There is a dog room and a cat room. The dog room contains stalls and cages built into the walls along with large, wheeled fourplexes for the young and the small. Also in the dog room is an endless peal of barking, howling and scratching. The cat room is more like the section in the old Woolworth’s where they sold the goldfish and parakeets. Basically there are aquaria but with grillwork instead of glass and within the grillwork are tiny mewling bits of fluff, at this time all nameless. Little cards describe them briefly with a guess at their breed and a good estimate of their age which is given in weeks or months. In a dog cage in the cat room there was one enormous middle-aged creature who had already enjoyed a breadth of life far beyond what his cave-cat ancestors could have expected. His name was Arthur.

With the coloring and dimensions of a healthy penguin Arthur was an old man on the pediatric ward. Unlike the youngsters he already had a name and a history on his cage card. It was related so; Arthur’s family added a human baby and they did not feel they could any longer give him the attention he requires. Loosely translated this means that Arthur WAS the baby until an actual baby made its coming plain. Do not disdain the people who named Arthur then turned him in to the authorities after eight years as the receptacle for their love. Housecats can and do kill babies, ignorantly seeking their little chests as a warm place to sit. But however wise or just the change it is unlikely that it was explained to Arthur’s satisfaction.

He was skittish, released into the playroom he dashed for what little cover there was. Even the lady who fed him every day couldn’t coax him out, instead he cried as if he were trapped in a well. Sought, he fled and would only be drawn out with patience but in the open he was a sight to see; twenty-two pounds of turgid muscle, tuxedo style and dandruff. “Oh, you’re playing with my big boy!” the lady observed. Doesn’t he get into the room much? “People bring him out to meet all the time but somehow they never do the deal. He’s been here the longest of all of them now.” And you know what that means. So, although I had little inclination to replace The Rat, a long-haired night hunter who had finagled his freedom by urinating on me in my sleep, I decided that this was Arthur’s lucky day. I was the governor and called in a reprieve.

They give you a cardboard carrier for a cat. Arthur stepped right through it so they gave me a big, plastic dog carrier. He seemed well suited to high-rise living. Unlike his predecessor who had been the parking lot king at my old apartment, Arthur showed no desire to learn of the outside world. It was enough to watch the occasional flock of pigeons tear past the windows. The tiny dogs across the hall terrified him although he never saw them.

Arthur loved company, girls especially, but hated commotion. He liked to play in his water but mostly he loved to sit on a human being and press his snaggle tooth across some virgin flesh. He was often alone. I’m not at home much. When I had been away for a few days he always wanted attention more than anything else. Only once did he ever really complain. After I had been gone for a while and came through the door he came out from his hide and walked glumly to his food dish rather than to me. He looked over his shoulder and let out one, disdainful, weary hiss but it was nothing some canned food and a long shoulder massage couldn’t paper over.

Some months ago he quit eating and took up barfing but it seemed to pass. Then he lost weight dramatically, deteriorated and finally needed some real medical attention. He was treated with great competence and obvious humanity at the vet hospital down the street and proved to be something of a curiosity. They never could come up with a full diagnosis but the prognosis was another matter. Fluid drained from his puffy carcass returned in a matter of days so any serious improvement was not in the cards.

The end was not bitter. Arthur got a half hour or so of the one thing he ever craved: attention. He must have gotten used to needles in the last five days as he seemed to not feel this last one. He purred and purred, more quietly and yet more quietly. I thought it was over when his head slumped down on the stainless steel but no. As I tried to close his eyes he looked up at me and licked his lips with the nibbling sound, tucked his feet under and settled in for a nap.

— Ken from Atlanta, GA