The Story of a Cat From the Streets Who Had No Choice But to Chill Out and Enjoy the Good Life
He was just so tiny...and filthy. I had to give him a bath as soon as I got him home. He was covered in dirt and fleas from being in that ditch. I gently washed him in my bathroom sink cringing at every 'mew' he let out. I just sang to him and assured him that I would never do anything to hurt him and that he'd feel so much better once it was all done. I had no way of knowing that in a little over 17 years, I'd be using those same words to comfort him as the time came for us to say goodbye.
The time in between those two moments was definitely an adventure. Together we went through 9 moves, 3 roommates, 6 jobs, 2 career changes, 4 cars, 8 boyfriends, 2 engagements and 7 breakups. Harley was there to comfort me if I needed it, and he celebrated the good times with me as well. He partied with me and my friends, helped me study, helped me work... and he was rather pleased when I had nothing else better to do than stay home and watch TV with him...
I was working with an environmental abatement company after having taken some time off after the death of my fiancé. I was slowly working my way back to normal and this particular project was quite enjoyable... outdoors, talking to people and helping them... it was good. One day as we were leaving to head back to the office, I noticed three very tiny kittens in a ditch. We pulled over and I went to the nearest house to see if the kittens belonged to them. The family knew about them but said they couldn't care for them, so I did what I was planning on doing anyway and scooped them up and took them with me. I put all three into a box and while two of them immediately curled up and went to sleep, one just kept screaming and screaming. I knew that he would be mine. I took him home and fell in love immediately.
I soon came to find out that Harley was filled with a sort of rage that was surprising for a tiny kitten. I happened to understand it. Life had dealt him a bit of a rough card, too. I'd just suddenly lost the love of my life; Harley had to start his life in a ditch covered in dirt and fleas. We understood each other, and I knew our paths had crossed for a reason. In a lot of ways, Harley actually saved me.
Harley's rage issues would take a few years to overcome. He would bite people, including me, and not just a nibble. We're talking full-on, "I want to murder you" biting. I have a place on my leg that I can no longer feel, thanks to a particularly deep bite. He even bit my sweet nephew when he was just a toddler! A sort of exclusive "club" began to form. If you hadn't been bitten by Harley, and had the scar(s) to prove it, you weren't considered a true part of the family! Any time we would move to a new home, he'd get on top of me early in the morning and pee... on me... in my bed. He once even pooped in my suitcase as I was packing for a business trip. As the years went by, though, Harley mellowed out. He always had a bit of an edge to him (which frankly I really liked), but he had a soft and sweet soul and it was shining through more and more. Can't you see it?!
His anger issues even inspired a couple of impromptu 'memes' through the years.
When he was around 2 years old, my aunt who had adopted Harley's brother Peter decided it was time for them to be reunited for a play date. She brought Peter over and while it was not a total disaster, they likely weren't going to become best buddies. Harley established himself early as the alpha cat and Peter seemed just fine with that.
Harley would have to eventually get over his territorial nature, or at least dial it back a few notches, as he was about to experience a very significant life-changing event. One of our more memorable early periods was living in downtown Dallas with one of those boyfriends/fiances (and eventual breakups) I mentioned previously. At first he wasn't a fan of Harley's. He actually asked me to get rid of him. Yes, I should have left this person immediately as it was never an option to part with Harley, but I decided to wait and see if he would win him over...and he did! He made such an impression that it was decided that we needed another cat for him to play with.
Harley Kenneth soon met his little sister, Lilli Catherine. Her arrival threw Harley for a loop, and would challenge him in ways he'd never imagined.
Lilli immediately loved her big brother. Harley wasn't so sure at first, but he certainly learned tolerance and patience in a very short period of time.
She would eventually become much larger than Harley, yet she allowed him to retain his alpha status. They became quite the spectacular duo and spent the next 15 years chasing, hissing, wrestling, fighting, growling, playing, snuggling and causing trouble together. Harley loved his sister and I firmly believe that even though she aggravated him sometimes, his life was made far richer by her presence.
A Cat's Life
I believe I've read that cats sleep around 60% of their lives. Harley was a master at relaxation. His #1 favorite spot to sleep was on top of me, after stretching out and getting his chin scratched. But that wasn't always feasible, and he had no problem finding different places to chill out.
Harley also loved plants. He was obsessed (to the point that I had to just get rid of every plant I had and never buy flowers again...!).
As if Harley wasn’t ‘unique’ enough, he also possessed some odd quirks. For example, he went crazy over the smell of mint. When I'd brush my teeth, he just could not get close enough to my mouth, just sniffing away like an addict huffing paint. He also had a bizarre love for the smell of bleach. If I used a cleaner in the bathroom that contained bleach, he'd lay by the door rolling around, basking in the scent like a maniac. When I’d return home from a salon appointment, I always had a ton of product in my hair (they love doing that and for some reason I always allow it). He would get a whiff of that and be on me as soon as I sat down. It wasn’t enough just to sniff it, though; he’d have to get right in there and start pulling at my hair with his teeth. I don’t know why I let him do this to me ... I guess because I was laughing too hard to make him stop.
Harley was a big music fan. When he was super tiny, I'd sing him to sleep with Enya playing in the background. When he was a bit older, he'd ride around with me in my car when I went to visit my parents or over to friends' houses. We'd blast Tom Petty and Pearl Jam. His favorite songs were Free Fallin’ and Alive. He seemed to really perk up to those. Even in his later years, if I had people over and music was playing, he'd be right there in the middle of the action, laying as close to the speakers as he could get.
He absolutely loved the outdoors and sunshine. One of his many nicknames was Sunshine Boy. Whenever he got the chance to be outside, he'd lay in the sun until his fur was blazing hot to the touch.
Speaking of things that are blazing hot... Harley was mesmerized by a fire in the fireplace. He'd stare at it for hours. I am so grateful I thought to snap a shot of him during what would turn out to be his last Christmas with us.
Harley Kenneth was quite a remarkable cat. He was my very best friend for 17 years. He was smart, talented (did I mention that he could fetch?!), complex, sweet and an excellent guard kitty. He had the most beautiful, soft fur (aka 'Luxury Fur'), and the most handsome, sweet face I've ever seen. He of course knew this as well...
In June of 2014, at the age of 17, Harley was diagnosed with kidney failure as well as congestive heart failure. It was devastating and a very quick decline. His veterinarian was fantastic and we tried a few things to help him, but the reality was that there just wasn't anything we could do.
The sharpest decline happened in the span of a few days, and I regretfully struggled with making the decision to end his suffering. I just kept hoping he'd rally again as he'd done a few times before, but it soon became clear that he was simply worn out. I knew what I needed to do. That final night was so difficult I truly wondered if I'd be able to hold it together. Lilli never left Harley's side. She, too was coming to grips with the fact that he wasn't going to play with her anymore and that her big brother and best buddy was fading.
On the morning of July 15, 2014, Harley's veterinarian came to our home and put him to sleep as he laid in my lap. He went quickly and peacefully. I couldn't believe he was gone. Seventeen years is a very long time. He saw me through most of my 20s, my 30s, and into my 40s. I am so grateful that his suffering was short and that his life was full. He is missed every single day.
Rest In Peace, my love.