Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Today is the rarest of rare posts here at The Establishing Shot. This one has nothing to do with the world of movies or even television. Still, it does concern the world of entertainment. In this case, that world of entertainment is the one that was supplied by my pet cat Smokey Joe. Today, my wife Paige and I had to put him to sleep as it would have been too cruel for him to suffer any longer from his inoperable stomach cancer. Thus today, I’m writing a tribute to him. He was an amazing cat. Beautiful. Sweet as candy. Soft like a pussy willow. Kind of a rascal. And definitely one of the most hilarious and entertaining cats ever to grace the planet.

Smokey Joe, AKA “The Joe” as we often called him, was just a few months shy of his 13th birthday. And up until 4 months ago, his existence was an exemplary one. He was an indoor cat and was always safe. Smokey Joe was never hungry, he was played with constantly, and our grey Burmese was spoiled with more love, wuzzles and wire toys than most cats could ever imagine. And there were three souls who loved his with all their hearts. In addition to my wife and me, our first cat Agent Orange, an orange tabby, loved him from the moment we brought him home to be his little brother. We all lost an immeasurable part of our lives today. And I already feel a physical ache from his departure. I can only imagine what his constant cat companion must feel deep inside.

See, Agent Orange and Smokey Joe were the absolute best of buddies. They never fought, never squabbled, never resented the attention the other one would get at times. Agent Orange was so loving and nurturing of his adopted brother, it was almost like Smokey Joe was his own kin. And Smokey Joe loved Agent Orange right back just as much. He’d call for him to come and play, usually at night when Paige and I were in bed, and their conversation was unlike any they had with us. Their language took on a whole new intimacy and tone in the nocturnal that sounded quite amusing to us. Perhaps they were jawboning over the day, or comparing notes on the brands of Fancy Feast we fed them that day, or maybe, just maybe, they were telling each other how much they loved each other. Or us. All we know is that they had an amazing bond. And they were as close as two animals could ever be.

Smokey Joe also was affectionate with us too, though he was one of those cats that liked you better if you stroked him without looking him in the eye. As he grew older, he started seeking out our petting skills more and more. And even looked us in the eye as if to say, “I love you.” Lots of slow blinks became par for the course with him too, and some feline experts will tell you that is how a cat says “I love you.” I believe that’s true, and sometimes, he loved sitting on the bed and being caressed so much, he almost seemed to enjoy it more than playing with us and his toys. Almost.

Original caricature by Jeff York of Paige Carpenter, Agent Orange and Smokey Joe playing string. (copyright  2004)
We loved him so and he always made us laugh at his antics. Our boys were more fun to watch than any movie or TV show. And sometimes there was a bit of the Dickens to Joe that made him even more hilarious. One time, he jumped up onto the desk to steal the last bite of a toaster pastry from my hand and then moonwalked backwards across the computer keyboard to make his getaway. Hey, give the intrepid little pickpocket some credit for knowing what he wanted and how to escape with style.

Other times, his bellicose and elongated yowls for attention sounded so forlorn and melodramatic, it was as if he was starring in a Telenovela on Univision. My wife and I cracked up every time. He would make us giggle at how he’d paw endlessly at one of those dumb electronic cat toys you mount on the door knob. His amusement at flying birds or a stray little spider played like funny ‘takes’ worthy of Harpo Marx. And Joe loved his powdered chicken treats so much that he would walk around with remnants of the white stuff on his little brown nose. He could’ve been a Studio 54 regular during the 1970’s!

And Joe’s predatory moments, going after movable toys like a spool of string being dragged about by Paige, were like a caricature of a tiger that would make Shere Khan blush. His pupils would get so big it was like he had chocolate chips for eyes. Sometimes, he’d get so excited, his legs would get out of synch with his front paws as he ran. He looked like two guys trying to operate a cow costume. That is how funny The Joe was in all that he did. I’ll bet he knew he was a great comedian.

But in his final months, his stage became one more akin to tragedy than comedy. It was like all the funny parts were cut out of a Charlie Chaplin silent movie, with only those scenes designed to break your heart left in the final cut. He grew more ill and started to slow down. He dropped half his weight. And he curled up in a ball and found refuge against his warm water bottle on his favorite blanket more and more each of his last weeks.

 Still, he would forget about his condition when a toy invited him to play. Or Paige, AKA The Cat Whisperer, talked her magic baby talk to him that made him purr for minutes upon minutes. And he still loved being petted even if we had to do it more gingerly as the bones along his spine started to protrude more due to his weight loss. But he always had an appetite even on his final day. The cancer was just eating up far too much of what he took in. So we had to do the merciful thing.

The day before his last, he seemed to be telling all of us that he was ready to go. He nuzzled deep into Agent Orange’s fur as they had their last great bonding session. He looked soulfully in the eyes of both Paige and me for minutes on end, seeming to want to soothe our pain as well. And on his second to last night, Smokey Joe slept on the bed with us. He hadn’t done that since he was a kitten, but he slept with us as if he was cherishing as much time with us as he could. 

A wonderful vet came today to euthanize Smokey Joe in the comfort of his own home, surrounded by all his loving family members. He slipped into sleep quickly and quietly, and it was all over in an hour. We were shattered of course, but by night’s end, we were laughing about our vivid memories of him, and singing some of the multitude of songs we made up about him. We plan on singing those songs a long time.

Agent Orange was there when Smokey Joe left us this afternoon, but he still was wandering around this evening, clearly a bit perplexed as to where his best friend might be. It was as if our orange tabby was expecting Joe to return. He knows our home just isn’t our home without him. But we’re going to have to get used to the lack of Smokey Joe’s unique and once ubiquitous presence.

Anyone who loves a pet goes through all of this when they leave this world. It’s never easy, almost always tragic, and anyone who has had a pet knows that they are family members. Thanksgiving and Christmas are tailor-made for being together with families, but those two holidays were anything but merry for the four of us this year. Still, I know that Paige, Agent Orange and I are eternally grateful for the almost 13 years we had with Smokey Joe. And I know he felt the same about all the time with the three of us. He was pure joy. And isn’t that what the season is supposed to be all about?

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