When I first met Joxer the Mighty, we were in love with the same girl: A leggy redhead with a penchant for the same nerdy things I liked and a gift for choosing good people as her friends.
When he and the girl were introduced, Joxer was five weeks old and living in a cage at the Glendale Humane Society. His orange fur was unusually soft for a cat, and like his namesake from "Xena: Warrior Princess," he could talk a good game about smiting his enemies but at the end of the day he was just a big softie.
The girl and her kitten connected right there on the spot.
Five years later, I came along.
The first night I fell asleep at her apartment, I woke with Joxer on my feet — 10 pounds of pillowy warm fluff that made my ankles numb. I was adopted into the clan. We sealed it a few years later with a wedding but that night Marcy and Joxer and Bryan became a family.
I had a lot to learn about this kind of setup, as I had never had a pet that didn't breathe water. Joxer taught me well.
I learned that everything in life worth doing is worth doing after a nap. If possible, schedule a nap after as well.
Eat your favorite food as often as your mom and doctor will allow you.
Often we get caught up fruitlessly chasing the red laser dot until we're exhausted. This is folly. Instead, chase the guy with the laser pointer.
Begin and end your day with a treat — a hug from a loved one, a bedtime story or a crunchy snack from the bag in the end table.
Never take a beam of sunlight for granted. Sit in it for five minutes, close your eyes, and when you open them, look at your day in this new light.
The size of a heart is not measured in circumference but in deeds.
Joxer would enter into a conversation whether you liked it or not with the one English word he learned to master: "Now." That was one of his most tangible lessons: Your height, weight, color or other physical characteristics hardly matter if your personality and wit are what people remember you by.
If you're fun, if you're a good and trustworthy companion and you have the ability to love unconditionally, you have the ability to bond and make a family. We couldn't always trust Joxer to leaving our bills unchewed on our desks, but we could trust that when we were sick or sad, he would be right there on our laps offering the comfort he could.
As his health declined, he trusted us to take care of it, even when he could not understand what was happening to him. Dr. Sam Basilious and the staff at Bastet Cat Hospital in Burbank did an exemplary job leading us through his diagnosis of kidney disease, and helped get him on a maintenance plan that improved his kidney function by leaps and bounds.
Last week a different illness hit our little buddy, one that came on suddenly and with no mercy. Dr. Basilious delivered the news carefully and tactfully; he must have seen the same confusion in our faces that we saw in Joxer's. How could his time come now, when we fought so well to prolong it?
People enter into pethood knowing that in all likelihood they will outlive the little animals that share their lives. This, I have learned, is a shallow sentence that can be repeated and repeated and never provides the solace, comfort or answers we seek when their times come.
I see what our pet left us and it is rich and beautiful: Our lives improved by a gentle soul who shared our food, our bed, our home. I get it now, this pet thing.
Our family was blessed by Joxer the Mighty, a cat whose name defied hyperbole, whose fur smelled vaguely of maple syrup, whose 15 years on this earth will never be enough for those who loved him.