Not only do pets tear at our heartstrings they also rip apart our souls.

One tiny little kitten entered my life 16 years ago along with his four littermates. From the start he was a "Tough Guy," a leader of the pack. Though I had no plans to add them to my household they did join it. They all became critically ill when they were 6 weeks of age and after their first vet visit that Tough Guy reached his paw through the bars of his carrier to take ahold of my finger and my heart.

At 6 months of age Mewdy Blue entered his first cat show in Cedar Rapids. Though he didn’t bring home any awards that first time, he did collect a fan base, his first. During his first Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) cat show in Omaha he captured the Best Household Pet ribbon in five out of six rings (he took second in the last ring). He had a successful show career for several years. In the American Cat Fanciers’ Association he even earned the title of Royal Household Pet.

He joined the ranks of veterinary students during those years visiting various facilities and entertaining the residents. He stopped at a local adult daycare center, youth shelter and several long-term care units. Eventually we broke off on our own and dedicated our visits to the Story County Hospital Long-Term Care Center. Residents looked forward to our visits but the men especially seemed to enjoy Mewdy Blue’s tough guy act as he cruised the halls on his leash.

When he decided he was too good for all of those other cats in the show rings he took over the cat agility ring. We made a promotional appearance at a Runnells dog park and after watching the dogs run agility all afternoon we tried Mewdy Blue. He was a natural. After that we put on demonstrations all over the area for veterinary students, long-term care residents, and even at VEISHEA.

Then CFA started testing the waters with competitions at cat shows so of course we had to give it a try. He has so much fun that I decided to become a Certified Ringmaster (an agility official) so we could travel to more competitions. He became a celebrity in the Twin Cities when the local TV station came to cover the show and spent most of their airtime filming Mewdy Blue demonstrating agility. By the end of that weekend he was exhausted after filling in between competing cats to give demonstrations over and over. During the 2006/07 show season Mewdy Blue became the CFA Midwest Region’s first ever Top Agility Cat. Since then the sport has been dominated by pedigreed cats.

His life was not without its challenges. When he was a youngster he was an accomplished escape artist running out the front door at every opportunity right to the street. To counter this habit I taught him to walk on a leash; actually I simply put a harness on him and set him down and we started walking. I didn’t have to teach him. He did learn, though, that the only way he could get outside was if I carried him out. So we went for regular walks around the neighborhood turning more than a few heads. But Mewdy Blue always started panting about halfway through our walks. While dogs pant all the time, a cat panting usually indicates problems.

Also when he was still young he passed out during a cat show in Farminton, Minn. Dr. Wendy Ware, veterinary cardiologist at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine diagnosed hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, something I feared was a death sentence. We immediately began treating him medically, and he never had another problem with his heart. His treatments consisted of a single pill once a day. To convince him it wasn’t such a bad thing I rewarded him with a touch of baby food immediately after his pill. He soon learned that the shaking of his pill bottle meant baby food was imminent.

Then he developed food sensitivity and had to go on a prescription diet with a novel protein source (duck, a meat he’d never eaten before). Things went well until recently when he decided he didn’t like that food anymore. We tried all sorts of foods that he ate for awhile then turned up his nose at. Eventually, he decided that his original diet was pretty good again. Since he couldn’t eat treats or baby food anymore, I started buying duck and cooking it for him. He wasn’t spoiled at all.

Then his liver started to fail. Again he handled things like a tough guy accepting new pills and periodic injections of fluids and all was well. But this past winter he used up another of his nine lives when he stopped eating altogether. With a ton of TLC and good veterinary care he pulled through, but last week the challenges returned. This time he couldn’t be tough enough. Mewdy Blue spent his last day in the back yard sniffing the cool breeze that Nature granted us for one day.

Though his physical body is gone he lives on in my heart and, thanks to the internet, he lives in the memories of people all over the world. Even so, life will never be the same without my little Tough Guy.

(Andrea Dorn is a former regular pet columnist for the Nevada Journal. She and her cat Mewdy Blue have been featured several times over the years for their accomplishments. Andrea lives in Nevada and is a member of the Journal’s Reader Advisory Board.)