Merlin: 2003-2023

Our last iconic cat has gone

The big, handsome, good-natured white cat that accompanied me on so very many public events and personal adventures has returned to his Maker. Merlin passed away at mid-day on January 13, in the tender care of his vet. His Mummy and Daddy with him throughout, and his head was cradled in his Daddy’s hand at the very end. He was 13 days short of what would have been his 20th birthday on January 26.

Merlin had been on thyroid medication since late 2021, and was living with progressive kidney failure. In his last several days, his liver gave out on him. It was the final of his nine cat lives, six of which he spent during his nearly seven years with us. Though heartbroken, it was no surprise to Andrea and I that Merlin was in his final hours. He passed away peacefully, mercifully and painlessly at his vet’s office in his bed-basket with his people petting him.

We had hoped Merlin would make his 20th birthday. Merlin clearly had no desire to begin a year we all knew he could not finish. He is re-united with his loving first owner in paradise.

Coming into the family

Merlin was the second of our public-life cats, after his predecessor Obi-Wan passed away in the summer of 2015. Merlin had just turned 13 years old when his former owner, an elderly lady whom we never met, turned Merlin over to Ninth Life Cat Rescue, an Oakville-based agency composed of angels of mercy volunteers, who placed him for adoption at Pet Valu in Meadowvale. It was at Pet Valu on February 29, 2016, that I met Merlin as I went in to purchase cat food for our remaining cat, Bebe.

The store manager at the time told me Merlin’s story. Merlin was uncaged and wandering about the shop. When I went to pick him up, Merlin wrapped his paws around my neck, and began licking my left earlobe, a measure of attachment and devotion he would show regularly for the rest of his days. Merlin picked me as his owner. We bonded from that moment, and Merlin remained especially devoted to me from then onward.

At age 13, Merlin initially came to our home as a foster cat. It took him and our then-existing cat, Bebe, a few days to find an equilibrium, and for Merlin to explore and accept his new surroundings. But it was clear that Merlin was never going back to Pet Valu, except as a visitor with his Daddy. On March 17 of 2016, after our vet gave Merlin a clean bill of health following a thorough checkup, including blood and urine work, I paid Pet Valu and signed Merlin’s adoption papers.

Merlin was initially a chubby cat. Aside from managing his diet with quality cat food and proper portions, I wondered whether Merlin could get some exercise and build some muscle tone. With the ground drying up and the weather warming in March of 2016, I adjusted Obi-Wan’s old cat harness to fit Merlin and tried to see if he would walk on a leash, something our other two cats either did reluctantly, or in Bebe’s case wouldn’t do at all.

Merlin was a natural! Without any prompting or training, he walked halfway around the block on his first try, and then asked to come up into my arms to be carried home. On his second try, he walked completely around the block. In the ensuing weeks, as the ground dried up after the snow melted, we began to go to McCarron Park near our Churchill Meadows home. Gradually, Merlin worked up to a walk of about 700 metres in distance. During his peak years, we walked several times each week, often every day. Merlin became a strong and fit teenage cat.

Assuming his public role

Soon after Merlin joined us, I was having lunch at Queen’s Park with the incoming Consul General from Turkey, Erdeniz Sen. Erdeniz is a serious cat fancier among a nation devoted to cats. I normally spoke at the Turkish community’s annual International Children’s Day festival in mid-April. Erdeniz urged me to bring Merlin. Once I realized he was not kidding me, I agreed. Six weeks after joining the household, Merlin was off on his first public event at Nathan Phillips Square in front of Toronto City Hall.

Merlin was an instant sensation and a magnet for the Turkish-Canadian teens. As I walked up on stage to deliver my remarks on behalf of the Province, I carried Merlin in my right arm, and my presentation folder with my greetings in my left. I laid Merlin on the podium to open the folder and deliver my remarks, hoping he would not bolt from the scene. Merlin grabbed the front of the podium with his front paws, and took in the adulation from the several thousand people in attendance as I delivered my brief remarks. As I finished, I said, “Anything to add, Merlin?”

Right on cue, he meowed with authority into the microphone, to the delight of the crowd, capping a presentation no other speaker that day could hope to top. It took us almost an hour to be able to make a gracious exit back to Mississauga as everyone who could reach him just had to make friends with Merlin. The following year of 2017, an invitation to attend came to me – and to Merlin by name – from the Turkish Consulate. Merlin was, and remains, the only cat to have made a speech from the podium at Nathan Phillips Square.

Merlin made several appearances at Celebration Square in Mississauga with his MPP Dad. Merlin remains to only cat to have walked in both the Streetsville and Mississauga Santa Claus Parades. Obi-Wan and Bebe both rode with Andrea and I in our golf cart, but Merlin got out of the cart, and walked on his leash during the parade. Merlin came to the Streetsville Bread and Honey Festival, and was on stage with his Daddy for two Canada Day celebrations in Streetsville. Merlin went skating with Daddy at the annual Family Skates at Vic Johnston Arena in Streetsville. Merlin in 2021 became the only cat whose cat-walks raised funds for The Healing Cycle, in support of families dealing with catastrophic injuries. Merlin’s summer walks attracted donors that made him at least middle-of-the-pack in fund-raising prowess. Merlin attended many dozens of seniors and youth events with his Daddy, both as an MPP and as a private citizen. Kids flocked to him everywhere, and he let everybody pet him and hold him. Merlin made cat fanciers out of countless kids whose parents were leery of cats as feral creatures in their country of origin.

Unlike many animals who equate a ride in the car with going to the vet, Merlin loved car rides. His basket sat atop a banana box from the grocery store so that he could recline and look out the passenger side window while Daddy drove. He took in the sights and sounds of the city as we drove, always fascinated by the parade of life moving before him. More than a few motorists did a double-take at traffic lights when they saw Merlin in the car.

So many people wanted to be photographed with Merlin that I made up a Merlin business card to give out so that folks could contact Merlin, and ask Merlin to send them the pictures that Daddy (or they) took of these folks with Merlin. Merlin was welcome at our pharmacist’s shop, the TD Bank in Streetsville, the plant nursery each spring, numerous retail stores that Mummy and Daddy shopped at, and of course the Pet Valu from which he was adopted. Merlin always remembered that Pet Valu store in Meadowvale, often delighting the incoming customers by shaking hands with them. Yes, Merlin also learned the usual repertoire of dog tricks.

Heaven on earth

While we know nothing of how or where Merlin was raised, we do know that his birth certificate had him born in Victoria, British Columbia on January 26, 2003. Merlin did not seem accustomed to being outside when he came to us, and he was always in the company of Mummy or Daddy when he went beyond the property line. Our back yard is fenced thoroughly to keep outside creatures out, and our own cats in. Merlin took to the back yard immediately, adopting the gazebo in his first summer of 2016 as the place he always preferred to take his naps in the warm weather. Merlin learned how to use the cat port in our screen door quickly, and could come and go between the house and the back yard without our worrying that he would leave or that any other creatures would bother him. Some days, he would only come inside to eat and to go to bed at night. At dusk, our cats always came inside.

Merlin was just perfect at home. He almost never coughed up a hairball, did not destroy anything, always used his scratch pad and never the furniture, and had nearly no ‘accidents’ around the house. He loved being groomed, especially in the summer when he could lie on the gazebo bench while Daddy brushed his fur. The scent on his discarded fur then served as squirrel repellent on plants and in the gazebo. He was so fastidious that he frequently preferred to come into the house and use the inside litter box instead of using his ‘outdoor’ litter box among the plants.

Merlin lost his sister, Bebe just as the world sank into the COVID-19 abyss in late March. Bebe died from an aggressive cancer that took her quickly that cold and lonely winter. As heartbreaking as Bebe’s loss was, especially to Andrea, Merlin and we still had one another. Predictably, Merlin became closer to us, spending many nights during the cool weather cozying up to his people on the bed at night.

Merlin and I walked in the park and drove on errands often during those two COVID years of 2020 and 2021. Like most families, we had one another, and drew even closer together. He was “my boy.”

Merlin had his cozy beds throughout the house, his people always close at hand, lots of affection and attention and life was good for him. In the summer of 2020, we all shared the company of a baby Cottontail rabbit that grew up in the back yard. Merlin had a live-and-let-live attitude toward the wildlife with whom he shared his precious back yard. He didn’t chase the birds or squirrels, preferring merely to look at them from a respectful distance. We actually wish he had been a bit more territorial, as his predecessors were. On a few occasions, a back yard squirrel figured out the cat port, and came into the kitchen to look and see where the peanuts we fed them were stored. There would have been no such luck with Obi-Wan or Bebe on patrol on the main level.

Merlin looked angelic while sleeping. No matter what mood one was in, or what kind of day you were having, a look at a napping Merlin could take away the day’s stresses, especially when Merlin would come and doze off beside you.

Merlin had his people about all the time during the COVID period. He took regular rides in the car to go shopping with Daddy at stores that welcomed him, and as noted above there were many such merchants glad to see him.

Final cat lives

Merlin clearly spent one cat life joining us through the Ninth Life Cat Rescue adoption process. Many animals his age are put down rather than being sent out for adoption. Like many cats, Merlin’s canine teeth suffered from decay and needed removal a few years ago. One ear filled with fluid from an ‘aural hematoma,’ and needed surgery to correct. That accounts for three cat lives. Add in the thyroid, kidney and the ultimately fatal liver failure, and we can say where at least six of his nine cat lives were spent.

Merlin celebrated his birthday each winter in late January. He wore Daddy’s tuxedo tie on his 16th birthday in 2019. He was a healthy 17 in 2020, and going strong at 18 in early 2021. By that time, he was taking a monthly injection to help him with his arthritic joints. But there was an obvious problem by the late autumn of 2021. Merlin was losing weight. He was always a robust cat, weighing in at about 5.5 kg. He was just too light that fall, and was losing interest in food. Daddy took him off to the vet for his regular blood and urine test and to get looked at. As Merlin approached his 19th birthday, he was diagnosed with steadily failing kidneys, and had a thyroid problem. There would be nothing we could do about the kidneys beyond medication, though the thyroid responded well to his twice-daily pills.

Merlin began a regimen of medical treatment most elderly humans would recognize: twice daily doses of Restoralax for regularity; twice-daily thyroid pills that worked quickly for him. As time went on, he would need an appetite stimulant on alternate days. At Christmas of 2021, we didn’t think he would make it through 2022, but with regular treatment, he made it through the full calendar year. In late 2022, we added a 100 mL regular dose of Isolyte, saline solution to help his kidneys clear toxins as he progressed from stage one to stage two of kidney failure.

During his final weeks, Merlin had his last experience with all the things and places he knew and loved: the park with his Daddy, where Merlin insisted on going down to walk part of the way; rides in the car to look at the people; seeing his yard, both front and back in the winter with Daddy; and nightly cuddles with his people in bed.

Merlin made it through the 2022-23 Christmas season well, though his weight continued to drop. He weighed only 3.6 kg by the fall of 2022. The addition of the Isolyte solution beneath his skin stabilized Merlin for almost two months. And then his liver failed in the second week of January. Nothing worked to get him to eat. In a final poignant effort on his last night alive, Merlin summoned up all his strength to climb the two flights of stairs from the main level to the bedroom level in our home one final time. I awoke hearing him collapse on the upstairs hall runner, and went quickly to get my boy, cuddling, warming and comforting him until he settled down and purred before bringing him to bed one final time.

Andrea carried him down the stairs the next morning. He wouldn’t eat at all. Something was seriously wrong. When I phoned the vet to express concern, they asked if we could bring Merlin in as soon as possible. His vet saw the yellow jaundice of liver failure the moment we brought him in. Merlin was quickly losing his quest to stay with his second Mummy and his Daddy. Merlin was uncomfortable, and his life was ebbing away. It was time for Merlin to return to his first Mummy in heaven. And so Merlin left us in peace, mercifully and without pain. Merlin left us with warm memories of a loving and trusting cat who was as perfect as any animal can be.

Now the house is quiet, and notably empty. For the first time in 21 years, we have no cat patrolling the halls. Merlin’s carefully-kept medical records now end on January 13, 2023. His things: beds, blankets, toys, covers, food, litter boxes, grooming tools and so on remained in place for a time, and were only gradually and lovingly stored away. That period of grief after a loving animal leaves one’s life reflects the intensity of the love and trust shared between one of God’s creatures and the human beings who shared that love. It will take a long time, a very long time, for Mummy and Daddy to get over Merlin. Farewell and thanks, Merlin. Here is Merlin’s tribute.