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Nicholas Read: Tough to say goodbye to our beloved Hobbes

Pets thrive in our house. Whether parakeets or pussycats, my wife, Mary, brings out the best in all of them. She did even better with our children. But this story is not about her; it’s about Hobbes, the Maine coon cat who was kind enough to live with us for 20 years. He saw our daughters graduate from high school, go off to college, get jobs, move away and marry. They live in other states now, but Hobbes chose to stay with Mary and me, in the only home he had known since he was a kitten.

Hobbes loved the outdoors, and spent time outside almost daily, summer and winter, all his life. Even in the middle of this Buffalo winter, he went out and rested under the picnic table, surveying the snowy yard that was his domain.

Hobbes loved a certain two-by-four board. It was his personal scratching post, and he scratched that same two-by-four for 20 years. It is still there, with deep grooves in it. None of our other cats ever showed any interest in it, but he would scratch nothing else.

Hobbes liked to climb ladders. When my children were little, I built them a playhouse from plans printed in The Buffalo News. It had a deck 6 feet above the ground – high enough so that I could mow the lawn without hitting my head on it. The children had to climb a ladder to get up to the playhouse deck, and he eagerly climbed the ladder, too. Any day when it wasn’t raining, Hobbes was on the playhouse deck, keeping an eye on the neighborhood.

He was quite the hunter. One thing that impressed me was the way Hobbes would catch something in his teeth without hurting it. He even caught dragonflies, brought them into the house, and set them free. Getting them out again was something of a challenge. He brought in other friends, too – many mice and the occasional rabbit, all alive and unharmed. I became adept at using a cane to steer critters toward an open door.

Hobbes had his quirks. One of them was that if he was downstairs, whenever he heard me starting to go upstairs, he would race from wherever he was and run to the top before I could get there. Even when he was an old cat, he could outrace me.

When Hobbes was about 18, he started waking me several times each night. He would hop on the bed and bop me in the face until I woke. I didn’t like that, and I let him know it, but he kept doing it anyway. Then a pulmonologist sent me to Kenmore Mercy Hospital for a test. It turned out that I had developed sleep apnea. Hobbes had been waking me whenever I stopped breathing. After I was fitted with an oxygen device, he stopped doing that.

As Hobbes neared his 20th birthday, we could see that he was slowing down. He was less agile when he played with ribbons and strings. He still went outdoors, but he was more likely to rest on the patio than to wander or hunt. He still climbed the stairs, but he couldn’t outrun me anymore. He started losing weight. He became unsteady on his feet.

One morning last month, Hobbes was unable to eat anything solid. We fed him broth, water from canned tuna and the liquid from canned cat food. When I petted him, he looked at me lovingly, but he did not purr. I called the vet and put Hobbes in the cat carrier. At the animal hospital, the vet injected him with an overdose of a gentle sedative, and Hobbes went to sleep for the last time. Goodbye, Hobbes. We love you.