Theodora, the Cat with One White Whisker

Theo 2014
Theo, December 2014

My little cat Theodora – Theo for short – was put to sleep on Sunday.

Anyone who has ever had to say goodbye to a beloved pet knows how I am feeling right now. Pretty low. A wise friend, knowing that Theo’s days were numbered, told me last week, “We don’t own pets. They own us, and they own our hearts.” That has brought me comfort in the last few days, as Charlie and I adjust to life without Theo.

Theo has been part of our lives since the day in May 1998 we found her behind a cyclone fence at an abandoned electric station a few blocks from our home. She was so small we thought she was a kitten. She was cold, dirty, and hungry. Miraculously, she was also purring, riding high on my shoulder as I carried her home. She was coal black, with yellow eyes. She had no tail, just a little stub at the end of her rump.

With two cats at home, we weren’t looking for another cat. But that’s how it goes. We weren’t sure how Elfie and Isabelle would react. Elfie took to Theo right away; Belle simply ignored her.

We took the little black cat to our vet the next day for a checkup. He estimated she was about eight months old and thought she might be a Manx, as she had other characteristics of the breed besides the lack of a tail.

In keeping with our custom of naming our cats after royalty, we named this one Theodora after Empress Theodora, wife of Justinian, who ruled the Byzantine Empire from 527 to 565 AD. (One learns a bit of history being married to a history professor.)

Like her namesake, Theodora was imperious. She regularly demanded – and received — attention. She loved keeping company with Charlie in the study, curled up in the upholstered chair a few feet from his computer. She loved hanging out with me in my sewing room, often usurping my chair when I got up to use the iron:

2013-9, Theo 1
Theodora Stakes Her Claim


One of my favorite photos of Theo is this one, peering at me through my sewing machine, willing me to stop sewing and pay attention to her:

2013-12, Theo on my sewing table


In her later years, she liked to crawl under the covers at night and snuggle with us, and she would purr for the longest time before finally drifting off to sleep. The last couple of years she launched a nightly yowling campaign to coax us to bed, usually way before bedtime.

Theo’s coat remained a glossy black as she got older, although late in her life there were a few white hairs among all the black ones. And there was that one white whisker. One time it fell out, and the new whisker that grew in was also white:

Theodora, May 2012
Theo, the Cat with One White Whisker


As the years passed, we continued to refer to Theo as “the kitten” because she was so petite. At her peak she weighed 7½ pounds. At the end she was a little over 4 pounds. Despite a voracious appetite, she had been steadily losing weight over the last couple of years. She was being treated for thyroid disease and incipient kidney failure. By now she was also completely deaf.

A few weeks ago problems associated with kidney disease began to surface. We could tell she was in some distress. After multiple trips to the vet, we had to face the fact that, while we might try different treatments that would prolong Theo’s life, she was never going to get better. We didn’t want to wait until she was suffering greatly to make the decision about euthanasia.

My twin sister Diane (whose cat Alex lived to be 23) told me the other day, “In my next life I want to come back as a cat and live at the Portland White House.” I know Theo had a good life, and I am glad Charlie and I were able to provide that for her. But it doesn’t lessen the profound sadness we feel at her absence.

Even now, I expect to see her demanding to be fed or given treats every time I walk into the kitchen. I catch myself looking for her in her favored napping spots: the chair in the study, the top of the clothes dryer, the rug on the heated bathroom floor, the mantel in the living room when the sun was just right, and yes, the chair in my sewing room.

When I was in Paris a year ago at this time, I bought a souvenir mug that featured a chat noir (black cat en francais), partly because the cat reminded me of Theo (minus the tail). Theo wasn’t terribly photogenic. Even though she was a happy cat, in photos she always looked like she was scowling. Take a look at the cat on the mug. Doesn’t it look a lot like Theodora?

2 paris mug
Theo’s Double


She was with us for exactly 18 years. RIP, kitten.




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27 Responses to Theodora, the Cat with One White Whisker

  1. Cathy says:

    Dearest Dawn! My heart goes out to you and I know your pain too well. Theo was a beautiful “kitten”. The pictures you have are so cute and I know will bring you comfort. Know that we are thinking of you. RIP Theo.

  2. Colleen says:

    I’m so sorry Dawn. Theo has been such a faithful companion to you and Charlie. And what a character! She is definitely a queen among kitties. I’ll be thinking about you. Big hugs!!

  3. ric seaberg says:

    Sorry Dawn and Charlie. Really did enjoy this lovely piece about your kitty Dawn.

  4. Cindy says:

    I am so very sorry for your loss. I read something recently on facebook that was so true. The words were:
    A friend asked me what is the hardest thing about having a cat?
    My answer? Saying goodbye.
    Your kitty had a wonderful life and you both loved each other. Bless you for bringing her home that day. RIP, Theodora.

  5. Claudia McCarter says:

    My heart goes out to you Dawn. I have been there. So many wonderful memories. But the missing of your sweet kitty will turn from pain to sweetness in time.

  6. Jean Kelly says:

    Dear Dawn,
    I’m so sorry for your loss. May your fond memories provide you and Charlie with some comfort. Jean

  7. Virginia Hammon says:

    What a lovely, loving tribute to a life companion. The fond memories shine through.

  8. Auntie Em says:

    So very sorry to hear about Theo. Sounds like it was a lucky day for both of you when you found her.

  9. Bill Volckening says:

    Rest in Peace, Theo! Lulu and I send our kitten condolences.

  10. Vickie says:

    Dear friend,
    I know this was not an easy post to write and I am sure it was raining inside the Portland White House during its creation. I am sure this will be read often and bring your great memories to the forefront.

  11. Reigh Hays says:

    What a lovely story about little Theo! She lived out her nine lives in the lap of luxury for sure. I recall her as an adventurer and a bit of a daredevil. You will miss her, but rest assured that you gave her the best life a cat could wish for.

  12. Lisa D'Andrea says:

    Very sorry about Theo, she will be missed. What character and beautiful features she had. I’m glad she reigned over your lives.

  13. Kristi says:

    Dawn, I’m so sorry for your loss. Losing a beloved furry member of the family is always difficult. You and Charlie gave her a wonderful life and I hope that thought brings you comfort.

  14. Lisa Phillips says:

    It’s never easy sweet friend when your heart is smitten by a furry friend.
    Beautiful story…thank you for sharing

  15. Jeanne says:

    We’ll miss Theo.

  16. Bethany says:

    So sorry to hear!! It’s not easy losing a furry friend, especially one so special as the lovely Theodora. I always loved the single white whisker! She’ll always have a special place in my heart.

  17. Sandy says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about Theodora’s passing. I know you’re going to miss her. I’m sending hugs for you!

  18. Char q says:

    I’m so sorry. Remember when Anna and I and my daughter Ana were at your house? Ana spent the whole visit petting Theo.

  19. AnnMarie says:

    Oh, Dawn, I’m so sorry.

  20. Such sad news, Dawn. I’m so sorry. She was a very blessed kitten to have found such a wonderful home with you and Charlie.

  21. Diane says:

    Our Theo – never to be forgotten!

  22. Jennifer B says:

    Dawn, I’m so sorry to hear about your sweet Theo kitty. It sounds like she had such a great, loving life with you!!

  23. Glenda DeMoss says:

    Dawn, I know how you feel and am so sorry you had to put Theo to sleep. They really are our family and the loss is heartfelt. Thank you for sharing her life with us. Hugs, Glenda

  24. Heide says:

    What a beautiful tribute to a sweet little furry friend…RIP Sweet Theo. So sorry for your loss.

  25. Cindy Esposito says:

    Im adopting a calico shelter kitten today and naming her Theodora. Thanks for the article and background info on her name.

  26. Randi says:

    Thank you for sharing. My beloved black cat Nikki passed last week, I also had her for 18years. She as well had one white whisker that fell out right before she passed and I unfortunately didn’t save it. It has been hard to come to terms with the loss. Did you save whiskers from your sweet cat Theodora?

    • Dawn says:

      I am so sorry for the loss of your Nikki, Randi. Saying goodbye to our pets is so so hard. I didn’t think to save Theodora’s one white whisker. Now I’m really glad I have that photo of her!

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