only have three cats for a little while anyway, I'll take him.
So Steve and I went to their Brooklyn home and picked up the very feisty, mean little bruiser, and discovered he'd been an outdoor cat, never neutered, never declawed. He quickly asserted himself over Gypsy and even Phredd, sprayed his territory, really pushed his way into our family. Needless to say, neutering and front-claw declawing were top of our list. The spraying still lasted a few months longer.
Gypsy had to be put to sleep a couple of weeks later - he and I had a bargain, the moment he couldn't get into his cat carrier and I had to lift him in, we knew it was time to say goodbye to each other - and Phredd succumbed to an infection (and perhaps veterinary negligence) not long after that. Steve and I, who both worked out of the house during the day, didn't want to wait too long to get a daytime companion for Datsa. At first we tried a sweet little kitten we named Mitsa ("female cat" in that same Balkan language), but she had feline AIDS and had to be put down fairly quickly.
Then came Amy, who proved the perfect counterpart - even though they fought like cats and, well, cats, I think they enjoyed their dominance games, chasing each other, biting and wrestling... her tenacity made up for his vast size advantage. And bless his heart, even though he'd been neutered he tried his best with her when she went into heat (needless to say, she had the treatment soon thereafter).
Datsa was never the healthiest of cats, although his bulk would indicate otherwise. He always had bad teeth, he must have had dental work done at least a half dozen times over the years. He developed problems with his peristalsis about a decade ago, and ever since then we'd given him pills and liquid to help his digestion. He developed a certain amount of litter box aversion (which Amy unfortunately picked up). But my goodness, could he eat. Lots and lots of people food, whatever cat food he could (he had to have special dry food because of the digestion thing), pretty much anything.
And he was absolutely fine until yesterday. Chasing Amy around, licking yogurt out of my bowl, begging bits of beef from Robin.
Today Robin went to give Datsa his pill, preparatory to feeding him, and found him walking around in circles, completely disoriented. We looked up the symptoms online and thought it might be vestibular disease, but when we got to the vet a few agonizing hours later we were told he had a tumor growing in his ear, which may have been there for awhile (and it must have grown a lot just in the past few weeks, we were told nothing about it the last time he was examined a few months ago). He could get a cortisone shot and it might shrink, but it might not and then we'd be back where we were.
He was 19 going on 20. We made the only decision we could not to prolong his pain.
So many things I'll remember. He's the only cat who ever put his arms around me and hugged me. He would weave around my feet in the morning when I went to the bathroom, on his way to his water fountain. He would meow - goodness, he would meow at all hours. In retrospect that might have been the tumor bothering him, we'll never know. All we know, all that's important, is he'll never be in pain again.
Life without Datsa will take some getting used to. I will see him everywhere for a long while now. I will miss him sleeping by my side, or at my feet. Amy will have it a lot easier as a lone cat, I think she may have been born to be one - for one, we won't have to put her dry food up on a high bookcase out of his reach any more, as he meows mournfully to be given his share. The litter box aversion may have been caused by her fear that he'd pounce on her at any minute, so that may change as well.
But we've already been changed by his presence in our lives for 17+ years, and by his keenly-felt absence now. I will never be able to have children, but I have had cats. And I know their lives are so much more finite, and goodness knows Datsa was living on borrowed time for a number of years now. But they tell you when they need to say goodbye, and Datsa told us this morning. He had a good long run. He will always be my big, black, beautiful boy baby beast. Goodbye, my love.