The Marvelous, Fantastical, Incredible Chronicles of Walter the Great
I have written some tough cat eulogies in my day. I have written plenty of cat eulogies in my day, all of them chronicled here. None of them are easy, and all of them are sad. But writing a eulogy for Walter is a sorrow I have been dreading. I knew it would hit us like a train, and it hit us like seven bullet trains, express. We feel his loss. The other cats feel his loss. Our friends and our family feel his loss. You, my reader, without realizing it feel his loss. Walter was a character like no other. Our longest-lived cat who defied not one, not two, but three death sentences at once to live more than six months past what the most celebrated veterinarians in the state predicted. He was the last surviving cat from our previous residence, the last cat from our early marriage. He is the cat who grew up in congruence with our daughter. He charmed delivery men and repairmen and all friends and family who came to see us, greeting them usually at the door. He spawned one of my most-loved characters. He scared rottweilers away, pinning them in the corner of our porch with nothing more than the force of his stare. He lost is best friend and made another. He was a viral video. He was legend.
Let me tell you his story.
Walter came into our life in August, 2001, shortly after the unexpected death of my cat Gulliver, while I was seven months pregnant with Anna. We took a walk down to see my mother, and when we came back he was screaming and unable to walk. Two days later he was dead of a thromboembolism. Gulliver was my baby, my constant companion–we had two other cats, but Gulliver was my heart, and I was utterly destroyed that he’d been taken from me the way he had. Neither of the remaining cats remotely filled the hole he left. Pregnant, hormonal as hell, and not thinking the most clearly, I dragged Dan to the local shelter to look for a new cat.
I fell in love with Bingley, a beautiful white and tan spotted cat who pawed at me through his cage and gazed at me with sweet eyes. Across the room, Dan had already sold his soul to a tiny black and white bean who hadn’t even been processed, barely large enough to fit in his hand, though he was already three months old. When Dan held him too long, the kitten peed on him. That’s when Dan says he lost his heart.
Fools that we were (and still are), we took home both kittens. A few months later we would stand in the middle of our tiny house with a newborn, two rambunctious kittens, and two dubious older cats and wonder what in the world we had done to ourselves.
Bingley and Walter weren’t litter mates, but they might as well have been. They were instant best friends and were never seen one without the other the entirety of their time together. Unfortunately, we lost Bingley quickly and unexpectedly to lung cancer in 2011, right after first Mia and then Blair died in quick succession of one another to unrelated cancers.
We were so in shock and wrecked by so many cat deaths, and Bingley was so sweet and quiet, I’m afraid he doesn’t have much of a eulogy here except to show how sad we were. Walter took Bingley’s death hard as well, and for a time we thought we’d lose him too, to grief. Thanks to love, catnip, and the power of ham, he decided to stick around.
Walter had a long, wonderful period of life with Bingley, though, and during that era he and his brother tormented Blair, their cranky alpha, and got into trouble with Mia, their adopted mother. For a few months after they arrived they were the babies, and then they were the fur babies next to the human baby, Anna.
Walter got into all kinds of trouble, most of it fairly innocent. Anna’s godmother and Heidi’s former teaching partner, Mary, always wanted to steal Walter and take him home in her purse, the joke being that he totally would have fit.
Walter got along with everyone, even cats who didn’t want to get along. Blair, our notorious bastard cat who despised all living things except Anna, Dan, and I, loved Walter. Walter just had this way of worming his way up to the cranky Blair, somehow knowing the anger was only there to hide a sensitive side.
Technically Walter had small man syndrome; he was never a large cat, and he lived most of his life with Blair and Sidney, who were tanks, but he never seemed to mind. He had charm to spare.
Literally everyone loved Walter, in and out of the house. For the past year as he has been known to be terminally ill, it has been a parade of visitors wanting to pet him “one last time,” and when they visited to find he was still with us, they were overjoyed to find they had yet another chance. “He’s going to live forever,” everyone said, even though we all knew it was impossible. Walter was the kind of guy who made you believe.
Walter sure did love his creature comforts, though, especially food. He would beg for (and receive) any and all table scraps, preferring meat but accepting bread, rice, and anything that wasn’t a vegetable (though those sometimes came along for the ride).
His favorite food above all was ham, and he did what we called the “ham dance,” standing on his hind legs and begging if you got out the bag of shaved ham to make a sandwich or carved up a ham on a holiday. You were expected to share, and if you didn’t, he stood near you, staring with intent, until you did.
He also loved it when we made a fire in what was first the TV room and now is my office, curling up in a cat bed strategically placed, or simply lying on the rug in front of it. Above all, though, Walter loved to snuggle. People’s laps were preferred, but if he couldn’t find a human, any other cat would do. Often the other cat in question didn’t want to snuggle, but he simply kept advancing until they accepted his affections. When I went to gather photos of him for his memorial, it was a veritable parade of Walter snuggling with various family members, guests, and animals over the years.
Walter did even snuggle Glinda, though they’re most famous for their cat standoff on YouTube (Walter wins). They made us a tidy fee in licensing, so sometimes fighting does pay.
What he liked above all was a huge snuggle pile of cats: it’s difficult to tell, but this is a (recent) photo of Walter with Sam, Mitch, and Sasha, tucked into various places on my lap while I stay up too late watching Kdramas. This is Walter’s (and my) idea of heaven.
But speaking of Sasha.
Sasha is our youngest cat, the cat we didn’t mean to adopt but somehow did. He came into our life as a three week old abandoned kitten; Anna bottle fed him until he was weaned, and then we couldn’t bear to pass him on to my sister, who had planned to take him. All the other cats adopted Sasha in their own way, Mitch carting him around like a mother cat when he was a baby, but as soon as he was old enough, Sasha started snuggling Walter, and a new love affair was born.
Sasha and Walter had a crazy bond from word go. They quickly figured out they could get away with murder if they planned it together, but since the only real goal either one of them had was food, they stuck to begging for scraps. Their favorite ploy was sitting on a chair and looking pathetic, a strategy they used from day one to the end, but they also sat on the far end of the table when they could, Sasha just out of reach being polite, Walter going in for the kill. They always managed to get away with a heavy haul, usually handed right to them.
Mostly, though, they snuggled. It broke my heart to see how many photos we have of Sasha and Walter snuggled together. They weren’t as inseparable as Walter was with Bingley, but in their own way, they had a deep bond, and it’s no wonder Sasha seems extra quiet now. He’s especially confused in the morning, trying to find Walter so he can stand guard to let him out once he’s done eating his special food. Mitch seems to have taken up the snuggle baton, but the truth is, it’s going to be hard to beat his Walter.
Sasha isn’t the only baby in the house who’s going to miss Walter, though Anna’s going to take serious umbrage with my using that term to describe her. It’s true, she’s not a baby. She’s sixteen, the same age as Walter. That’s just the point, though. Walter famously slept in her pack-and-play more than she did. Walter grew up with her. Walter has always been there, everywhere, being the most Walter of Walters.
Because of the age of our cats as she was born, and some bad luck with some others’ health, she experienced a mass cat die-off at the time of Bingley’s death, with Sidney’s to come a few years after. Walter, however, remained the eternal constant.
He has sat with her through her homework, been the subject of her Snaps and Instagram posts as she has worked out the finer points of crafting her meme style. Then he befriended the baby she raised, playing grandpa to Sasha.
Walter was my constant companion throughout his life. In his youth I was a stay-at-home mother, then as time went on, I became a stay-at-home author. I have written many a novel with him on my lap, near my desk, or batting at my face for whatever I was eating. I cried a lot Thursday because the last few times he had the strength to climb the desk recently I chased him away because he kept stepping on my trackpad, plus I was on deadline. I had a hard time eating at my desk because he would always badger me for his half of whatever I was having, and honestly I don’t know if I can ever eat there again because he won’t be badgering me. He was always underfoot in the kitchen while I cooked or sometimes if I simply walked through it. He liked to sit at the heat vent beside the fridge to watch and give me stern looks as if to say, “Where the hell is mine,” and honestly I don’t want to cook yet because he’s not going to be there, ever again. It’s hard to write, it’s hard to be in the house, and it’s most hell to come downstairs, because he’s never coming out again to ask me to feed him his special breakfast before settling in beside me to see if I’ll name a character after him again.
I’ve told the story several times now, but to be proper about it in the eulogy: Walter the cat is so extra he has a fictional character named after him. No joke, I was setting up the heroes for Love Lessons, looked to my right, saw Walter, and thought, “Yes, actually, dude, you’d make a great hero.” Walter Davidson (neé Lucas) is about as close to a human version of Walter the cat as you can get, down to the personality so intense he accidentally spawned a series that is still going instead of being a one off book like I’d planned.
Walter also kept me company late at night when I couldn’t sleep over the past year due to anxiety/PTSD, or when pain has kept me from sleeping. I don’t know how he felt about anime or Asian dramas, but I really appreciated having him with me. It got rough at the end, his tumor making it uncomfortable for him, and I knew it was over when for the last few days he didn’t come at all. A Walter who didn’t snuggle wasn’t Walter at all.
If there is anyone in our house who has the greatest hole right now, though, it’s Dan. Much as I love Walter, much as I’m the one who sees him the most, it’s Dan who picked Walter at the shelter, Dan who claimed Walter as his cat, and Dan who loved this cat above all cats, except possibly Blair, who he loved in a different way. Blair was also Dan’s cat, but Blair was a neurotic mess and difficult to love. Walter was so incredibly easy to love, and he healed Dan every time he climbed onto him and declared, “I’m sitting on you now, just make peace with it.”
Walter’s aggression was good for Dan, a healing force he often sorely needed. Dan is open about his struggles with depression and anxiety; Walter was walking Prozac that settled into your lap, on your chest, shoulder, leg, whatever he felt like.
It was his calm invasion of your space that made Dan the happiest, the way Walter somehow always seemed to know just when to come see him.
We called Walter in his youth “Sir Walter Scott,” though that nickname soon fell away. Occasionally he was “Super Walter,” though mostly he was “Walter” and “Walty.” He knew his name and came to it. He expected you’d give him food or love, preferably both. We truly thought we might get to keep him for twenty years, maybe longer. We wanted him forever.
The first sign of trouble was that he had a hyper thyroid. We’d been to that rodeo–meds every day, which was what started the food in the bathroom trick, his special meal, because that was where we snuck them. Eventually we had to give them manually in a syringe, which at first had him peeing every time we did it, which meant we had to do it on a puppy pad. Eventually he gave that up.
His second strike was kidney disease, minor at first but always dangerous in cats. He didn’t care for his renal diet, and it’s hell to get him to stick to it when there are so many cats, plus when he’s a scrap hog. He did like that he could bug me for food at any time in the kitchen and receive wet food, warmed up. But at the same time as all of this, he had a strange growth in his abdomen, a tumor which first read benign (much to the suspicion of ISU vets) and then this past week in the ER began to show signs of cancer.
Whatever the tumor was, it was the tumor that took him. At first it gave us a long, free ride: the vet gave us a few weeks last summer, but he made it through another Christmas and into a new year. He was incredible at Christmas, getting in everyone’s face, even climbing the stairs for the first time in a year. A few days before his ER visit, though, things began to slide, and this past Monday, he walked out of the litter box looking like he was about to delivery kittens, he had so much fluid on his belly. We were late to Anna’s horn lesson rushing him to the ICU–so spoiled to have our primary vet also be the state ER doctors of most advanced critical care–where we learned his kidney disease was much worse and his tumor was almost assuredly cancerous, and spreading.
This week was desperate rush for one more time, one more last chance with Walter. We knew it was the end, but we wanted one last dance. We tried draining the fluid. We tried steroids. But ultimately he was so weak he could barely stand, incontinent, and on Thursday, yowling in pain. Dan rushed home from work, and in a blizzard we climbed into the car, trying to clear the window enough to drive the mile and a half to ISU vet. We weren’t out of the drive before Walter yowled, vomited blood, and sighed against Dan’s chest. He was alive for a few more minutes, but before we reached the hospital doors, he died in Dan’s arms, closing out the way he came in.
He even urinated again, Dan says, just for good measure.
ISU is a large vet hospital, full of staff and students, but they all knew Walter and loved him like we did, and they were as sad as we were to see him pass. They took such good care of him, and us, before and after his death, doing everything possible to make his final days the most comfortable possible. The front desk knew me by the sound of my voice, and when we changed appointments because of emergencies, they quietly dropped the scheduled ones without being asked.
They have the body that housed Walter the Great now, leaving us with three tufts of fur in sealed bags. In a week we’ll receive his ashes to join the other cats who have left us. We will always have our memories, and the light that he gave us. There will, however, never
be another Walter, and we will miss him until we’re the ones crossing over, where we assume he will be waiting for some seriously overdue ham.
This eulogy is late firstly because on the day of his death I was so sad I could barely move. I wrote the bulk of this post the day after, but it was delayed further because we had so many photos I wasn’t posting it until I could make a memorial video of him as well. I don’t know of how much interest it is to the general readers of this blog. However, to the vast and passionate Walter fan club, I know it will be priceless and not nearly long enough. It will be included at the bottom of this post.
For those of you who didn’t know Walter but are my readers, fear not. That will soon change.
My patrons, who bore first my initial sorrow upon realizing his time had come and then my grief at the time of his desk, already know about this surprise, an indulgence perhaps others may or may not like but I personally do not care, because I do this for myself. Walter Lucas Davidson was named for Walter the Cat, but Walter the Cat is gone. I hate that, and so I’m going to make sure Walter the Cat lives forever. I couldn’t think of anywhere better for Walter to take up residence than the White House, and so in Rebel Heart, which now has 700 words started, Walter the cat will appear as himself. You may read the snippet I shared in rough form on my Patreon.
Now the time has come, at last, for this eulogy to end. The goodbye for now, but the goodbye in this lifetime. Oh, Walter, I hate that you’re gone. People say you’re a cat, but you and I and so many others damn well knew better. We will miss you so much. Every single day. I really am sorry I didn’t let you get on my desk. I know you didn’t care and were just going to get up anyway, but I’m sorry I was angry. I’m glad you went the way you wanted to go, in Dan’s arms. I’m sorry you had so much pain in the last few days. I’m sorry if you wish I would have made it go away sooner.
You have earned your rest, mighty king. Slayer of Dogs, Eater of Ham, Snuggler of All. Walter the Great, by my pen, my mouth, and my heart, you will live forever.
Until we meet again.
(Here’s the video.)