I lost the wise old man of my household when Thomas died early Wednesday afternoon. I can’t be sure of how old he was when he came to live with me in 2011, but he was around 17 years old by the time of his death.
Thomas spent most of his life as a very unfriendly cat who didn’t even trust the man who fed him every day for years. That distrust was a reflection of his feral life on the street before he came to me. But the last nine months of his life were almost miraculous.
Since December 2022, Thomas changed a lot. For the first time in his life, he learned to play normal chase games with another cat. He finally would allow me to pick him up without clawing like a wildcat who thought his life was in danger. He even learned to voluntarily spend time with me — and he even learned to relax and purr when I rubbed him.
All these changes happened because Alex came to live with us in December.
When I took Thomas in back in 2011, I looked very hard to find a home for him. But because he wasn’t a friendly and social cat, nobody was interested. His only friend was another feral cat who I took in at the same time, a gold and white cat named Sonny.
Thomas and Sonny were two feral cats who were eventually fed by one of my neighbors who loved cats. But after she and her husband bought another house and moved, she worried about what would happen to this pair — so I took them in.
Sonny died shortly thereafter, but Thomas became part of my cat household after nobody wanted him. He became close to Merlin after Sonny’s death. Thomas was never an “alpha cat,” and he seemed to need a friend to follow.
After Merlin died late last year, Thomas was alone and despondent — but then Alex showed up. And everything changed.
Alex insisted that Thomas play with him. Even when Thomas seemed to refuse at first, Alex persisted — and Thomas slowly seemed to pick up on how cat games worked. For months, they’ve chased each other and pounced on one another. Even though Thomas was an old man, he played with Alex almost like another kitten.
And then something completely unexpected happened. Thomas finally warmed up to me. It was gradual, but it was also because of Thomas.
Alex constantly wants my attention. When I come home, he wants to be held and rubbed. When I work at home, he wants to be close to me. He gets as much attention from me as he possibly can.
Thomas apparently noticed this. I can only assume he was emulating his little brother. He started allowing me to pick him up. Not often, at first. But he allowed it. Then he started seeming to enjoy it. He purred when I rubbed him. He started coming to me and lying down very close to me, inviting me to touch him. All of this was brand new for him — but he seemed very happy.
A few days ago, I saw him do something else that was new to him. For the first time in his life, he seemed to be happy enough to spontaneously start kneading his paws on the bed while he purred — in the action that’s commonly referred to as “making biscuits.”
Ever since Alex arrived, Thomas has been a different cat. For the last six months or so, he seemed more openly and obviously happy than I’d ever known him to be.
But I knew that old age was catching up with him. He had lost a little bit of weight and looked old. He wasn’t sickly, but he was going through a stage of old age that I’ve seen from cats over and over again. I didn’t know how much longer I had with him, but I knew he was in his last year or two.
For the last few months, I’ve been feeding Alex and Thomas separately, because I was afraid the young and rambunctious Alex was stealing too much of his food. Since Thomas had lost some weight, I wanted to make sure he was eating enough.
His appetite has been great. He’s actively demanded food just as he always did. And he was still active enough that he spent part of last night on top of his favorite bookcase in the office — which required two big jumps to climb.
When I fed him shortly after noon today, he didn’t attack his food with his typical vigor. But I closed the door to let him eat in peace — away from Alex and Lucy — while I went to get ready to head to the office.
When I opened the door to check on him half an hour later, his food was untouched. He was lying peacefully next to the bowl — and his little body was already starting to get cold.
Thomas is another one of those cats who I took in simply because nobody else wanted him. I didn’t feel a strong emotional attachment to him for a long time, simply because he wouldn’t let me near him. (Even giving him his flea treatment each month was an ordeal that normally left me scratched and bloodied.)
But Alex seemed to teach Thomas how to be a loving and normal part of our family. In the months before his death, he warmed up and opened his little heart — to Alex and to me.
It’s always heartbreaking to me to lose a cat or a dog. It never seems to get easier. I wish Thomas could have learned to be the loving and sweet cat he became in the last year old his life long ago. But I will always be grateful that Alex was able to bring him out of his feral shell — and I’ll always be grateful for the last nine months I’ve had with him.
I will miss Thomas more than I used to think I would, simply because he learned to be a loving friend at the end.
Note: The photo of Thomas at the top is from two months ago. Below, there is a photo of Sonny and Thomas sleeping in an open window together in September 2012. Below that is a shot of Thomas from March 2015.