I met Dante in 1997. String-bean skinny tuxedo kitten, he battled a piece of popcorn in the lobby of the Little Art Theatre. A local animal rescue organization had placed adoptable death row puppies and kittens in the cinema’s lobby during showings of the French film, When the Cat’s Away. Despite great hesitation, and not wanting to traumatize my seven-year-old and rather particular Gumbie cat, my dear and only Houdini, I was convinced to adopt this dapper little scoundrel.
Dante (aka Dantela-Bantela, aka Dee-Dee, aka Da-dum, aka “slow loris” due to his lack of speed, aka “Big Tiny” due to his eventual bulk and nearly nonexistent “eep” of a meow) was always the beta to Houdini’s alpha. She notified him early–and often–of her superiority. Appropriately, he would bow down and close his eyes in front of her in apparent worship. Houdini accommodated his presence but was always a tad cranky about it. One day, he seemed to notice he was much bigger than she was, but even then, he never truly challenged her authority.
After Houdini died in 2007, Dante remained docile and easy. My daughter was born later that year. Dante was so neglected that my husband had to remind me to pet the cat. Dante was laconic like his male role model, the Laconic Writer. Often silently underfoot, Dante was a wall of cat, but he asked little, and was always grateful for whatever affection or food we gave him. Then came Zlateh.
In December 2010, on a bitter cold snowy day, a fancy little grey fluffball meowed from our shed. She was so tiny, and so clearly in need of a warmer home, we adopted her. One of her eyes was badly infected and closed over. Though Zlateh was about the size of a six month old cat, our veterinarian thought she was probably just extra small due to hard living. After we had Zlateh spayed, Dante (neutered soon after he arrived) became romantically attached to Zlateh. He demonstrated his affection graphically, comically, which the vixen Zlateh did not always mind. She sometimes flirted with him; after a trial period, they got along well.
Dante was a cat who was also a shadow. The dear slow loris would skulk through a room, perpetually getting the least amount of attention due to his unobtrusiveness.
On Thursday, Dante lay on his side, deflated. My husband offered him chicken liver (Dante’s best treat) and he did not rise. I gave him water with an eye-dropper, and he revived a little and drank from a bowl. In the morning, the X-ray showed fluid in his chest, oppressing his lungs, making it so hard for him to breathe. The veterinarian could not hear his heartbeat. He was suffering a great deal. He might not have survived a procedure to drain the fluid. We decided to euthanize him.
It happened so fast. He seemed fine (slow, normal) and then he was flat. I’m grateful he didn’t suffer, didn’t have to endure long treatments. But I keep hearing his creaky step on the floorboards, keep seeing his shadow.
Rest in peace, Big Tiny. It’s not fair. We thought we’d have more time with you. Dear Dante, your people miss you so.