Fenek was one small cat in one rural New Jersey room.
He was the size of the entire world, and his universe was ever expanding.
It appeared to be a normal-sized day when Fenek arrived in January 2020. But you rarely realize the moments that will change your life forever. Time and space were stretching like silly putty to accommodate the occasion.
One little black cat knew, and he smiled. Fenek was too brave to quarantine his grin.
He knew that we are a fearful, careful species. When someone says “cheese!”, we keep our mouths closed, barely curving up the edges.
But the Brooklyn cat with the bad pancreas lived from the center. He smiled from the first “hello,” all full of courage and cheer…
…and fangs. Matchless, magnificent fangs.
We have been graced with a periodontal pantheon of cats through the years, snaggle-toothed and merry-mouthed. But with respect to our other 4,000+ residents, no cat held a candle to Fenek’s fangs. They were comical and colossal, happy and hilarious, eccentric and ever-present.
And if you were so spectacular as to smile back, they were for you.
Fenek smiled when he met you for the first time. Fenek smiled when he met you for the seventy-seventh time. Fenek smiled, because you were his favorite.
You, who injected his insulin. You, whose eyes were sunrise. You, who transcribed his sonnets for sponsors. You, the unsuspecting refrigerator repair man. You, nervous or new or exhausted or in anguish.
You, an unrepeatable astonishment. You, a miracle in a hoodie. You, part of the open-admission Fellowship of Fenek’s Favorites. You, living proof that everything Fenek ever believed is true.
Despite his travails, Fenek took full bites of big beliefs. Neither diabetes nor heart disease could puncture his optimism. He expected adoration. He assumed each day would deliver happiness he never tasted before. He clung, fangs-first, to the faith that you just might share your tuna sandwich, or at least let him lick your bagel, or at least tell him your deepest secrets.
Which we did. We all did.
When you are in the presence of courage, you find yourself brave. When Fenek filled your arms, hugging you tighter than you could repay, you heard your song.
No matter where the day had gnawed your heart, no matter what you may have bungled, Fenek believed in you. He held you in his skinny black legs and his fangs, and you felt too loved to lose. You left the lounge tattooed with Fenek’s smile. You leapt back into the fray held by Fenek’s heart.
Fenek’s heart hobbled in 2022, when he was diagnosed with severe cardiac disease. Our valiant vet team and selfless staff kept Fenek smiling. Donors across many longitudes funded Fenek’s care. Fenek was so brave and so buoyant, we had the luxury of believing he would live forever.
Besides, Fenek’s heart, like his smile, was always expanding. We caught him grinning, knocking down walls to make room for more friends. Each one became family. Each one widened his smile. No one had to earn his love.
There are many noble goals in life. But I propose that one of the highest is Fenekification. They say that we become like the friends with whom we spend the most time, and Fenek made time for everyone. Perhaps, if we are lucky, our smiles will begin to resemble his.
We have a long way to go in becoming fully Fenekky. We calculate meticulously, scared to be the one who loves more. We worry that we will embarrass ourselves, with unanswered “I love you”s hanging in the air. We do not want to be left in front of a locked door with wilted roses in our hands. We do not want to tell someone that they are spectacular if there’s a chance they think we’re only okay.
Fenek covered that calculator in cream cheese and ate it.
Fenek was fully comfortable with being the first, last, and loudest to love.
Fenek was giving hugs and hope right up to the end.
It was two days before Thanksgiving when Fenek gently let us know. His physical heart was in a distress we could no longer ease. His boundless heart was not going anywhere. Surrounded by people who adored him, rivers of tears flooding his beautiful black fur, Fenek made his journey.
His smile will never leave us.
Always looking out for his family, Fenek made some final arrangements when we weren’t listening. He would not let us face an ending without a beginning. The night he left us, Valerie went to her forever home. (Look forward to a blog post from her adopter, our amazing staff member Rey, soon.)
They had come from the same brave, Brooklyn beginnings.
Some say that coincidences exist. Fenek just smiled. After all, you, and you, and you, and you, were living proof that his faith was well-founded. The world really does run on love. And the universe is ever expanding.
Until we meet again, beloved Fenek, I will miss you forever. I will feel you in my arms, and I will hug back across the distance. May we all be more like you. May we make you smile.
Fenek was the heart of so many lives, several of our staff and Board members were so kind as to share their reflections. Please prepare yourself with a full box of tissues. As Fenek knew, smiles and tears can be good friends.
Senior Veterinary Technician, Denise: “He was a great lunch buddy. He had a way of slowly sneaking up on your lap and placing his paws on your chest. A great stress relief in the middle of the day. He had the most pathetic yet insulting meow that he would use when you gave him insulin. You could do almost anything else but that insulin needle was too much. He always made sure all new comers knew he was the king of the lounge.”
Director of Volunteers, Karina: “When he was my office mate, he was a wonderful mix of cuddle friend and stress relief. It was difficult to get any work done with Fenek around, but he could always make you smile. I miss my friend.”
Board Chairperson, Sue: “I have many memories of Fenek. He was one of the most darling of cats. His hugs were legendary. But perhaps my favorite memory would be from Thanksgiving with the Cats. My friend Amy and her family, longtime sponsors, came to meet Fenek. Amy’s daughter was the one who chose Fenek from the list of sponsorable cats. She was mesmerized by Fenek and beaming from ear to ear getting to pet him and talk to him. John M. (Fenek’s correspondent) was there, and he talked to Amy and Sarah a bit about Fenek. It was a lovely connection. I was so happy to get to introduce Fenek to my friends and his sponsors, and now that’s my last memory of this wonderful boy.”
Development Associate, Lisa, shares a classic, comic Fenek memory: “Fenek would ‘sneak’ up on Shifty and nip at his butt if he was enjoying a lap that Fenek wanted to enjoy. He didn’t do this with all the cats, and he wasn’t really all that sneaky, but he would move super slow, as if in slow motion, and we’d all see it coming.”
Sanctuary Associate, Tiana: “When I first started at Tabby’s Place, he was one of the first I met, and of course I fell for him. At the time, I was commuting on the train and never wanted to be late, so I’d take the 4am train to be there for rounds in the morning. The first day I had morning rounds and arrived around 6, I sat in the lounge and had breakfast. Of course, Fenek crawled right up into my lap and hugged me while I ate my bagel. It became our morning ritual for my first 2 months with y’all.”
Sanctuary Associate, Tiff, will never forget “his wonderful squeak and his fangs.”
Blogger & Board Treasurer, Kitty LeFey: “All of Fenek could never be enough. That sweet, charmer was a gentleman who always greeted everyone, yet returned to the lap he had initially chosen. It was an honor to be selected to hold him during lunchtime. Not that he played favorites, but he always made me…and everyone else…feel like his favorite. And, that face! Those fangs! He was a beautiful gift. Our Fenek will be sorely missed.”
Founder & Executive Director, Jonathan: “Fenek climbing on your chest and hugging you is my fondest memory. Once he positioned himself, you needed plastic explosive to remove him. :-)”