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Commentary: There is more to life than just sports

Our 18½-year-old cat Festus took his final breath last Monday at Cumberland Animal Hospital in Lebanon.
He was the first and only pet my wife Sharon and I ever had. It didn’t take him long to become our best friend, our comforter, a constant companion.
We were given Festus by a real estate agent that assured Sharon he would keep mice from coming inside a house we bought that had woods on three sides of the acre lot.
Sharon never had a pet in her family. I grew up with dogs, Collies that liked to chase cars and often finished second to college kids who raced down the one-way street near a university.
I loved dogs. I wanted nothing to do with cats. I didn’t trust them. I thought they were sneaky and would jump on you just see how fast you could move.
Festus changed all that. He already had his name when we got him. It was easy to explain. His father was Marshall Dillon. His mother was Miss Kitty. Clever for those of you who remember the western TV program Gunsmoke.
Festus was a hunter. He stayed outside on a high deck outside our kitchen in Franklin. He slept in an Igloo, and when winter moved in we put Festus in our basement where he was shielded from the cold.
He was one handsome cat. I have learned since we had him put to sleep that he was a flame point Siamese, or a similar breed.
He was white as snow, with short hair that shed all year long and kept Sharon’s collection of vacuum cleaners running daylight to dark.
His tail was orange and white-striped and his ears were orange. His blue eyes were a little crossed, but adorable.
It didn’t take him long to steal our hearts. He showed his love by depositing his hunting bounty on our front porch. I can still hear Sharon calling for me. “Joe, Festus has killed a mouse!!! Come get it!!!
She refused to let him in the house, as she is the most meticulous housekeeper I have ever known, much less seen. Cats are usually bad matches for that.
Once she changed her mind, Festus ruled the roost. He would go to the front door and meow when he had to go to the bathroom. I can’t remember any accidents. Sharon gave him spring water to drink, fed him the best foods. Britain’s royal family never had it that good.
Stupidly, we gave him away to a couple that bought our house. It was a Christmas week and starting to snow when we went over there to see him. They had gone out of town, leaving the love of our life out in the Igloo.
He was happy to see us. When he started licking my face, it was all over. I dried my tears and promised we would return and bring him home. He never left after that.
The years went by and Festus dodged dogs, cats and coyotes in our neighborhood. He worked his way into sleeping with us at night and I knew he would be there to the end.
One day we woke up and he was frozen in place, the result of a stroke. He stayed at Franklin’s Battleground Hospital for Animals for two weeks without moving. The doctors gave him steroids to no avail. We were praying as hard as we ever prayed that God would not let Festus die. We were one or two days from pulling the plug on him when we visited him one morning and received a miracle. Festus was his old self, like nothing happened.
In recent years, he became deaf and couldn’t see too well. Two Sundays ago, Festus was stumbling into things and falling. He couldn’t see. He had previously been diagnosed with stage-four kidney failure. 
It was the most difficult decision I have ever made in my life. I had to let Festus go. I can’t describe the pain we feel. Tears are falling as I write this.
He will be in our hearts and minds until we leave this earth. But what a blessing he was and always will be.  
Sport Columnist Joe Biddle is a four-time sports writer of the year in Tennessee and a 2013 inductee to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. He can be reached at

Posted on: 12/14/2013


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