I met them in the animal shelter's parking lot, Buddy the cat and his person. She explained that long ago, in his youth, Buddy was an amazingly beautiful cat, sleek and strong. She told me that Buddy found her, describing him as the stray that took her in.
Buddy just showed up one day and then kept coming to her back door, for weeks on end, every evening just as she was preparing dinner. His timing was impeccable, always showing up just as she was preparing the meal even when she was a bit late or on the early side. He'd yowl once or twice and circle just outside her back screen door like someone expecting his due rather than begging for a handout. She admired his apparent pride as well as his athletic good looks, and rewarded his performance with bits of chicken or fish or a small scrap of cheese. Pretty soon she was shopping for him and he took to the commercial cat food with gusto. "Finicky" was a not a word she'd ever used to describe Buddy's eating habits.
The "decision" to actually move in together, that took them both a bit longer. But one night, after he'd been freeloading for a month or so, she heard his loud complaints over the sound of crashing rain. As soon as she cracked the door he ran through her legs into the house.
He spent the next two days under the stove. She woke the third morning to find him sitting on the bed next to her, carefully grooming himself as if he'd always been there. And he never left the after that.
She named him Buddy even before he came in that stormy night, and Buddy was her one and only roommate for close to twenty years. They had a rich friendship, spending much of most every day in each other's company. Buddy learned all her secrets and wishes, her triumphs and her disappointments. She read him letters from friends and family, and he was a good host to those who came for a visit.
But it was Buddy who was still there when visitors left, and it was Buddy she considered her best and closest confidante. It was Buddy there with her every night, ready first for dinner and then a snuggle on the couch with TV and the quiet conversation between old friends. It was Buddy to whom she said goodnight, and Buddy who heard her say good morning.
I met her and Buddy outside the doors to the animal shelter. His eyes were closed and his breathing shallow. She held him close, cradled safe and warm in her arms. She suspected that he had suffered a massive stroke, a reasonable guess. She was coming to ask us to "gently help see Buddy off," confident that she'd see him again when her time comes, a promise she'd made to him and planned on keeping.
We cried a little together, but not really too much. After all, we both knew that Buddy was one of the lucky ones, living a good and long life, having found someone with a big heart, a soft touch, and who knew how to cook.