In Memory of Poncho
Our beautiful cat, Poncho, died last night, October 30, 2015, on the eve of Halloween, as I was holding him. He seemed fine yesterday. He had all the usual behaviors. He ate, he wanted affection, he used his cat box, he nuzzled the dogs, he meowed for treats, and he found a sunny spot on the floor to sleep. Then, about nine o’clock all hell broke loose. He urinated all over the leather ottoman and began agonized breathing. Just like that! When my husband tried to pick him up, he scratched him. Never has Poncho done that. I grabbed an old towel, wrapped Poncho in it and picked him up. He peed all over me and continued to gasp for air. With my arms still around him, and with my husband alongside petting him, we placed him in his basket and held him until he took his last breath. And, yes, we cried.
“He was only a cat,” some might say, but this cat was special. I have had many cats, but none quite like Poncho. Here’s his story.
When I was teaching at Casa Grande High School the school secretary brought a tiny kitten into the office one morning.
“I have to find a home for this kitten. I found him this morning behind my washer and dryer in my garage,” she said. “Another feral cat, I guess. And look at his nose. There’s hardly any hair. It’s scarred. Looks as though he was burned.”
“Poor little guy,” I said. “And he’s sick.”
“Yes,” the secretary replied. “I took him to the vet. He said I should put him down, but I thought I’d bring him here just in case someone wanted him.”
“Who would want that ugly cat,” another teacher spat.
“I’ll take him to my classroom for the day,” I offered. “Maybe a student will want him.”
As it turns out, the kitty stayed in my lap or arms most of the day. He even attended an English Department meeting after school. Fortuitously a colleague said she’d take him home. She had cats already.
The next day, the cat was back at school.
“My cats hated him,” my teacher friend told me. “They attacked him.”
“Oh dear. Guess I’ll have to find someone else.”
It was mid-week. I had two more days to find a home before the weekend, but for the night, the cat went home with me. I seriously had not intended to keep him. We already had three cats and four dogs. (Yes, we love animals.) The minute my husband saw him however, he said, “Ah. Look at you. You’re going to have a good home here.”
That was it. This scrawny little kitty with the burnt nose, that was so sick he was blowing bubbles of mucus from each nostril had found a home. And he was ravenous. He ate and ate. A few antibiotics from the vet, lots and lots of cat food, and a good dose of affection made all the difference.
“I’m naming him Poncho,” I said. He has to be wild and strong like Poncho Villa to have survived whatever he’s been through and look at his markings. His fur is marked so that he looks as though he’s wearing a black poncho.”
Poncho made himself right at home. Everyone adored him and within weeks his coat had grown full and fluffy. He was so handsome.
We did have a scare early on. I was at school, my husband came home for lunch, and Poncho got out. He ran to a field nearby (feral instincts, perhaps) and my husband, foregoing his lunch, went searching. He was quite panicked and he knew I’d be upset if we lost Poncho the first month. Eventually, Poncho was located, back in my husband’s arms, and safely at home. He became an indoor cat after that, venturing outside only on rare occasions.
Poncho was quite demanding. He meowed for his food and begged like a dog. He often would find a place beside my husband or me on the bench beside the kitchen table. He actually would reach up and tap us on the arm. “Feed me!”
He also would reach for our faces and with retracted claws, pat us over and over. It was so sweet. It was as if he were saying, “Thank you for taking me. You guys are the best.” He might not have thought that on the day he was neutered, but he didn’t hold a grudge.
Now, my husband , Rick, is an eye doctor. He takes notice of eyes all the time, even cats’ eyes. One day, he said, “I think we have a problem with Poncho. I think he has a squamous cell carcinoma on his eyelid. A trip to our vet and then to a specialist veterinarian who was a cat ophthalmologist confirmed what we expected. Surgery was done to the tune of $1500 and Poncho came home to heal.
“It will come back,” the ophthalmologist warned. “I tried to get it all, but it’s likely to return.”
Two years later, Rick noticed a change in the eyelid again. “It’s back,” he said.
Another trip to the ophthalmologist gave us the worst news. The only hope for saving Poncho’s life was to enucleate the eye entirely. Though the surgery cost $2500, we could not say no to our precious, little orphan. I’ll never forget bringing him home after surgery. He was still wobbly from the anesthetic and had to wear the glorious, Elizabethan collar; once on the ground he staggered sideways and bumped into everything. In time, the incision healed, Poncho adapted to his altered vision, and we began affectionately to call him Poncho – Our $4000 One-eyed Cat.
“I believe I was able to get clean borders,” the ophthalmologist told us after the surgery, “but this cancer is still likely to come back. Be prepared.”
As far as we know, the cancer did not return, but time does go by. Years passed and we assumed we would have Poncho many more - until last night.
Poncho simply always has been here. He tolerated our other cats and was actually quite fond of our dogs. One by one, our dogs passed away too, and then we brought home puppies, a German shepherd and a Brittney/Lab mix. Poncho made sure both knew he was in charge. From the moment they arrived until yesterday when Poncho died at the approximate age of just over 16, they were best friends.
We buried Poncho today in the orchard. Rest in Peace little buddy. We miss you already. You were the best.