(Originally published November 4, 2002)
Hobbes came home yesterday.
More precisely, our late feline's cremated remains were delivered to my
unsuspecting wife, who received a telephone call from the nice lady at
Backyard Burials a scant 30 minutes prior to his arrival.
Hobbes' true pedigree had never been firmly established. He had been
harvested from a litter of feisty farm kittens of various flavors. We
surmised a good percentage of his lineage was Maine Coon; a Mostly Maine
Coon, if you will.
He was a big fella, 16 pounds, even in declining health. He was various
shades of orange with a few swirls of white, the color depending on his
current degree of shedding or attitude toward personal hygiene.
His gargantuan skull bore the distinctive dark "M" above his forehead,
which I jokingly said stood for "moron." His temperament matched the
breed's description: a big, gentle, good-natured goof. He had a
high-pitched, trilling voice that was consistent with Maine Coons and
totally out of character for a creature of his impressive bulk. Think of
a feline Mike Tyson, and you'll get the effect.
My then pre-teen daughter Sara named him after the stuffed tiger in Bill
Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. I always believed the
moniker was more accurately a nod to the English philosopher. The cat
was a living example of Thomas Hobbes' theory of materialism: people
(and, apparently, big goofy house cats) are motivated by appetite and
aversion. Hobbes the cat demonstrated this on a daily basis. It became a
family game to place a tempting morsel near an object that frightened
him, to watch his reactions as his "fear/food" calculator kicked in, and
to wager whether his innate gluttony would overcome his intrinsic
Like most house cats, Hobbes really had no useful function in our
household, other than to use the white wall to wall carpeting as a
canvas for his prodigious hairball output and to generate carbon dioxide
for the house plants. He could have been the prototype for Star Trek's
tribbles. Like the fictional creatures, he was warm and furry,
semi-mobile, possessed a ravenous appetite and made purring noises that
engendered a feeling of serenity in the humans around him.
Hobbes was a karmic grounding rod, especially in his later years. He was
always serene, almost Buddha-like, dozing in the sun, intently watching
the dust motes float by. Dogs can sense emotional turmoil and, in
response, express empathy and concern. They're reflectors of anxiety.
Express anxiety in the presence of a dog and you have an anxious dog.
Hobbes was an angst heat sink. You could feel the distress dissipate as
you petted him, his aura of imperturbable calmness surrounding you.
While we received his ashes yesterday, Hobbes departed over a month ago.
The cremation of animals doesn't seem to warrant the same sense of
urgency as human dissolution. There are no wakes to hold, no religious
ceremonies to conduct. Indeed, many claim there are no animals in the
I once got into an discussion with a minister about the seeming
exclusion of non-humans from Paradise. I pointed out that in the Book of
Revelation, the apostle John says "Then I saw heaven opened, and behold,
a white horse."Revelation also states "the armies which were in heaven
followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean."
Which indicates to me that not only are there animals in heaven, they're
really snazzy dressers. (One could argue that if John had his vision
today, he would see Humvees instead of palominos. But I'll leave this
exercise in operational semantics to the Left Behind folks.)
Of course, the real question here is: do animals have immortal souls?
Pope John Paul II said in 1990 that "animals possess a soul and men must
love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren"; that all animals
are "fruit of the creative action of the Holy Spirit and merit respect"
and are "as near to God as men are." The Reverend Billy Graham sort of
sidestepped the issue by stating "God will prepare everything for our
perfect happiness in heaven, and if it takes my dog being there, I
believe he'll be there."
It was a very stressful time. Sara was dealing with severe morning
sickness and emotionally wasn't up to it. Pam was recovering from her
bypass surgery and couldn't be alone, so Doug had to stay at home with
It was just me, sitting in the small examination room, waiting for them
to return with Hobbes and the IV apparatus. I desperately wished Doug or
Sara was there. Their presence would have switched me into Dad Mode,
where the neurons and synapses arrange themselves in a way that causes
me to become the gruff but sensitive old curmudgeon who provides
emotional support and words of sage advice.
Instead, it was just me. The guy who cries at the end of Field of
Dreams. The fool who was scarred for life by Old Yeller. The
idiot who has to leave the room when Emergency Vets is on. The
sap whose last act before filing for bankruptcy was sending a check to
the local no-kill shelter.
The doctor returned with Hobbes, who was his normal placid self. Only
the slightly labored breathing belied his condition but, as always, he
maintained his ineffable cockeyed equanimity. He studiously ignored the
hideous, lethal device attached to his leg. Decorum demanded it.
He sat sphinx-like, front legs outstretched. He opened his eyes, focused
them with some effort, became aware of my presence. He emitted that
ridiculous girlish chirp of his. It was a sound he reserved for those
rare instances in which he felt it necessary to summon me to witness an
event of tremendous import. His last great discovery was that dry cat
food batted into a cold air return would cause the furnace's
electrostatic air cleaner to make an amazing zapping sound.
I believe he sensed he was on the threshold of an even more significant
I knelt down, level with his ears, and softly told him what a good
Hobbers he was. I put one hand across his front legs and scratched his
His head slowly pointed upwards and he sniffed the air. He made that
goofy smile of his, then opened his eyes and looked into mine.
He rested his head on my hand. I focused on that big stupid "M" on his
forehead, but peripherally I was aware of the plunger slowly sinking
into the barrel, fluids flowing in clear plastic tubes.
Hobbes relaxed. He leaned against me, closed his eyes again, and began
purring. He didn't stop until the syringe was empty.
I don't know what Heaven looks like. But I know it sounds like the
purring of a mostly Maine Coon.
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