Remembering Mr. Leo
c. March 1999-February 2009

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We adopted Leo on Fathers Day, June 20, 1999.

It was clear and the sun was already up when we started out on our daily walk down to the beach and back.

In the winter, we are walking well before the sun rises. In the summer, though, we don't try to keep ahead of the sun and it's already bright when we leave the house.

We walked down to the corner of our little road, just three houses away, turned left down to Lihimauna Road, just another two houses, then turned left and walked towards the fire station.

There's a spot in the road where a large, vacant state property comes down and hits the road.

That's where we heard a kitten crying. He was loud. There was no walking past this commotion.

It took a few minutes, but I managed to make my way into the thick bushes and soon found a kitten that had climbed up to about human eye level in the tangled branches and was now screaming his lungs out.

I plucked him off the precarious perch and climbed back out to the road, where we examined our find.

Meda and I were standing there, looking at the kitten and wondering if he came from somewhere he would be missed, when another couple came walking towards us.

At that time, we were sure that the six cats we already had at home were more than enough, so we asked if these other folks would be interested in adopting a kitten. They declined. Then, as the walked off, the guy laughed and called called back, "Happy Fathers Day, Pal!"

That became our annual greeting on Leo's acquisition anniversary.

Happy Fathers Day, Pal.

We took Leo home, cleaned him up a bit, and he quickly settled in.

He wasn't a tiny kitten. In fact, he was just beginning to grow out of that fluffy bouncing ball stage into that awkward adolescent kitten stage with feet growing first, far out of proportion to the rest of his body. I'm guessing that he was nearly 4 months old when we met.

He became cat number seven in our household.

There was Miki, Hiwa, Kili, Wally--and then the boys--Buster, Lindsey, and now Leo

The new kitten took a while to name. At first, we fixated on his loud voice. Names like Caruso came to mind. We tried Mario, for operatic great Mario Lanza, but our neighbor had a cat named Mario and we thought that would be too confusing. I'm not even sure any more just how "Leo" earned his name. But it stuck.

He was just another cat in the household, some would say.

But what a cat a cat he was.

We concluded long ago that Leo was a complicated Siamese masquerading in a gray tiger striped body.

He was smart, demanding, talkative, and neurotic.

He was a snapper. He would swivel his head around every now and then and snap at a nearby finger. He really thought that he wanted to gnaw on fingers, although he never really did any damage.

Being on the receiving end of his finger biting while you're asleep, however, could quickly shoot you out of the deepest winter hibernation. I speak from years of experience.

Leo went to bed with me every night, joining me whenever I decided to turn in and taking up his position in the middle of the bed, curled up and leaning against my body where I could easily scratch his head or rub his stomach while we both fell asleep.

And he was usually the first one to wake up in the morning. He would stand up, maybe do one stretching turn in place, then look around to see if any hands might be accessible. If so, he would first lick the fingers and then try to take a little bite. I would grumble but wake up, then stagger out to the kitchen to fill the food dishes. The other cats would all share in his bounty.

Leo was not shy in getting his way. He liked to get a bowl of dry food in a separate spot from the other cats. Sometimes on the kitchen counter, sometimes on the dining table.

He would take up a position and wait. If food wasn't provided, he would look for the closest thing to knock over. No food? Bam. Down goes the salt shaker. Still no food? He would start knocking the empty dish around. Cup of coffee on the table? It might be the next target. He almost always got his way.

After the "big cats" he grew up with were gone (Lindsey disappeared and Buster died of cancer), Leo was left thinking he was the Alpha cat.

He was miscast in the role. He was much smaller and less worldly than Silverman, who moved himself in several months after Leo and who had survived the rough-and-tumble of life of a male cat living on the streets. But Leo would puff himself up and act like the dominant cat. As long as he didn't push it too far, Silverman would let him get away with the act. Push a bit too far, and Silverman would put Leo in his place.

And when Romeo joined the household, the same routine played out. Romeo outweighed Leo by several pounds, but that didn't stop Leo from asserting himself.

But the unnatural role of top cat seemed to leave Leo a little insecure, if you'll indulge me in a bit of feline pschological projections.

Is there a polite way to say that Leo would pee in inappropriate places?

We thought at first that it must have been caused by a urinary infection or other ailment, but repeated vet visits didn't turn up a medical cause.

Who would have thought of the need to put a plastic cover on the toaster? The television? It's kind of funny from a distance. From up close and personal, it was a pain. After a while, it became clear that we had to make a choice. Get rid of the cat, or get used to cleaning up cat pee.

By this time, though, Leo had us hooked. Leo stayed. Hopefully by now you can understand why.

We've noticed Leo's absence in many ways. When we brought several bags of groceries into the house today after a run to Tamura's Market in Hauula, there was no Leo on the counter immediately investigating the bags. We could not set anything down on the kitchen counter without supervision because Leo would be there investigating, and Leo unattended was always a problem in waiting.

At the dining table in the morning, when we get back from our hour walk and sit down with coffee, fruit, and perhaps some cottage cheese, it's now unnaturally quiet. Leo was always there to extort a teaspoon of cottage cheese, a dish of cat food, and generally get in the way in order to get attention.

We no longer have to worry about the sound of a cat yowling from the bathroom at the far end of the house, where Leo would stand and cry for fresh water in the coffee cup that sat there for his personal use.

And Leo's not there to strut his stuff while trying to intimidate Silverman and Romeo, leaving them somewhat at loose ends.

Ah, Mr. Leo.