There is no one waiting in the window when I come home, no one to greet me at the door. No food dishes to fill, no litterbox to clean. I barely know what to do with myself. It feels strange and lonely in the house. My sweet Max is gone. He lived for almost sixteen years.

It started out as a trip to The Toronto Humane Society as a favor to someone else. Max was a nine week old stray kitten who was twice the size of the other kittens. He reached out a paw from his cage to touch my face. He made the decision for me. On the way home, I opened up the cardboard box to check on him and he sprang out like a jack-in-the-box. He wanted to roam the house on his first day, making friends with my other cat, Charlotte, and my German Shepherd Cross, Bailey. He was always fearless and easy-going, behaving like he had always been a part of the menagerie. I thought he would be lonely when they each passed away and he was the only one left. But he liked having me to himself. He would sleep with me at night, do the early morning rounds of the house and sit by my bed like a little gentleman, waiting for me to get up. No matter how long I dozed on and off, he was always still sitting there, waiting for a pat. Nothing excited him more than when I finally dragged myself out of bed. He would always look back to make sure I was following, and he’d run down the stairs in front of me, as if to say, “Come on, today is going to be the best day ever; let’s go!” I needed my coffee; he needed his Catmilk. Seriously, that stuff was his reason for being first thing in the morning. How I never accidentally poured Catmilk into my coffee is beyond me. I trained him to jump up onto the toilet seat to get a daily brushing. If he got there in the morning before I did, I had to brush him first; priorities, you know. Breakfast came next; his first, then mine. My bath time was HIS favorite time. He would wait for me to get into the tub, brace his back legs on the toilet seat and stretch his front legs to the tub and drink out of it for a long time. I’ll never understand the appeal. Only when the routine was done, would he allow himself the luxuries of a belly rub from me and a morning nap. I had permission to move on to other things.

Max was my little light every day. He kept himself (and me) entertained in many ways throughout the day, whether it was tapping the metal fixtures in the tub because he liked the sound it made, or tapping windows with his paw so I would open them. Banging the linen closet door so I would open it for him to jump in and hide. (He was so insistent on this, that I eventually left the door open all the time.) The cooing sound he made as he exposed his belly when I entered a room. The way he tipped over onto the floor with a thud as he enjoyed the warmth of the fireplace. How he liked to lick melted butter off a plate or cheese off of popcorn, without eating the popcorn. His fascination with squirrels. I could go on…

Every so often, I think I hear what sounds like a cat jumping off of a piece of furniture onto the floor, or wake up in the night thinking he’s snuggled up next to me. I know that it’s just because I miss him and I fill the emptiness in the room with these sounds and sensations, like feeling a limb that is no longer there.

I’ll never know whether it was a neurological or cardiac event that started him on his decline. Tests were inconclusive. Or why he gradually ate less of his favorite food and his favorite treat. He walked very slowly and carefully, and had to stop and rest frequently. But he seemed to settle into his new routine. He would still leap onto the couch, the bed, his perch. Sometimes I would hear a loud thump, only to realize he was no longer very good at jumping down. I was afraid he would hurt himself trying to remain so independent. I taught myself to prepare homemade meals and to supplement them, to puree them, to syringe-feed him, to clean up after him. (He had zero interest in commercial wet food during his life, so I wasn’t going to start force-feeding it to him now.) I would remember how my neighbors would routinely ask me when I was going to adopt another dog. I had seriously considered it. Max had lived with a dog for more than a decade. Ultimately, I’m glad it didn’t happen. His condition meant he needed space to navigate his surroundings the best he could, as well as complete peace and quiet. I was glad I could give him that.

He struggled in his last days; struggled to walk, to make it to the pee pads that I eventually had to put down for him. He stopped using the litterbox except to lie in it like a sand bed. And on his last day, he suddenly appeared in the bathroom to keep me company while I took a bath. He still clung to the routine he remembered the best he could. He moved around a lot that day, even though he could hardly walk. He let out a few cries, the kind I’d never heard before. I made a phone call to the vet, the same vet who put my dog, Bailey, to sleep almost four years earlier. I cried, and then I calmed down, convincing myself that this might be just another home visit. Maybe I could do something different, adjust his medications, force-feed him more, even though he would growl when he’d had enough. While I looked out the window and waited, I cried some more. I was kidding myself.

When it was over, I held Max in the crook of my left arm while trying to write a cheque for the vet with my right. And when he drove off with my little guy in the back seat, I fell apart for a while, before cleaning up and putting away the dishes, beds and toys that I wanted to keep. I felt guilty. Did I do enough? Did I do the right things? Did I really think I could have had that much control over his condition? I told myself I should be grateful for the six weeks I had to do these things for him, to even attempt to pay back the loyalty he showed me. But I wasn’t grateful. I still wished I could have had more time.

If you want to see a cute video of Max drinking out of the bathtub, check out On My Way Pet Care on Facebook or Barbra Katz on Google+. (My profile pic is my dog, Bailey, with his head stuck in a paper bag.) Max did this every morning, and it is one of the many sweet and unusual things he did that made every day I had with him so special. I have his ashes, now, and lots of photos, thank goodness. I also have a recording on my iPhone of the strange purring noise he made on his last day when I rubbed his belly. I had recorded it for the vet to hear. I’m glad I have it. They don’t live forever. The truth is, it is always borrowed time.