How A Mischievous Orange Kitten Changed One Man’s LifeJ. Swanson
Tom has always been an animal lover, with a special affinity for rescued cats. He adopted his first kitten, a 6-month-old gray tabby named Jonathan, in 1990. When Jonathan got sick and died of kidney failure 16 years later, Tom was devastated.
Even though Tom’s roommate worked at a pet store that partnered with the Kitty Adoption Team (KAT), a local rescue, Tom couldn’t imagine replacing his departed pet. Each time his roommate broached the idea of adopting another cat, Tom said he wasn’t ready.
One January weekend, Tom finally accompanied his roommate to the pet store, where some of KAT’s rescues were living on-site. “There were the cutest six-week-old orange kittens,” Tom said, recalling a fluffy litter of five rescued with their mother from beneath an abandoned house.
One of the neighbors (and a KAT volunteer, which is how the brood found themselves in Tom’s neighborhood store) had watched the heavily pregnant mother crawl under the porch to give birth, then alerted the rest of the team. It was winter in Philadelphia. Everybody worried the young family might not survive the cold.
Unfortunately, the whole ordeal upset the mother cat so much that she couldn’t nurse, forcing the young family to bottle feed, though this early trauma didn’t affect the kittens’ personality any.
“I was talking to them in the cage when a volunteer from KAT came over to us,” Tom recalls, remembering how the volunteer asked if they’d like to hold the baby cats. One kitten instantly fell asleep in his roommate’s arms; the second playfully batted Tom’s hand with an outsized purr. “He likes you,” the volunteer smiled, before asking if the friends were looking to adopt, which prompted Tom to break down.
“I literally felt tears going down my face,” he remembers, handing the kittens back to the sympathetic volunteer. “She said if we were interested in these two, she would put a day hold on them,” Tom recalled, but walking out to the car, he already knew he’d just met the newest members of his family. “I looked at my buddy and said, ‘we are getting them, aren’t we?’ We went back in and told the volunteer we didn’t need a day. We wanted them.”
The roommates adopted two kittens because they were brothers, even though, all his years alone with Jonathan, Tom wasn’t initially sure he wanted two cats. He promptly overcame these misgivings, however, as the fluffy pair quickly — and cutely — adapted to their new surroundings.
During their first night in Tom’s home, one kitten just ran around the kitchen, his orange fur making him look like a streak of light. That kitten was named Blaze for his color and speed, while his sibling revealed a more mischievous nature.
“He would initiate play, and also sneak up and pounce on Blaze and then take off,” Tom said of the yet-to-be-named elder brother. A friend suggested a website, namemycat.com, to get ideas. “As soon as I saw Loki, the Nordic God of Mischief, I knew that was who he was,” he said.
As he got older, Loki’s personality only grew. He was the big brother and loved to play, but he also kept Blaze in line, earning nicknames “Loki Monster” and “Bruiser Boy” in the process. He was also a talker; if you said his name, he would meow in reply.
Loki a stocky, muscular cat and, like Jonathan, supremely motivated by food. The cats ate dinner at 5 and 10, but Loki would start begging around 3pm, particularly if Tom was in the vicinity of the kitchen. Once dinner was served, Loki would wolf down his meal, and then start in on Blaze’s — until somebody intervened.
Loki displayed an equal zeal for nap time, during which he’d wrestle Blaze for a prime spot on the bed. Yet despite all of these antics, Loki always prioritized hugging and cuddles. And unlike his brother, he remained incredibly patient when it came time to dress up for Christmas or Halloween.
But for despite Loki’s playful personality and zest for life, Tom noticed the cat losing muscle mass and throwing up early last summer. The roommates took him in for his annual check-up, only for the vet to discover a large, cancerous mass near his intestines.
This was ultimately diagnosed as small-scale lymphoma, which led to an aspiration, surgical biopsy, steroids and medications, though none of this managed to dampen Loki’s longstanding penchant for mischief. The cat was sleeping more, Tom recalls, but still found time to climb and jump onto places he knew he wasn’t allowed.
As the months progressed, however, the mass wasn’t shrinking and Loki seemed increasingly uncomfortable. “One promise we made to him at the start was that we would not let him suffer,” Tom said of Loki, recalling how the roommates briefly discussed, and dismissed, chemo.
On July 30th, Loki’s family made the difficult decision to help him cross the Rainbow Bridge. Says Tom: “I’d like to think that Jonathan was there to welcome him and take him right to his food bowl!”
Despite the heartbreak of helping two cats cross the Rainbow Bridge, Tom remains committed to the idea of animal rescue, though his vet has warned that adopting another pet now might upset the surviving cat.
“We don’t want to bring a cat in that will cause Blaze any more trauma than he has had,” says Tom of Loki’s 11-year-old sibling, who still occasionally paces around the house, meowing and looking for his brother.
“But we know that rescue cats hold a special place for us,” he says, suggesting he and his roommate could adopt again in the future. To give “love to a cat that for any reason doesn’t have a home is something we will always do.”