Every animal is unique and has a special place in our heart. And so it was with our butterscotch male cat.

Simba

We like to say that Simba was a special delivery: he and his litter mates were abandoned in a cardboard container near our mailbox in Loveland, Ohio. We placed the other kittens, but Simba made it clear that he was already home.

We soon discovered that Simba shared very little with his namesake: he is no king of the jungle. In fact, he is really more like a dog. He loves his humans, preferring close proximity to the typical cat reticence. He sits at our feet and “talks” in a language all his own. He rubs his wet nose on our face. And he loves to be held: he luxuriates in our arms, purring loudly, gazing lovingly into our eyes, and tenderly touching his paw to our cheek.

Simba seemed destined to cavort in the meadow and lounge in the sunbeams until he grew old. But it was not to be. A year ago (at age eight) he developed a limp. It got worse. The vet was uncharacteristi­cally serious while he explained the diagnosis of bone cancer. We were crushed: we had recently lost our beloved male Rottweiler to the same disease.

SimbaBut there was an option. It was Simba’s right front leg, and the vet explained that removing the leg would eliminate the disease. With reassurance that Simba would be happy, healthy, and functional, we commit­ted him to the operation.

We were shocked when he returned from the hospital. Not only the leg, but the shoulder too had been removed, leaving behind a nasty incision that was almost ten inches long. And he was obviously con­fused, in a lot of pain, and just wanted to hide. Had we done the right thing for Simba, or just selfishly delayed the inevitable? I wasn’t sure.

But slowly, surely, Simba recovered. The vet had assured us that three-legged cats do fine, and he was right. Simba’s previous, stealthy cat gait was replaced by a bunny-hop. And he hopped everywhere! Not only could he jump up like before, he learned to jump down, landing on just the one front leg. He still ran – hopped – the meadow, even shifting into his high speed bunny-gallop when needed.

He adjusted in other, smaller ways. His lacklustre grooming habits continued: when he remembered to wash his face and ears, he just switched to his back leg (the puzzled look on his face when he had that large paw jammed in his ear was priceless). And over time, his sitting posture evolved until his left leg was in the middle. He had no lasting ill effects. He was the same happy, loving cat. Exchanging a bad leg and one of his nine lives, for the chance to grow old had been a good trade.

Simba

Unfortunately, Simba’s troubles weren’t over. After ten months, we noticed a growth at the amputation site. Within weeks it was a golf ball, and it grew to the size of a tennis ball by the time the vet removed it. That was two months ago. This morning, the vet confirmed what we already knew: the cancer was back, and was now so advanced that further surgeries or treatments were not possible.

Sigh. It was time to give Simba a kiss and a hug, and let him go. I began to think about all the lessons that Simba had tried to teach me: wake up happy and remain relentlessly upbeat. Roll with the punches. Love everyone and know that they love you in return. And, appreciate that each of our animal companions is a unique and special gift.


Simba


 by Lee Robie


 

A Cats Prayer

Lead me down all the right paths,
Keep me from fleas, bees, and baths.
Let me in should it storm,
Keep me safe, fed, and warm.

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