Louie Hughes died suddenly yesterday from cancer caused by the feline leukemia virus. The cancer had been growing in him the whole time I was fighting it myself, but until the day before he died, I had no idea anything was wrong with him.
He had been staying with Karen for almost a week while I cavorted in Miami during Art Basel feeling pretty healthy five weeks after surgery and acting like I was on spring break. After landing in a wintry mix on Sunday, I headed over to Karen’s place and found a lethargic Louie. Karen assured me that he had spent the previous week jumping on the dining table and kitchen counters, greeting her eagerly at the front door whenever she came home, weaving himself around the legs and under the feet of everyone who visited, trimming his claws on her furniture, and taking long naps on his favorite green blanket that I’d left for him when I dropped him off last week before my trip. Typical Louie stuff. Though generally feisty, Louie could be pretty lazy sometimes so I didn’t think much of his lack of energy. The next morning, he was breathing in short shallow breaths, which seemed more worrisome. I took him to the vet, and less than three hours later, he was dead.
The vet told me that cats are ingenious at hiding their illnesses. It is part of their survival instinct. They don’t display weakness because doing so makes them prey to predators. Having lived on the street for the first two years of his life, Louie knew something about survival. He never let on that anything was wrong and even if he had, the vet assured me that there wouldn’t have been any treatment that would have ultimately saved him.
I am not so sure I could have handled knowing he was suffering at the same time with me anyway. I was so scared and needed so much love and positive energy to get me through the shittiness of the last few months that I wouldn’t have survived emotionally without it. I believe Louie knew this and he gave me every bit of it he had in him despite his own suffering. He slept in the crook of my arm every night after the double mastectomy, but especially during the worst part, in the excruciating period when I was really scared and waiting for the double mastectomy. He never pounced on my sore and delicate chest as he would have done before the surgery. He greeted all our post-op visitors with nose nuzzles and a chirp, having never mastered a proper meow. He sat in my lap every single day as I struggled to write my daily blog in November for National Blog Posting Month. I think he knew writing was a critically therapeutic part of my recovery. He sat quietly at my feet whenever I would cry and shake uncontrollably in the weeks following my cancer diagnosis.
And all that time, he was slowly dying. A cancerous growth was slowly overtaking his lungs and it would ultimately asphyxiate him. He never complained. In the end, adversity bound us together. Though I have lost pets before, and I have lost pets I have known longer than Louie, this one hurt the most. He waited until he knew I was well before he left me and he made sure not to let on that he’d be leaving me soon until he knew I could handle it. I bawled my way through an entire box of tissues yesterday at the sadness of losing him and at the extraordinary gift he had given me.
When a friend found him in an alley behind her house and asked me to adopt him, I knew that no one wanted a cat with AIDS and black cats are usually the least likely to be adopted. But I’ve always been drawn to those who’ve struggled, to those who’ve had some hardscrabble early life experiences, because they’re usually the most interesting and stimulating and profound and tenacious creatures. I wasn’t wrong about Louie.
Louie knew who was boss.
Here’s Louie on the cover of The Washington Post’s Arts section!
Louie the Troublemaker!