The honest answer is that I really don’t know how on earth he won me over so quickly. What I do know is that the time it took Wally to find the very center of my heart could be measured in seconds. He bounded out of the carrier that Kristy had brought him home in straight toward where I was sitting on the sunroom floor. He buried his tiny Russian Blue head in my hand and I was in love. If there were any remaining barriers to being a “cat guy,” they were utterly obliterated that night. Wally walked straight through our front door and directly into our family.

Brody, our then 11 year old Shih Tzu, was ecstatic that we had gotten him a cat. Libby, our twelvish year old matriarch, was somewhat less enthralled with the new addition. Even Kristy, the animal Whisperer says that she wasn’t intending to keep him, necessarily. But, the photos of tiny little Wally sleeping in her arms on that first night in the summer of 2017 would likely contradict her claims.

I am not ashamed to admit that I loved that cat. I loved Wally’s energy and his curiosity. I loved the way he would cuddle and play with Brody and the futile attempts to woo Libby. I loved the way he would jump on our laps but not onto the table. I loved sitting at my desk and having his  little grey fur ball self jump up and balance on my leg. The very end of his tail had been injured at some point early in his life so there was a tiny white lip that poked out past his soft, dark fur, and I adored it. He wasn’t much of a cuddler but when I would wake up in the morning and feel his little head resting on my knee, I would wait until the last possible minute before moving and disturbing him.

I just always assumed he would be around forever.

We already had two older pets, both of whom had developed their own state of health concerns in their old age. Libby seemed well beyond her allotted 9 lives. Brody still has plenty of spunk but is losing his sight and probably his hearing. Wally was the new kid. He injected life into the mix. He was young and gave us our first experience of having a kitten in the house. To say it was an adjustment would be to overwhelmingly undersell the entire experience. He had a spirit that no of us were used to but it flooded us with joy. 

I don’t remember the first time I commented to Kristy that Wally seemed to be “growing up.” He didn’t run to greet us at the door as often. He spent more time alone under our bed. Granted, he would still come out when there was food or some other curiosity. He wouldn’t stay isolated, but he definitely lost a little of his social butterfly persona. He would still hide behind the doorframe and wiggle his bum before pouncing on his own sister as she walked by after breakfast. He would still hop up on the bed when Kristy and I would be watching videos on YouTube at the end of the day. Still, it was obvious that something was changing.

It may only have been a few months back that we first noticed the dandruff flakes and how his dark grey coat seemed less vibrant. We changed his food and limited how many treats we would give him. Kristy even bought some supplements that were supposed to help fight dry skin. The flakiness would go away and the shine would come back, maybe for weeks at a time. Allergies, we thought, or something equally inconsequential.

By the time we noticed the severity of the decline, it was already too late.

On July 31, Wally spent one last day sitting in the same sunroom in which we first met him. This time, he sat in our arms, not out of the joy of being rescued from the Wal-Mart parking lot, but out of the weakness of not being able to stand on his own. It was in this room that I first and instantly fell in love with this little guy and it was here over the course of a few hours that my heart would break in ways that I had not experienced before. The part of me that wanted him to be free of pain and discomfort fought vigorously with the part of me that never wanted to let him go. For hours, I sat with him in my arms, wishing he would either jump to his feet like the kitten I remembered or he would let go and be done with holding on.

Wally was adored. We loved him the best way we knew how. Even Brody, following Wally’s last breath, loved his brother by lying next to his beautiful, lifeless body for just a few more moments. We all loved him and now we all miss him terribly.

I still expect to see him bounding down the stairs or stretching his paws up toward the counter while I’m slicing up bread or cheese. The first night after he was gone, I looked under the bed where he would often hide out, hoping to see his little green eyes staring back at me. They weren’t there.

We had left his little body — the body that had grown too weak to contain his enormous spirit — in the care of one of the most compassionate veterinarians we had ever met. She cared for our Wally like he was her own. And, now, he is home. On top of a wooden urn is a small, plaid collar with a silver bell that would let us know if he was sneaking up behind us, and a name tag, engraved with a name that would change our hearts forever.

Wally.