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"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

November 16, 2013

World's Luckiest Cat Runs Out of Luck

(Muppet, seen here upset about being interrupted while working on his novel)

Many cat owners believe their cats have some kind of unique personality, different from other cats. As someone who's owned his fair share of cats, I can attest that this, in most cases, is just a tempting illusion. Cats generally have one lovable but generic personality, with minor variations.

That said, there are unusual cats, and my cat Muppet was one of those. I was hoping he would make it to November 22nd so that [JOKE REDACTED DUE TO PARENT SENSITIVITY]. Then he'd leave the world in as unusual manner as he lived in it. But it was not to be.

I found Muppet the night of January 7th, 1996 as I was walking home from midtown Manhattan to my apartment on West 109th Street through the third-worst blizzard in New York City history. I was on Central Park West around 103rd Street when he appeared from between the garbage cans outside the front door of a building facing the park. He looked almost full grown, was incredibly friendly and didn't have a collar or any other sign of belonging to people. And the snow was falling so thickly. I couldn't help picking him up and taking him with me; what I remember is that he didn't struggle at all, he just somehow accepted that I had his best interests at heart.

Our crossing paths was the first and biggest stroke of luck in Muppet's life. He was about to begin the greatest rags-to-riches story in cat history.

It was a dicey decision to bring him home because my roommate Robert and I already had a cat, Harold. And Muppet and Harold did not get along. Harold was a big cat, significantly bigger than Muppet. But Harold had been raised since kittenhood by people. He was not prepared to stand up for himself when confronted by a cat from New York's mean streets. Also, when Muppet started eating regular cat food instead of human garbage, he produced the most spectacular and voluminous cat diarrhea I've ever witnessed. So I sent him to live with my parents in suburban Maryland.

This was another huge stroke of luck for Muppet, because their house was cat heaven. It wasn't in a city or near a large street, so he could go outside. Yet it wasn't in the country, so there were no coyotes or owls to carry him off. Cats were the neighborhood's apex predators.

And although he lived with my parents for the rest of his life, he always remained my cat. Whenever I came to visit he immediately glommed onto me, ditched my parents and slept with me until I left.

This was gratifying, but I eventually learned this may have had less to do with his love for me and more with him being the world's greatest grifter. He was incredibly skillful at figuring out who in his immediate environment had the most power over his wellbeing, and making them love him. Whenever we took him to the vet, his focus shifted from us to the vet and vet techs. Every time I picked him up after some procedure, they said something like, "He is SUCH a wonderful cat! We wanted to keep him!"

Beyond that, he was constantly working on a backup plan in case things with my family fell through. Every now and then my parents would call, worried, because he'd disappeared for several days. But he always came back, smelling – this sounds made up, but is 100% true – of cigarette smoke and perfume. We finally figured out that he was intermittently living with different middle-aged single women on my parents' street. From then on we liked to pretend that he was bringing home matchbook covers with phone numbers written in them, and that my parents were getting calls from nervous women asking, "Hi, uh, is Muppet there?"

He also had a striking physical presence. Because he wasn't neutered until after he'd gone through puberty, he had a neck ruff that was sort of a mini-mane. And it really worked in evolutionary terms: if you saw him coming at you, the ruff made him appear much larger than he actually was. (For more on the subject of Muppet and evolution, see #3 here.)

And though he was on the small side, he was extremely dense and muscular and if he wanted to could mess you up. However, the effect of this was ruined on the rare occasions he spoke, because his natural voice was a high-pitched squeak. He was sort of the Mike Tyson of cats.

He lived a long long and extremely happy life with my parents, all the while dodging bullets thanks to human care and his continuing, incredible luck:

• He almost died due to a urinary tract blockage, something which often fells male cats, but my parents took him at 3 a.m. to a 24-hour vet hospital which saved his life.

• He developed diabetes five years ago and for a time required daily injections of insulin. But thanks to the internet, we learned that diabetes can often be cured in cats with the proper diet. It worked great with him and he never again required treatment for diabetes. If you have a diabetic cat, I strongly encourage you to look into this.

• He started obsessively overgrooming himself in his old age, tearing out tufts of his fur. At first we thought this was due to a thyroid problem and unsuccessfully tried to treat it with medication. Soon afterward my parents moved, and the overgrooming ceased; apparently he'd developed an allergy to something in my parents' previous house. It was such perfect timing that it was as though they moved just to make him more comfortable. The best part was that their new neighborhood requires that cats be leashed, and he somehow managed the impossible and carried this off with panache. (You can see him wearing his harness, above.)

In particular we're grateful for the extraordinary comfort he provided when my father was seriously ill for several years. We often spoke of how we didn't know how we would have gotten through it without him.

And because he was so good to us, we vowed that we would never keep him alive just because we didn't want to let him go – that we would make decisions based on what was best for him, not us. Amazingly, his luck held to the very end, and he had a high quality of life up to his final 24 hours, when the right course of action became obvious.

So that's that. I can't claim to have learned the secrets of love or the universe from Muppet, but he was a wonderful cat, my favorite cat ever, and set a high standard that I have a hard time believing any future cats in my life will meet.

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at November 16, 2013 04:56 PM


The part about the visits to women in the neighborhood is astonishing and hilarious.

Thanks for picking him up in the snowstorm.

Posted by: Nell at November 16, 2013 06:46 PM

Nell, thank you. As you might guess, there is a great deal of sniffling going on around here tonight.

That really is true about the women, it's my favorite cat story ever.

Posted by: Jon Schwarz at November 16, 2013 07:22 PM

so sad man, condolences

Posted by: Elliott at November 16, 2013 07:59 PM

I had completely forgotten about the storm.

Also, it wasn't so much that Harold and "NewCat" (my moniker for him even today) didn't get along. It's that NewCat (Muppet) basically walked in, got one glimpse of that sweet pad and soft little Harold and said "I'm taking over this turf! Any questions rich boy?" to which Harold replied "Um... Well...I don't think..." and then was quickly (and quite literally if you remember) punched in the face by NewCat. After that Harold fell in line.
RIP NewCat. You were a tough motherfucker and a super-survivor. The Fonz of Cats. I tip my hat.

Posted by: Robert ToTeras at November 16, 2013 08:02 PM

My condolences on your loss. He was a lucky cat, and you were lucky to have him in your life.

Diabetes can be responsive diet in humans, as well as cats - see the website of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine for details.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at November 16, 2013 09:55 PM

Thanks for the wonderful story. He sounds like he was a prize, much loved, and a real schmoozer. We took in a stray kitten a few years ago whom our dogs had treed. He was in bad shape, however, and if not for my wife's TLC he certainly wouldn't have survived. When he was shortly afterward diagnosed with leukemia, my suggestion that we name him Luke did not go over well with the family. He is rarely seen during the summer but is Mr. Cuddly during the winter and is currently sprawled on his back across the sofa. I can't imagine life without him and his antics.

Posted by: jeer9 at November 16, 2013 11:53 PM

Sorry to hear it. The cat I had growing up lived to be 20, and battled through multiple conditions as well, but just kept pulling through for years. There's something very pure about the love for a pet. Condolences.

Posted by: Batocchio at November 17, 2013 12:55 AM

Redacted joke made it through Feedly.

Posted by: darrelplant at November 17, 2013 01:00 AM

Sorry for your loss, Jon. I like cats, but have never had one for a pet. I think part of their appeal is that whole "I am the Cat Who Walks By Himself and All Places are Alike to Me" aspect of their personality.

Posted by: Faheem at November 17, 2013 12:12 PM

Lovely post, Jon. That makes it abundantly clear you DID learn the secrets of love and the universe from Muppet.

And btw, in my experience what we recognize as "personality" in an animal seems to emerge in proportion to human contact. So perhaps cats show cat-recognizable personality when within cat culture, and show human-recognizable personality within ours? In any case, I think we rather overassert the primacy of genes in non-human behavior because we don't understand non-human consciousness. Pets are ambassadors doing very important work.

Fifi is pouring out some tunawater for her homie.

Posted by: Mike of Angle at November 17, 2013 02:35 PM

Lovely tribute Jon. Some of my very best friends have been cats. I value my relationships with them above most humans, to be perfectly honest.

RIP Muppet.

Posted by: digby at November 17, 2013 04:08 PM

Damn, I'm crying. Just lost my Best Cat Ever so I know how you feel. No cat can ever replace that special one.

Posted by: Texmac at November 17, 2013 05:43 PM


Thank you -- it is amazing how animals manage to insinuate themselves into our emotional lives.


You're right, I told him about Harold and he was secretly very satisfied but played it off like the outcome was never in doubt.

I think it's also fair at this point to acknowledge that the diarrhea was unusual not just in volume but in stench. There was no apartment in New York big enough to hold it and human beings.

mistah charley, ph.d.,

Thank you -- yes, we were as lucky to have him as he was to have us. I'm trying to focus on that rather than irrationally feeling betrayed that the universe didn't give me the impossible.

That's very interesting and important about diabetes in humans. I think it's even easier in cats, they really have no desire to eat carbohydrates, it's just crap added as filler that they're just as happy without.


You're very welcome. Kudos to your wife, that's a real achievement. Please give him some scritching from me this evening.


20! That is very impressive. I hope he/she was consulted by younger cats in need of wisdom, it's unfortunate the way the cat community often no longer values tradition.




You're definitely right. As I liked to say, I wish I cared about anything half as much as I cared about impressing my cat.

Mike of Angle,

Yes, that's a really interesting question re cat personality. Let us both conduct further research. And tell Fifi thanks from us all.


Thank you v v much -- I'm with you. I call upon humanity to evolve in a cat-like direction (minus the urine-spraying).


I'm very very sorry to hear that and am feeling you extremely. Would love to hear cat stories if you're up to it.

Posted by: Jon Schwarz at November 17, 2013 07:32 PM

Jon, so sorry for your loss of Muppet. I lost my Belle in August and am still missing her. He sounds like an incredible cat.

Posted by: Anna in PDX at November 18, 2013 01:15 PM


Thank you. It's surprisingly helpful to write and share this kind of thing, I find. I recommend something about Belle if you can do it.

Posted by: Jon Schwarz at November 18, 2013 05:28 PM


sometimes when I can't sleep, I count all the cats I've had in my life. Then remember favorite bits about them. Last count was 21 and I have two now.

Lovely post. Thanks. They are grand creatures. I miss my dog whom I just lost, Buster. He and the cats were friends. All my dogs liked the cats - not necessarily vice versa.

Posted by: Xanthe at November 18, 2013 07:35 PM

My daughter had two cats with very different personalities. Tillie was lively, affectionate, a real people cat, and Sebastian would stalk around moodily with his tail in the air. He didn't seem to like to be touched and rarely wanted to play. Then Tillie fell ill and after treatment with no cure, the inevitable had to be faced. I cried with my daughter, of course, but some of the hurt eased as time went on. What helped was a remarkable transformation in Sebastian: He's now much more frisky and out-going, plays more, and invites, rather than just tolerates, human contact. I wonder if Tillie seemed to him to be the favored cat, cute, cuddly, and "in" with the humans. Maybe without having to compete with her, Sebastian realizes he can shine. Hmm...

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