I have never been what you might call a “cat person.” I just found them to be nasty, standoffish creatures. Give me a dog’s vapid, well-meaning affection any day.
Then I moved back home and met my sister’s 8-month-old cat Rugen (the name was a “Princess Bride” reference). He was a polydactyl cat, meaning he had extra digits on his paws, which gave him the appearance of being clad in mittens. He was also the sweetest, most entertaining animal I ever met.
Whenever I was the first person home at night, or the first one to wake in the morning, Rugen would be underfoot and rubbing against my legs. He would even follow me into the bathroom; he was fascinated by running water and would climb up into the sink in search of it. He would sit patiently on top of the toilet while I showered.
He loved to play. Often he would lie on his back, waiting for me to take the bait and rub his belly. As soon as I did, he would spring into action, wrapping his paws around my hand and gnawing on it with his not-very-sharp teeth. In another favorite game, he would disappear under the ottoman in the living room. When I sat down in the armchair to play video games or surf the Internet, he would pounce, stabbing at my vulnerable feet with his unseen paws.
Rugen would sometimes clamber into the computer chair while I was sitting in it, forcing his way behind my back and lying down with his head and paws draped over the side. In other lazy moments when he curled up on the bed or the floor, I would occasionally plop down next to him for a group nap. Rugen would actually stretch out his paws and gently push me away, as if I were encroaching on his personal space.
Early in October, my sister’s fiancé, Mark, took Rugen to the vet to get neutered; instead, he left the office with a diagnosis of feline leukemia, which has a misleading name. It’s actually an autoimmune disorder — so it’s not fatal by itself, but it makes cats much more vulnerable to cancer and infections and other diseases. Some detective work revealed that at least two other kittens in Rugen’s litter had been diagnosed, but they had quickly beaten the disease. So we sat back and kept our fingers crossed.
Rugen wasn’t so lucky. After a few weeks, we noticed he had become much more lethargic, uninterested in playing or even in cleaning himself on some days. He was barely eating anything, which was even more troubling. After a few especially bad days, Mark took him back to the vet, and the answer was devastating: lymphoma. It had taken hold quickly, and Rugen had to be put down at once. He was only alive for 10 months, a criminally short life.
I knew him for just two of those months, but that was more than enough to win me over.