For 14 years and two days, Merlin has been the undisputed sovereign of my household. But this regal feline’s long reign ended Sunday afternoon. The king is dead.
I already had a houseful of cats and dogs in 2008. The last thing I needed was one more. But the beautiful stray cat who spent time all over my neighborhood was spending more and more time on my porch.
The woman I was dating at the time named him Merlin because of his full white beard that that made him look like a wise old wizard.
On Nov. 18, 2008, the weather turned cold in Birmingham and the low was heading below freezing that night. I brought Merlin inside to protect him against the cold. I didn’t intend to keep him — but he never left.
The other cats loved Merlin. They deferred to him, not out of fear, but as though they owed him respect and obedience. From the very beginning, he was their king. And so began the 14 years during which he ruled over them all — and he was loved by all of us.
By this past summer, I knew Merlin was going downhill. He was thinner. He looked older. He seemed tired. The vet assured me there was nothing wrong with him that we could fix. He was just getting old.
When he first came inside 14 years ago, the vet had estimated his age as about 5 years old, so I believe he’s about 19. More and more, Merlin looked and acted like the wise old man that he was.
Over the last few weeks, I felt the process pick up its pace. I knew I didn’t have much longer with him. I feared he wouldn’t make it until the end of the year.
Saturday night, he looked the worst I’ve seen him. He wasn’t cleaning himself. He had even gotten some food on his face Saturday afternoon that he didn’t clean off. Merlin had always been fastidious about grooming himself, so that seemed ominous.
He was still active Sunday morning. Slow, but active. When I went to check on him Sunday afternoon, he had laid down in a favorite napping spot. But he never woke up.
I will miss Merlin, but I’ll always be grateful to him for the years he spent with me — being a good friend and being a benevolent ruler for the dozen or so cats and dogs who loved him just as much as I did.
The house already feels empty without him. And that’s something I wouldn’t have predicted when I brought one more stray cat inside the house on a cold evening 14 years ago.
Note: The photo below was one day after I brought Merlin inside 14 years ago. He was immediately comfortable with his surroundings and with me. He acted as though he owned the place.