family stories: a prayer for oliver hardin

Jonathan and I don't have children in the traditional sense, but our cat Oliver and our dog Porter are our children. We are a family.

Last Friday, a routine vet visit uncovered weight loss, dehydration and high calcium in Oliver. I had noticed the weight loss, but I had attributed it to our recent move and a year of changes. 

Oliver is spending the next two days at the vet so they hydrate him and get his calcium level under control. An ultrasound was inconclusive, so they recommended further tests. We decided against them for now, in hopes that the fluids will make a difference. The vet assured me that I was making the right decision. He said if we don't feel 100 percent comfortable, we should wait. There is a risk involved with sedation and this round of testing, and there isn't a guarantee it would provide an answer anyway.

Oliver is our family. In April 2003, during a random PetsMart trip to buy a cat carrier for an injured cat that had showed up at our house, my mom, sister and I passed the pet adoption area. There was a tiny kitten in a cage with a big, angry cat, and the cat was sitting between the kitten and the food bowl. We found a store clerk who said he couldn't help because the other cages were filled. He pulled the kitten out of the cage and let us pet him. "You'll have to take him home with you," he said with a sheepish grin on his face. A few minutes later, we went home with two cat carriers and a kitten. Our cat household increased from one cat to three in a week.

Baby Oliver slept right under my chin on my chest. I'm not sure when he officially became my cat, but he was definitely my cat from the very beginning. A few weeks before I left for Ole Miss, I was in California saying goodbye my grandmother Joan who was dying of terminal cancer. My memories from that traumatic visit are spotty, but I remember her saying that Oliver would be a lap cat. I'm not sure why or how she knew this, but she was right. Nearly 11 years later, Oliver sits on my lap morning, noon and night. He follows me wherever I go, and he comes when I call him. If we lay down in the floor or on the bed, he lays beside us, making sure his paws are touching us. He sits on my dressing table while I put on my makeup, and he watches me. He rarely leaves my side. He sleeps on my pillow most nights.

Oliver met Jonathan for the first time a few days after we arrived in Oxford. Oliver was about eight months old at that point, and he was very jealous of Jonathan. By the time the three of us moved to Memphis together in August 2006, he realized Jonathan wasn't going away, and he decided they had better be friends.

It was much easier when Porter came into our lives. He was two months old and smaller than Ollie. Oliver showed him who was boss from day one, and Porter still believes Ollie is bigger than he is. One quick (clawless) slap from Ollie, and Porter, our wiggling 90 pound bundle of joy, calms down. They hang out together in the sunroom, and Porter always lets Ollie drink his water first. Hyper Porter spins around in circles, but he is very careful not to step on Oliver. If Oliver jumps out of my lap when we're outside, Porter will shepherd him toward the door. They have a special bond.

People say cats are ornery, aloof and selfish. If that's the definition of a cat, then Oliver is not a cat. We have been so lucky to have him in our lives, and I feel especially blessed to have been at home with him these past two years. Oliver gave us a good scare in May 2010, and since then, we haven't taken our time together for granted.

We're concerned and scared, but whether we have days, months or years left with Oliver, we are going to make the best of the time we do have. Oliver has given us so many gifts during his 11 years on this earth, and I hope he can give you that gift as well. Treasure each moment with your loved ones. Don't take your time together for granted. Make every moment count.

Here are some of our favorite Ollie moments from the past few months.