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Bob

Bob, by Emma

Bob, by Emma

Bob could never have a door closed to him. Not a door between rooms, or a door to a cupboard, or a door to a lean-to, or a door to an airing cupboard. He had to have access to everywhere. The only doors that didn’t concern him were those that lead outside, which is fortunate, because we never wanted him to go outside; we’d chosen him especially because his breed wasn’t suited to going outdoors at all, and we lived back then in a flat up several flights of stairs by a busy main road. But that was fine; as long as all the internal doors could be opened to him, Bob was happy.

Bob has died, tragically and suddenly, a little less than three weeks ago. We were away on holiday in Sweden, not having the best time. In our final two days it got a whole lot worse.

On the day before we were due to fly back our cat-sitter phoned and said she was a little worried about Bob; he seemed lethargic. But his temperature was OK, and he seemed to be eating and drinking, so we thought that he just missed us, and was being grumpy, because he often could be grumpy when he didn’t get his own way. It seems insane to write that down or say it out loud; a grumpy cat who demands his own way and misses his ‘owners’, when cats are meant to be aloof.

We were wrong. Bob was suffering from an abdominal obstruction, which rapidly, overnight, caused him acute renal failure. This is disastrous if not caught early. The cat-sitter came back the next morning early because she was still worried, and she found him collapsed, in the cupboard under the stairs, where he had taken himself to die. She rushed him to the vet, and we got a phonecall moments after we got back into Stockholm.

We rushed to the airport; I cried at staff until they helped us find our bags and then we desperately tried to convince people to put us on an earlier flight. It couldn’t be done. We received another phonecall in the departure lounge, and then we wailed, and wailed and wailed, as Japanese tourists and Swedish businesspeople walked past, trying not to look at us. Neither of us have cried like that in many years; both of us have cried frequently since. Cried because Bob died; cried because we weren’t there for him; cried because we felt we had let him down; cried because we miss him. I miss him now. I’m crying now.

I’ve written about Bob before, and over the 2441 days we lived with him I have taken more photos of him and made more status updates on social media about him than I could even begin to imagine. He was the glue that bonded our early life living together as a couple; if, in brief moments, we were fed-up of each other, we were never, ever fed-up of Bob. Except maybe occasionally at 5am in summer, when the light outside would make him try and wake us up.

For a couple of years Bob would shun us for a few hours if we went away for the night, until his deep-seated need to sit on a lap and purr deeply would overwhelm him. As a result we holidayed seldom, and never for very long; we had separation anxiety about his separation anxiety, so much so that we bought him Cosmo as a companion (partly so we wouldn’t feel obligated to drive home at lunchtime most days to stroke him). Cosmo adored Bob, following him everywhere (often much to Bob’s chagrin), and it seemed very much as if Cosmo needed Bob’s attention and affection, and Bob needed ours. Now we need Cosmo’s, and Cosmo needs ours.

Some things Bob loved included: having his head gently held in the palm of your hand, your fingers strapped around the back of his face like a mask; rolling on rough surfaces, the harder the better – the tough concrete floor of the lean-to was his favourite; prawns; tuna; sitting on laps; hufflepuffing when he didn’t get his way; long, lazy weekend mornings in bed with my wife while I was out on my bike; pushing his way into every activity that humans in the house would embark upon, from cooking, to playing boardgames, to going to the toilet; pushing your face with his paws; rushing downstairs before you, hiding around a corner, and then pouncing out at you as you caught up.

He was the most singular, awkward, demanding, and loving creature I have ever had the pleasure to know. It is true that he was ‘only’ a cat, but he was also our companion, and he was my friend. I saw more of him, and spoke to him more often, than I have most people in my life, my wife excepted. We used to joke that “hey Bob” was the phrase that both of us had said most often in our lives. This will probably remain the case for quite some time.

I think of myself as quite stoical and self-contained, and in many ways I am. But the bonds that people have with animals, the trust they place in us and the love we give them back, has always and will always reduce me to mush; seeing a blind student near our house, with his guide-dog at his feet gazing down the road ready to let him know when the bus is coming, has had me welling-up in the street in more than one occasion. (The dog’s name is Ronan, and his owner graduated this week with a 2:1 in Law; I’m a little sad that I won’t see them around town anymore.)

Every so often now Em or I will have a little pang of realisation that we’ll never see Bob again; that he’ll never meow at us until we sit down and he can clamber on a lap again; that he’ll never purr himself to sleep again; that he’ll never get the huff with us because we tell him not to eat Cosmo’s food again. We’re crying less often when this happens now, and the guilt we felt for not being here when he was ill is easing; it is, as the vet and many others have said, just a shitty, awful set of circumstances that no one is to blame for. We have Cosmo to look after, and each other, and a baby on the way. There’s a lot of good to look forward to.

But I miss my grumpy, furry, purring friend.

Just a cat


Bob is ill. Has been ill, now, for three and a half weeks. We’re not sure what’s wrong with him, but it seems likely that it’s viral cat flu. How he got this, we don’t know; he doesn’t go out and he’s immunised, and has a booster every year. He’s full of snot, and consequently hasn’t eaten of this own accord since the end of last month, apart from once, at the vets. Other than that we’ve been syringe-feeding him.

We’ve had blood tests and know it’s not bacterial or fungal. His nose has been flushed with water so we’re 99% certain it’s not a foreign object. He’s been tested for FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) and he’s not a carrier. His heart is fine, his lungs are fine; apart from his snotty sinuses, he is in good health. He’s five and a half years old and a big, strong cat.

But he’s lost over half a kilo in weight. He’s lethargic and depressed. He spent two days at the vets, in the first week of his illness, on a drip, because he got dehydrated. We’ve kept him as hydrated as possible ever since, feeding him special paste food, high in calories and nutrition, that we mix with water and syringe into his mouth. At one point, early on, he accepted this, and sat on my lap while I did it. Then he got fed up of it, and started fighting me, so we’d have to do it with him wrapped in a towel, swaddled up like a baby. He isn’t a baby; he’s just a cat. As people keep reminding us.

We’ve spent hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pounds on tests and antibiotics and stays at the vets and anti-inflammatory drugs and Olbas Oil and cotton wool balls and this weird feline Lucozade that tastes of chicken stock and sachets of smelly tuna food to try and tempt him to eat. Cosmo, who has no symptoms at all, and seems, as always, invulnerable, has eaten and eaten and eaten, as Bob begs for food, and then, every time, sniffs it, smells nothing because his nose is blocked, and then turns away. If cats can’t smell, they don’t eat. Their world is experienced so much through smell.

We’ve tried everything the vet can suggest, and he’s not getting any better. We simply can’t afford, financially, to try anything more, other than supportive care – liquid food, steaming Olbas Oil at him, keeping him warm, showing him we love him, willing him to get better. He’s just a cat.

Except he isn’t. He’s our first cat, and as such he’s a huge emotional investment, a totem of our relationship, our lives as lived together. We got him within weeks of moving in together almost five and a half years ago; just less than four months ago we moved him from our flat into our new house. We chose him, named him, loved him from the start, washed the shit out of his fur when he was a clumsy kitten, wooed him when he was grumpy, made a fuss of him when he was affectionate. He’s a ragdoll, so he’s affectionate in ways that people who don’t know the breed won’t understand. Their temperament is more like dogs’ than cats’; they follow you around, wonder what you’re doing, talk to you constantly, demand that all doors are opened to them, sit on your lap when you’re on the toilet, sleep on your pillow, rush to the front door when you get home from work, sulk for an hour when you’ve been away overnight and then slather you with affection when you’re back on the sofa with them and a glass of wine, where you belong. Bob in particular is a cat full of personality; grumpy and demanding, but so utterly full of love for us and full of faith and trust in us.

When people find out how much money we’ve spent on trying to find out what’s wrong with Bob, and trying to make him better, over the last few weeks, I can tell that they think we’re mental. We could have had him put down and bought two or even three new cats of the same breed for what it’s cost us. But none of those cats would be Bob. We just have to make him better. He has to get better. Even if he’s just a cat.

Post-script: Thankfully, brilliantly, and with perfect timing, Bob started getting better literally within hours of me posting this: when we went to bed that Saturday night he was sick on the kitchen floor, and kept us up half the night hacking and urging and mewling. I was just about ready to put him in a sack and head for the river at 3am, because it seemed like the humane thing to do.

But by 7:30am he was completely without snot, and asking for food again; so we gave him some, and he ate it. And he hasn’t stopped since. 11 days later he’s put weight back on, and is his usual, grumpy, demanding, peculiar and affectionate self once more.

All the test results are back from the labs, and the vet thinks it was a bacterial infection which his body just took a long time to recover from; this means it shouldn’t ever come back.

We’re all delighted, as you might imagine. Especially Cosmo.