Pets Never Leave Our Hearts: Remembering Nikoli

Kathryn Dillon

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It has been almost seven years since we said goodbye, yet my eyes still play tricks on me — catching a glimpse of a shadow and somehow, subconsciously, thinking it might be you.

For a fleeting moment, you’re still with me. Every now and then, I swear I can hear you meow.

Mini panther, house panther, you were well into adulthood by the time you chose us, though we never knew exactly how old you were.

We knew nothing about your birth, so instead, we told stories about the day you trotted up to your papa in the shelter, where he was filming a promotional video about the cats.

“Hey, dude, you gonna bust me out of this place, or what?”

He knew, then and there, that he'd be taking you home.

Your shelter name was Trace, but you became our Nikoli the Scientist. “He’s a space pet,” we always added, as a point of clarification. You were ridiculously smart, and we firmly believed you were planning to take over the world.

I’d never met a cat with so much sass. I think the word “cattitude” was created just for you. Are you still coaching your little brother and sister from beyond the rainbow bridge?

They may have surpassed you in sheer obstinacy since you’ve been gone. You taught them well.

Four states and seven cities in sixteen years. You adjusted nicely to new environments but hated to travel. You howled from Chicago all the way to Indianapolis en route to North Carolina until you finally fell asleep in the back seat.

A couple of years later, as we were leaving our latest home in Virginia to move back to Ohio, you peed in your carrier about two miles out of town. We had to make a pit stop to get you cleaned up. Of course, you hadn't understood when we told you to use your litterbox before getting in the car! Or, perhaps it was just nerves.

We bought you a Dale Earnhardt Jr. blanket to replace the towel we had to pitch and joked about how you were the only NASCAR fan in the family.

Remember the house on Armitage Road, where we first brought you home? I didn’t live with your papa yet, but I visited a lot. You were an indoor-outdoor cat then, country living at its finest, but that was the last place you got to run free, until now.

You were incorrigible, always. Having cleared the house of the mice that often go hand in hand with rural abodes, you decided we must be bored. One night, you came inside, opened your mouth, and deposited a mouse, alive and unharmed, right in the middle of the living room!

Then, there was the time we had just turned onto our road, returning from a trip to town, and there you were – running happily along in the short grass beside the pavement, not a care in the world.

“You get home right now!” your papa scolded you through the open car window. You meowed and took off like a bullet across the field, headed for the house as if you understood exactly what he had said.

We tried to take you for a walk on a harness in Chicago, so you could have some fresh air, but you went belly-down on the grass, flat as a pancake, and refused to move.

Too many cars and sirens and people, I suppose, along with the tall buildings you’d never seen before.

You got quite fat, that first couple of years in the city, until we switched you to canned food. You were lonely, so your papa and I eventually got a place together and I brought along Tommy and Emily to give you some feline company.

In North Carolina, you were ready to add to your stable of minions, so one day your papa opened the front door to get the paper, and what do you know? Two tiny kittens appeared.

(Yes, we’re still telling that tired old joke:

“Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“KITTENS!!!”)

He went to get them a bowl of food and promptly locked himself out. He spent the entire day in the garage with the kittens. By the time I got home from work that night, we knew Buster and Bella had found a home.

And then there were five. Five cats. All indoors. We’re convinced you planned it all, lured those kittens to the house.

The Notorious Five Kitteh Gang. You were Black Ice, their esteemed leader.

Nothing but cancer could have taken you down, and even then, you outlasted all predictions. You were stubborn like that.

Saying goodbye was devastating, and it was especially hard for your dad. Eventually, you stopped eating and grew weaker.

You never hid from us, though, wanting cuddles and love even as you were telling us it was time.

It’s such a cruel trick, the short lives of our beloved pets. And yet letting them go is the last, best gift we can give them.

We stayed with you until the end, petting you and speaking softly so you’d know we were there. Then we went home and held each other and cried. We didn’t leave the house all weekend.

Even though we’d been prepared, we were simply gutted. There is no way to be truly ready for such grief.

You had a good run, though, my sweet boy. Did you actually make it to 20 years old? We’ll never be quite sure. But one thing’s for certain — you put your inimitable mark on the world around you, and especially on our hearts.

Since we lost you, we’ve said goodbye to your brother and sister as well. It’s a bit of comfort to imagine you greeting first Tommy and then Emily in the great beyond.

Our Kitteh Gang is down to two, and the “kittens” are now senior cats—can you believe Buster and Bella will be 13 in August?

I don’t know how the years go by so quickly.

We’ll always love you, we’ll never forget you. We’ll see you beyond the rainbow bridge.

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I live and write in Northeast Ohio, about everything from food to mental health, pets to relationships, music, art, and sports. My articles usually have a personal slant because I believe we as a society and as individuals grow stronger through truth-telling and connection.

Cleveland Heights, OH
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