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Missing Milo

He joined our family on a beautiful spring evening. Nine years later, he left us on a cold November morning.

None of us have gotten used to the silence his absence left behind.

Milo James, a svelte tuxedo cat, was our family’s first pet – unless you count sea monkeys and goldfish.

We’d intended to adopt an older female cat. Preferably a white, fluffy, princess-y type feline, because I’d grown tired of being the only girl in our house.

But a hyperactive ball of dusty gray fluff caught my eye at the pet adoption event. He was literally bouncing off the walls.

“My goodness!” I said. “This little guy needs Ritalin.”

He jumped. He hopped. He spun in circles. In short, he was just like the rest of the boys in my house.

“No,” Derek said. “Not that one.”

I dutifully looked at the other cats, but I couldn’t help wondering if all Milo’s frantic activity was just a desperate plea for attention.

“I want to hold him,” I said.

“Not a good idea,” Derek replied.

But a store employee unlocked Milo’s cage. I picked him up, fully expecting him to squirm, or scratch, or climb up my hair, but instead he laid his head on my shoulder and sighed.

“Let’s go pick out a bed for our new cat,” Derek told the boys.

That playful kitten grew into a sleek, bossy cat who quickly took charge of the household. He was a creature of order and habit. He expected breakfast to be on time, at the same time every morning, and the ruckus he raised if it wasn’t, was impossible to sleep through.

When it was bedtime, all I had to say was, “Night night, Milo,” and he ran downstairs to the boy’s room he’d chosen as his own.

He never slept in that fancy cat bed. Not once. Why would he when the other beds in the house were bigger and contained warm humans to snuggle with?

Milo appointed himself the household greeter. His was the first face each of us saw when we returned from work or school.

Milo James (2)

But he did have some less charming habits.

He was a committed and dedicated swiper, and he focused his attention on my desk. Anything left unsecured was fair game. Most mornings I come down to my desk and find my notebooks, calendar, pens, post-it notes and mouse on the floor.

Sam would catch him in the act and yell, “Milo! Leave Mom’s desk alone!”

Milo would gaze at him, unblinking, and proceed to knock everything to the floor.

He was also a prodigious and sloppy sneezer. Few things are more disgusting than stepping on a spot of cat snot in your bare feet first thing in the morning.

For someone with sneezing issues, he was mightily offended if anyone in his vicinity did the same. A sneeze from one of us prompted a loud yowling lecture, followed by an annoyed exit.

He didn’t like change of any kind. Re-arranging the furniture elicited anxious mutterings, so imagine his reaction seven years ago when we brought home a tiny tabby kitten named Thor.

Milo sulked for days. He hid under our bed and refused to come out, until hunger finally made slink downstairs.

Thor became his devoted, annoying acolyte, and Milo eventually tolerated his presence.

Two weeks ago Milo got sick. Really sick. I rushed him to the vet and was told his bladder was completely blocked. Urinary problems are common in boy cats who only eat dry food, and Milo turned up his nose at wet food or treats. He was a stubborn creature of habit.

His illness resulted in a four-night stay at the Pet Emergency Hospital. He seemed to rally, and we brought him home on a Monday evening.

He made his rounds. Cuddled with each of us, and spent the night on the couch curled up with Thor. But in the morning he was worse. Much worse. He hid under Zach’s bed or in his laundry basket. He refused to eat.

A miserable week passed, with daily trips to the vet. It was too much for Milo, who hated any kind of disruption to his schedule.

He grew silent. We grew sad.

And one evening the four of us made the choice to let him go. It was an agonizing decision, but Milo let us know he was done. He was sick. He was tired. He wanted to go.

So, on a Friday morning we gathered around him in the vet’s office. We held him. Kissed him. Told him how much we loved him.

He laid his head in my hand as the vet gave him the first injection. My face was the last thing he saw and the last thing he heard was my voice telling him what a good boy he was.

Turns out Milo didn’t have nine lives. He only had one. And we are forever grateful that he spent it with us.

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Columns

A Rose by any other name is Henry

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The cat sat on the front steps of my friend Sarah’s house – a fluffy ball of gray, brown and white stoicism.

“Such a sweet kitty,” I said, rubbing its head, as we prepared to leave. “What’s its name?”

“His name is Rose,” said Sarah. “Yes, he’s a boy. Long story.”

Turns out Rose had turned up on their doorstep awhile ago and had already been given the flowery moniker before a veterinary visit revealed she was a he.

“Well, what’s his middle name?” I asked.

“He doesn’t have a middle name,” Sarah replied. “He’s just a cat.”

Sarah is a dear friend. A good friend. But at that moment our friendship teetered perilously on the abyss, the words “just a cat,” echoing in my ears. She couldn’t have shocked me more if she said she’d suddenly become an introverted night owl.

Fortunately, I’m easily distracted and temporarily put poor Rose out of my mind, until I checked my phone and noticed the picture I’d snapped of him. I posted the photo on Facebook, told his sad story and announced, “I’m going to call him Rose Henry and restore his shattered dignity.”

All of my cats have had middle names, unless you count Butterscotch, the ginger cat I had at age 3. My sister insists it was her cat, so the less we say about it the better. Also, Butterscotch came to a tragic end when my dad accidentally backed over her while on the way to work one morning.

If Butterscotch had had a middle name, perhaps she wouldn’t have met such an untimely demise. Middle names are important when communicating urgent matters, like, “Butterscotch Sundae do NOT sleep under that car!”

As our youngest son pointed out, “How will they know they’re in trouble if they don’t have a middle name?”

Samuel Kristian has had some experience with this.

Anyway, my next cat was christened Nicholas James (Nicky) and was followed by Brandy Michael. Brandy shows what should happen when you give a cat a girl name and then find out it’s a boy.

Our current cats are Milo James and Thor Hyerdahl.

Imagine my surprise when my campaign to restore Rose Henry’s dignity was met with resistance by Sarah’s husband, Terry.

His response to my suggested fix?

“Henry is not part of this cat’s name. His name is Rose.”

Sarah thought Rose Henry sounded rather regal, but when her husband continued to balk, she offered a compromise – Rose Jack.

Terry would not budge.

Nevertheless, the social media response weighed solidly, almost unanimously in favor of giving cats first and middle names.

Trish Gannon, owner/editor of the River Journal, wrote, “My granddaughter named one of my cats Snowy Snowflake Snow Gannon. Middle names are important.”

Terry was unswayed.

“His name is Rose. Cat names are not gender specific. Also roses are not gender specific.

Just to be clear, his name is Rose. There is nothing undignified about being named Rose. His having this name, by definition, dignifies it.”

To which I replied, “A Rose by any other name is Henry.”

Colleague Pia Hallenberg weighed in.

“He looks almost exactly like my old cat Felix Fittipaldi Hansen.”

Now that’s a great cat name.

Alas, Terry has proved unyieldingly adamant in opposition to my attempts to bolster Rose Henry’s dignity.

“Do not call my cat Rose Henry. That is not his name. His name is Rose. Just Rose,” he insists.

Well, OK. I mean, it is his cat after all. I am quite pleased that at least he finally seems to understand the importance of middle names. However, I must confess I think Just is a rather bizarre first name for a cat.

I liked Rose better.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com.