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Today I want to introduce you to one of the cats who is the inspiration behind The Ninth Life.–my very own ninth-lifer, Thomas T. Bombadil, Most Puissant Rat Slayer, Ret.

Thomas is 17 years old, and he has kidney disease and hyperthyroidism. I know we have a lot fewer tomorrows together than yesterdays, but today I want to give you some history of how Thomas came to be a part of my life, and what he was like in his younger years.

One day, the editor of the newspaper where I was working at the time, who knew I loved cats and even wrote a cat advice blog, said to me in his thick Maine accent, “Are you interested in a cat?” Of course, I said, “Maybe. What’s going on?” He told me the story of a “gray tigah” cat whose person had to go into a nursing home–but he left three cats without any care arrangements. They were all in the custody of the Camden-Rockport Animal Rescue League (now known as P.A.W.S. Adoption Center) in Rockport, Maine. I said I’d go over and visit him and see if he was interested in me.

When I first met Thomas in the spring of 2004, he was three years old and a very sick little kitty. While his two sisters bounced back pretty quickly from their own respiratory infections, Thomas didn’t do so well. His infection hung on and seemed to only get worse as time passed.

Thomas was a very sick little kitty when I first met him.

This was Thomas when I first met him.

The day I walked into the shelter, I heard him crying before I even asked the staff about him. He was in the isolation room because of his respiratory infection, and there were no other cats in there with him–so not only was he sick, he was desperately lonely, too. I walked into isolation, took one look at him, and fell in love.

The poor little guy bumped his head against the bars of his cage, and despite the fact that his nose was caked with snot and his eyes were running, he tried to purr. I let him out of his cage, and he came right to me. He curled up in my lap and started “making biscuits.” Then he hopped up and started rubbing everything in the room. The photo you see at the right was one of the few photos that survives from the day we met.

Thomas was the best thing that happened to me in the whole year I worked at that newspaper–a place where I was bullied to the point that it triggered a deep, and honestly suicidal, depression. Looking back, I can see that if the only reason I endured a year of torture at that newspaper was to meet Thomas and bring him into my life, it’s all right.

Several weeks later, he finally was cleared of his illness, and he went home with his sisters. I was sad, but I was also glad that he and his sisters had found a home together.

But a couple of weeks after that, I got another call from the shelter. “Are you still interested in Thomas?” the shelter worker asked. “Yes, of course,” I said. “What happened?”

“He didn’t get along with the other cats in the home, and he was always fighting with them,” she said.

“I’ll be glad to take him home and see if he works out with my cats,” I said. And so, a few days later, I picked him up and brought him to my place. He hid in my office for the first three days he was there, but gradually he came out of his shell and started to explore–first the office, and then my entire apartment, where he met my other gorgeous kitties, Sinéad and Siouxsie. They had some spats at first, but it was nothing serious, and soon enough he was snuggling with Sinéad on a daily basis.

When we moved out to a home in the country, where I lived in a small apartment carved out of a barn that had once been converted into a house but had since become a barn again, Thomas really came into his own. He did me the huge favor of killing all the rats that lived in the barn (and leaving them on my doorstep to prove his skills). Thus, he earned the title Most Puissant Rat Slayer.

Thomas earned the title Most Puissant Rat Slayer when we lived in our country home.

Thomas was an amazingly adept hunter.

As the years progressed and we moved away from that little apartment in the barn–and away from several years of insanity at the hands of the people who lived in the “big house” on the property–Thomas came into his own as a respectable middle-age cat. He quickly became “snuggle buddies” with Dahlia, my newest adoptee (who came into my life after Sinéad escaped and was never seen again, presumably eaten by the coyotes that prowled the area). Thomas and Dahlia lived together as best friends for several years, until Dahlia succumbed to a fast-moving cancer that caught me totally by surprise, as she was only six years old at the time.

Thomas grieved almost as profoundly as I did after Dahlia died. We supported each other as we each processed the loss in our own ways. My way turned out to not be so good, because I again fell into a deep depression that, despite going to counseling and being on medication, just wouldn’t lift. It affected my life in every way, including my performance at work, and I almost lost my job as a result–after several years of exemplary performance reviews, you’d think someone would have asked a question about what was going on before my performance review came around if they noticed my performance falling off. But instead, they just made assumptions and went on their merry way. Not that I would have told them I was suffering from depression because I really didn’t feel safe revealing that information to them.

In 2013, Thomas met Belladonna, and he fell in love with her the moment he saw her. Siouxsie was less impressed, and made that known by growling at Bella whenever she got near her. Thomas and Bella quickly became snuggle buddies, too, and they remain buddies to this day. Also in 2013, I quit my job (after making sure to do excellent work, because I wanted my shit to smell like roses by the time I left) and moved to Seattle with Siouxsie, Thomas, and Bella.

To this day, we live in Seattle, and we’re all very happy here. I’m lucky to have an excellent vet who works closely with me to monitor Thomas’s illnesses and make sure he has the best quality of life possible.

At some point I’ll write more about my experience with Dahlia, and with another cat, Kissy, who was only in our lives for a few months before she died due to complications from a surgery. But right now, I’m talking about Thomas.

Do you have a ninth-lifer in your life? What’s that cat’s name? Tell me all about them in the comments!