Fourteen years ago I was working as a front office clerk at the D.C. Animal Control Division (DCAC). I’d been there only a few months when an Animal Control Officer named Tony brought in a small stray orange tabby kitten with really big ears. It was July 25, 1995 and he was number 119888, found at 215 Rock Creek Church Road, NW, Washington, DC, and the two comments noted were “Thin” and “Doesn’t look well.” Tony put him in the cattery, in one of the cages that could be seen through the window from the front desk and I found myself watching this little unassuming kitten stare back at me.
At this point, I already had Clifford at home. He was an orange tiger about 18 months old, and two months earlier I had lost Mia to stomach cancer (she was a beautiful white and brown tabby with three legs, who was only a year old). I knew I’d get another cat at some point, but I also knew the rule at DCAC – no adoptions until you’d worked there for six months. This prevented most caretakers, officers and office staff from adopting everyone who was brought through the 24/7 doors. Considering that over 15,000 animals are brought through the shelters in DC every year, it can quickly become a little overwhelming. But by your six-month mark, you’ve lost the “oh-he’s-cute” gleam because sadly you know the next batch will be cute, as will the one after that and the one after that.
The other thing I knew was Mary. Mary was the Executive Director and also a friend, so I found myself inquiring about the little orange kitten and before I knew it (and just barely before I’d called my roommate to see if it would be okay), I was bringing Max home to join the family. I wasn’t sure how Clifford would react to him, so I held tiny Max on my lap and let Clifford come up to him. He murmled, approached, then head-butted him as if to say, “Welcome home.” As they say, that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and our next 14 years were full of hundreds of photos of them sleeping in a pile of orange.
Max (aka, Maxwell, Maxi-Mustard, Woobie, or most commonly just Mustard), was a fabulous cat. Great personality, sweet, not a mean bone in him, loved to chatter at the birds outside, loved breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks (was known to take a mouthful of crunchies to the living room carpet and eat half leaving the rest to be discovered sometime later), and was willing to put up with my constant photography (which included one Christmas of borrowing my landlord’s fresh wreath from the door to attempt to take a holiday shot with “the boys.” Most of the photos resulted in Max looking annoyed, Clifford looking bored, Max walking out of frame, or Clifford intently chewing on the wreath in the background – Happy Holidays!).
Clifford and Max were my boys. They’ve been with me through countless new jobs, equally countless job departures, an undergraduate degree, a graduate degree (they did suffer through that one with my long absences over a two-year period, but so did I), ups, downs, new apartments, living with various roommates of the human, feline and even canine variety, annual car trips to Ohio for Christmas, and adventures including working together (somehow) and opening the access panel behind the bathtub and jumping into the block-long string of cinderblock basement rooms under my apartment building (requiring me to get the ever-patient maintenance man and Robin’s ex-boyfriend to help me crawl through the rooms until I found Max sitting in a lump refusing to move – Clifford had scampered up to us when we opened the access panel from outside happily covered in cobwebs). They put up with a lot from me over the years, not the least of which was the latest flight to Cairo.
They watched me grow into the woman I am today, as she’s very different from where we all started. They watched with wary eyes my dating exploits, and obviously just waited out my stupidity until I met Ron, whom they adored from minute one. (That’s not entirely true. Clifford loves everyone from the get-go providing they supply the necessary attention and praise, which Ron did. Max was a little more discerning, but once he learned that Ron was not a vegetarian and sometimes ate food that could be catfood but was far better (namely rotisserie chicken) an unbreakable bond was formed, not to mention Ron's penchant for doling out the cat treats).
This past Tuesday, May 19th, Max passed away. He had been suffering from a very sudden onset of cancer affecting his mouth and renal failure these past two months. I tried everything, from the antiquated Egyptian vets to highly modern, but equally ineffective, US vets, but nothing helped. I miss him greatly and wish I could have done more. My orange boys are now down to one and his absence is palpable.
I love you my Mustard. Thank you for giving me such love and joy. I love you to pieces and pieces and pieces.