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For the love of Nacho

Just around the time I was starting to wonder if Nacho really loves me -- or if he really just uses me for food -- I read this article that confirms what I'd hoped: He really likes hanging out with me. Maybe he even loves me, and I know now I love him.

Nacho is a big fat jerkface of an orange tabby cat, with a big fat gentle heart. He often can't get out of his own way, but that makes him a good snuggle on a cold winter evening, and you know we have plenty of those around here. He may drive you nuts by sleeping on your feet so you can't roll over or move to get out of bed in the morning...but he will certainly keep you warm.

He's a Nacho, Nacho Cat.
He doesn't meow or cry much. He squeaks, somewhat timidly and ridiculously for such a large cat. I only heard him truly meow for the first time this weekend when he felt pain. Nacho speaks more with his purr; his constant rhythmic rattle is what I'm missing most right now in this quiet, sleep-filled house. He has a different purr for every message: a feed-me purr, a pet-me purr, a hey-kid-back-off purr. This cat is not patient for food, but he's never mean -- just persistent, sometimes (especially on a lazy Saturday morning) over-assertive, but he won't try to hurt you. Even when he's pressing his full weight on your chest and you're having trouble breathing, the sight of that bubble-gum nose will dissipate your annoyance. Mostly.

Nacho loves to stretch out and show off his macho bod, all 16 pounds of cat flesh. He's the only cat I've known who relished belly rubs. He'll flop down next to you, turn on his side and purr loudly until you sink your hand into that thick, soft belly fur. Then he'll close his eyes and roll his head back and relax every muscle, purring and sighing, and I swear it, smiling. Pet him anywhere and he'll melt a little. Except on his flank -- that will get you a warning nip or swat.

Nacho is extremely patient with kids -- I can't count how many times Zippy has picked him up about the middle and hauled him around the house like a giant floppy toy -- but he's not terribly playful. Every now and then he'll tear through the house chasing his stuffed starfish or a rattle mouse or a ball, but if we initiate play he watches us with condescending eyes. Silly hoomans. He loves sitting on the windowsill, his ample belly and hind leg spilling over the side. Oh, and the basement is his favorite place to explore! So many nooks and crannies to sniff out, but also a wonderful street-level window by the steps to gaze through -- kitty TV. He caught two bats inside the house the first summer we lived here, and he chases bugs here and there, but mostly Nacho wants to chillax. He has fit perfectly with our mellow family vibe.

For three years this big fat jerkface orange cat has hung around by my side. He's been between my feet when I'm walking or cooking or cleaning, he's been sitting next to me on the couch when I'm reading or writing or just watching television, he's been nosing into the bathroom while I did bathroom business. His purr has filled my ears, providing comfort when I'm sick, reminding me of his hungry belly when I'm not paying attention to him, warming me when I'm lounging. He filled the hole in my heart that opened when Pitino died (oh, sweet Pitino, my first true love, who walked and cuddled me through 18 years of my life), and Nacho swiftly created a new space for himself -- a giant 16-pound big-eared orange space -- in my heart and our family. We love him. I love him. And that's why I had to give him up yesterday. I couldn't provide the medical care he needs now nor throughout his life, and I couldn't bear to see him suffer. I thought I could cuddle him while he died, but it was too hard to bear his pain.

Always by my side, the purr-o-matic.
It happened quickly. He seemed lethargic, wasn't eating, hid under the bed, peed all over himself...these are all major bad signs. I took him to the emergency vet and soon had a diagnosis and a gut-wrenching decision to make. I brought him home. Over 24 hours, our family wrestled with so many feelings, worries, doubts. And we knew the window for decision was small, and closing quickly. I prayed for peace and clarity while I laid with Nacho on the bathroom floor, feeling his steady purr growing quieter, his eye wide and scared.

Yesterday morning, when I knew for sure he wouldn't get better on his own, I picked up the phone to call our vet. I would ask if they would euthanize Nacho for us, to stop his pain and ours. Before I got the words out, though, the woman on the phone said, "Is this about Nacho? We were just talking about him! I think we have an idea."

She offered a solution: They would perform the surgery he needed, at no charge, but I would have to surrender Nacho to their permanent care. In other words, they'd save his life, but Nacho would not live with us anymore. He'd be their office cat, or one of their staff would eventually take him home. Either way, she promised, he'd be doted on and loved and cared for for the remainder of his life. His medical care would be provided, pro bono. He would live.

So we said goodbye to Nacho yesterday, quickly before we could rethink or he could get sicker, and this morning his purr rattles on for someone else. Our hearts are broken, but we'll heal, and the best news is so will he. Through all of this, I'm most struck by the incredible grace and love shown by people who hardly know us. I mean, sure, they care for cats and likely did this for Nacho more than for his humans (and they, like you, may be secretly judging us for our decision). But I'll continue to view this as grace, as an unexpected, undeserved kindness.

We will mourn our family's loss of our favorite big fat jerkface cat -- we will miss his purr and his pink nose and his fluffy belly -- but we will smile to know that he lives with caring, big-hearted people. Happy asked last night if Nacho will remember us. I don't know the answer. I don't know much about cat consciousness or memory, but I hope Nacho will know that we love him, the way I know he has loved us.


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