Human life is filled with milestones. Some are arbitrary, like turning a certain age significant to our culture. Some are personal and mean little to anyone else, but common enough that others can relate to to them.

This week, my family experienced the end of an era. Sparky died.

Sparky (a.k.a. Sparks or Sparkles or Sparky-doodle) came into our lives when my son Brian was in kindergarten. My husband took Brian and his brother, Matthew, to the county dog pound and let them each pick out a kitten. Matt brought home a small gray kitten he named Tiger. Brian picked out a beaiutfil, lilac point, Siamese-type kitten. We learned then that it’s best to get kittens in pairs, because they play with each other.

Tiger passed away when he was seven. Matt died when he was 24. Brian and Sparky hit their 24th and 19th birthdays respectively this year. Nineteen is really old for a cat, although I’ve seen and heard about older cats.

Sparky raised many of our other cats. He served as “good old Uncle Sparky” to Guido, Sally, Brutus, and Alice. Guido was good enough to take over kitten rearing for Muffin who then assumed the “uncle” mantle for Cooper. (Guido, by the way, is a jerk. Muffin and Cooper are obnoxious, too.)

When Sparky moved permanently into the kitchen and became the “kitchen kitty,” his small world became much smaller. Whether he’d had a stroke or was simply going senile, he’d get lost if he wandered beyond the kitchen. He stuck to familiar territory, mapping out a path to the litter box and a path to the sink. He refused to drink water from a bowl; so we learned to turn on the faucet and leave it at a thin trickle so he could drink. When he was hungry, he’d yowl. Loudly.

When he was about 14 year old, I began feeding him canned cat food to supplement his lifetime diety of dry kibble. He was picky. Not only did he have firm preferences with regard to dry cat food, but we learned to cater to his wet cat food preferences. He would only eat pate. Not morsels, shreds, or any other consistency. He only liked certain brands; luckily for us, the cheaper brands sufficed. He only liked certain flavors: some he consistently disliked and others he disliked only sometimes. Until lately, he’d still snack on dry cat food. Amazingly, he still had all his teeth.

Making the decision to end a pet’s life is never easy. It hurts. However, Sparky had been on the decline for years. His beautiful blue eyes deteriorated first, a holdover from his Siamese heritage. Then his body weakened and his balance worsened. Several months ago he stopped using the litter box. Last week he lost the strength and coordination to walk. Over the weekend, he lost interest in food and water, but not affection.

I decided it was time to say goodbye and let him go gently into that good night. (Apologies to Bob Dylan.)

Sparky was the last pet remaining from my childrens’ childhood. We have other pets, but none go back as far in our family’s memory as this gentle old cat.

Good-bye, old buddy. You will be missed.