In Memoriam: Silver Snarfer Robinson the First

I met Silver Robinson when he was three years old. He belonged to my new boyfriend Sterling. I had seen pictures of Silver – it was, after all, the background on Sterling’s phone – this beautiful, square headed yellow Labrador Retriever. In the photo, he looked regal, proud, strong.

Sterling got Silver from a breeder in Oklahoma after his mom commandeered his chihuahua. When Sterling arrived to choose a dog, he saw puppies roughhousing in a pen. But there was one puppy alone in a pen by himself. When he asked, he learned that the Lone Puppy had been adopted, but then returned when his new parents couldn’t (or wouldn’t) make the payments. Thus, instead of costing $600, he was just $300, the remainder of his payments. He was also a little bit older than the other puppies. 

One Saturday afternoon, I recounted this story to Silver, ending with, “…and that’s why you’re a Discount Dog” – right as Sterling entered the room. 

“What did you just say?!” Sterling asked. “You can’t tell him he’s a Discount Dog!”

“But he is. And that’s okay. I’m simply telling him his origin story,” I said. “He needs to know where he comes from.”

In 2011, after just six months of dating, Sterling and I moved in together to his (and Silver’s) home. I brought with me a crotchedy old cat named Buttercup. Cuppie was nonplussed. Silver was thrilled. He thought she was a toy we’d brought home just for him. A few episodes of Cuppie smacking him on the nose conveyed to Silver that she was boss, she most certainly did not want to play, and she did not like having her rear end sniffed. Silver grudgingly accepted that he should give her a wide berth if he walked by.

Silver came to know our schedules and our habits: he knew that we’d probably go out on a Friday or Saturday night, come home late, and I’d wind up on the floor with him, imitating the way he was lying down showing us his belly, feet up in the air. He was smart: he knew what time he got fed, he knew what time we went for walks, he knew where his food and his treats were. He knew when I was sad, he knew when I was happy. 

In 2012, Sterling proposed to me in the living room of our rented condo in Utah, where we’d been skiing with my parents and some friends. Our friend Mohammed came to pick us up to go to the airport, and when we told him we were engaged, he said, “Silver is like, ‘I finally have a mommy!’” I’ll never forget that moment. Because though we were making our relationship “official,” I had become Silver’s mom long before.

Buttercup passed away in 2014. We adopted a cat a couple months later from the local animal shelter and named him Batman for the mask on his face. He’s a tough tuxedo cat who stalks around the house like he’s master of the jungle. After an introductory period during which neither Batman nor Silver was sure about this other new creature, Batman decided that he and Silver were going to be best friends. He’d snuggle him, bat his nose or bite his hindquarters in an invitation to play. 

Silver turned 13 in November of 2020. We knew we were on borrowed time. He was having trouble navigating the stairs, but I called him my Timex: he kept taking a licking but would keep on ticking. One of the most recent times he hurt himself meant that we put up a baby gate and kept him downstairs, even when we’d go to bed. For that week, Batman didn’t come to bed with us either. He stayed and kept watch on his big brother. Each and every night.

Batman would help him sometimes, sitting on one of the lower steps and meowing to alert us to the fact Silver was having trouble.

“We know, Batty, thank you – now get out of his way.” 

As if he understood, Batty would scamper up the stairs, and after a few stops and starts, a few confused sniffs at the steps and debating where to put his paws, Silver would follow.

In March 2020, when the pandemic shut everything down and I started working from home, I decided that the whole family needed a walk each day. The downstairs robot vacuum was scheduled to run each day at 3 p.m., which became our walk time. It seemed like a no brainer: the vacuum was loud, Silver loved getting a walk, I needed to get away from my desk for both mental and physical health. I blocked my Outlook calendar for a half hour each weekday at 3, and Silver and I would walk. His dad didn’t always come with us, depending on his work schedule. 

But Silver and I walked nearly every day without fail. If it rained, I waited until it stopped, and patiently explained to Silver that we’d go once it cleared up. If someone scheduled a meeting in Outlook during my allotted walk time, I’d move the walk, again necessitating an explanation that our schedule would be somewhat different that day. 

Not just because of our walks, Silver became my buddy. Sterling was back in the office most days during the week, so it was me and Silver most of the day. During my workouts, he thought we were playing, even though I’d been doing these workouts for the better part of a year. He’d try to pick up dumbbells in his mouth, or drop his tennis ball next to me, hoping I’d throw it back in the middle of doing lunges or squats. While he was lying in his bed, watching me pace the room during a conference call or just trying to get my steps in for the hour, I’d lean down and give him a quick scratch between the ears. I’d tell him, “You’re so cute!” or “I love your face!” even though his hearing had gotten so bad he couldn’t hear anything but the loudest noises. I read that even if a dog’s hearing wasn’t great, he could still tell if you were interacting with him, or whether you were being kind or harsh.

Because we were walking each day, and it was summertime in Houston, I got Silver some booties so he wouldn’t burn his paw pads. I should have trained him to wear them long before, because it turns out maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. He would walk around as if his paws were stuck to the ground, looking as if he were drunk. They must have really confused him. So we put the booties away and figured that some day there would be another dog who might wear them.

In April of this year, Silver hurt himself again on the stairs. We were out of town, and our pet sitter called Sterling to tell him Silver couldn’t walk. Sterling and I looked at each other, and we knew: this time wasn’t like the others. We came home from our trip, picked him up from the emergency vet and my heart broke when I saw him being supported by two vet techs in a sling. I started sobbing and I told Sterling, “I’m not ready, I’m not ready to let him go.”

But it was time. We took him to our regular vet, and while Sterling went to get him a cheeseburger from Whataburger for his final meal, I lay on the floor of the exam room with him. I told him how much I loved him, how much I would miss him, and that he had been the best dog. He relaxed with a long sigh as he left us.

He will forever be the best dog.

The Furry Little Love Thief

(This blog entry first appeared December 1, 2014, after the passing of Buttercup.)

My cat Buttercup, like so many pets, had many names. Most often we’d call her Cuppie, but Cuppilicious, Licious-Face, Smoocher and Ms. Cup, among others, were in the rotation.

Cuppie was already 12 years old when she came to live with me. My mother had two cats—Cuppie and her sister Anastasia—and they didn’t get along. They also drove her nuts with their eating habits. If my mother left food out, Cuppie would eat so much she might explode. If she only fed them once or twice a day, Anastasia would meow, scratch the door and generally annoy my mother until she fed her. Poor Cuppie ballooned to 22 pounds and lived under the guest bed. My theory: she was ashamed.

I think back now to how my mom tried to give her away on Craigslist and it breaks my heart a little. Mom was frustrated—“No one wants an old, fat cat.” I said, “I’ll take her.” I had just finished law school and the bar exam, I lived alone, and I hadn’t had a pet for nearly 10 years. Mom cried when she put the cat carrier in my car for the trip from Austin to Houston.

Cuppie hid from me for the first few days, but around day three, she turned over on her back and showed me her belly. My mother was ecstatic.

Thus began my love affair with an old, fat cat named Buttercup. I didn’t expect her to be around too much longer—after all, she was already 12, and had had weight problems. I didn’t expect to get attached.

She was affectionate, climbing in my lap during my dinners in front of the TV. Insistent that I pet her while eating. One night she was so insistent, in fact, she managed to turn over the TV tray, along with everything on it. Then she looked at me with eyes wide, frightened, as if to ask, “Why would you do that?”

I met my husband Sterling a few months later. Cuppie did not like men, and Sterling was no exception. But he met her level of doggedness for affection—I would often walk in my bedroom and find Sterling halfway in the closet, trying to coax her out of her hiding spot.

When Sterling and I moved in together, Cuppie came too. Along with Sterling, Cuppie got another roommate—a huge yellow Labrador retriever named Silver. Cuppie was nonplussed. Silver was thrilled. He thought she was a toy we’d brought home just for him. A few episodes of Cuppie smacking him on the nose conveyed to Silver that she was boss, she most certainly did not want to play, and she did not like having her rear end sniffed. Silver grudgingly accepted that he should give her a wide berth if he walked by.

Cuppie lived upstairs for a few months. Sterling didn’t give up on her. Sometimes we’d go up and visit her, and she would acquiesce to his affections. She came downstairs after we strategically moved her food to the ledge next to the master bathroom’s tub. That way she could eat, be away from the dog, and happily clean herself after breakfast.

Most recently, she regularly slept next to us in the bed. Nearly every night around 9 p.m., she would saunter in, hop up and climb on me, no matter what I was doing. Typing on the computer, trying to read a book, or snuggle up next to Sterling, Cuppie would insert herself and start purring. Sometimes she would just sit and stare at me.

“She loves you,” Sterling would chuckle.

Cuppie even snuggled Sterling. Those two came a long way.

She and I were together for four years. She was an old cat, but she had such a good checkup in July I believed I had more time with her. But the day before Thanksgiving, she fell and hurt herself, resulting in some neurological condition that meant her head and her legs weren’t communicating right. Her back legs wouldn’t cooperate, and Cuppie lurched around like a drunk.

The vet explained our limited options. We decided to try a shot of cortisone to see if it would help, and if not, we knew the next day we’d have to put her down. So we brought her home, put her in a little bed, and took her all over the house with us that night. We watched a movie, had drinks on the patio, took pictures with Silver, and fed her cat treats.

That night I had to put her in the bed with us, because she couldn’t jump up on her own. I curled my body around hers like a question mark.

The next morning, I put her next to her feeder for her last meal. I told her she was a furry little love thief.

I never expected to love her so much. I never expected her absence to be so palpable. I never expected my heart to be broken.