The Tiki Chronicles
Part II: Tiki goes to College

This is the second chapter in a three part series about Tiki, an older cat with a myriad of health problems (including FIV, a feline version of HIV that is non-transmissible to humans). Despite his various handicaps Tiki is still alive to this day and continues to lead an extraordinary life.

Dartmouth College; home of brilliant academics, cutting edge arctic science research, an excellent hockey team, Animal House…and in March of 2010 my little tabby cat Tiki.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not a rule breaker. And in the rare event that I do break a rule or two, I am usually very bad at it. If an authority figure even looks at me twice I will rush to tell them what I did wrong. However for Tiki’s sake I was willing to take a walk on the wild side.

Rumor has it at Dartmouth that if you are caught with a pet in your room the school will suspend you. While the custodial staff does not clean individual rooms, campus security has the right to go anywhere they please at any time. Furthermore the walls in the dorms are so thin that each room is like a reverberation chamber, meaning that anyone walking down the hallway could easily hear a cat meow. Tiki has a particular penchant for vocalizing every emotion (hunger is a loud, demanding screech; happiness is a rumbling purr; welcome home is a series of short meows) so I was understandably concerned that we’d get caught.

During my senior spring my dorm room was a generously sized single on the fourth floor of the oldest building on campus. I set the whole room up as a perfect home for Tiki. He had a chair under the window to lie on, his litter box was under my desk for privacy, and I set up his food and water bowls next to my bed so I could always see if they needed refilling. The only problem with the room was that it was right next to the bathroom, so every morning around 7:00AM the custodian would spend a fair amount of time on the other side of my wall. That would have been all well and good if 7:00AM was a time when Tiki slept. Quite to the contrary 7:00AM was just when Tiki would rise and stretch and let out an earth-shaking screech to announce that his breakfast needed to be served.

The first few months that Tiki lived in my dorm were heavenly. I would feed him in the morning and pray that the custodian was hard of hearing. Then I’d be off to class, pick up lunch and come back to feed him again. When I went out in the evenings I would always use Tiki as an excuse to cut out early, figuring that snuggling with my elderly orange cat trumped playing pong into the wee hours. My friends initially rolled their eyes at me for being so animal crazy but they all ended up falling in love with the little guy. At the beginning of the term I would rush home to feed him and then have to go back out to see friends. Within a few weeks I had girlfriends who specifically asked to come see him, and one who would bring over turkey from the dining halls that she had bought just for Tiki. I have never seen Tiki happier than when he was at college. He got to be around people every few hours, and in between he napped on his chair in the sun. I did all of my homework in my room while he sat right next to me. Every Monday night I would pull an all-nighter to finish the chapters of my thesis that were due on Tuesday, and Tiki would curl up on my desk right next to the computer charger that became his personal heater. There he would stay, snoring blissfully as I typed.

We made it all the way from mid-March to mid-May before we hit our first speed bump. By this point the custodian had established that he knew Tiki was in my room (he and everyone else on the floor) but promised he would not report me. I guess the daily smile and “how are you” that I sent his way were so out of the ordinary for Dartmouth students that he decided to cut me some slack. Unfortunately, as the vet in Florida had warned me, the tumors in Tiki’s ears caused recurrent infections that could make him really uncomfortable. I had purchased an ointment specifically to manage those infections, but in the beginning of May Tiki’s ear began to bother him and nothing I did seemed to help. I tried the ointment for a few days but one night he kept us both awake scratching and shaking his head so I knew that he had to go back to the vet.

Getting Tiki out of the dorm, past the security guards that drive up and down behind the buildings as well as the other custodians who were not going to be as forgiving as our friend on the fourth floor, was going to be a production. Getting him inside the building had been a two-person job involving sneaking his carrier into the building in the middle of the night through the one entrance without a security camera. But I couldn’t bring him out in the middle of the night, so I decided to just cover the case with a towel, park my car right next to the building at the risk of getting towed, and make a run for it. The stars must have been aligned that day because I managed to get down the stairs without passing any custodians, get out the door at a time when the security guard was behind some other building, and safely take Tiki to the vet. The vet put him on some special eardrops with the promise that he’d be better in a few days. Afterwards I waited with Tiki in the car until dusk and then managed to get him back into the dorm room with the help of a few friends.

My last month of college went by in a bit of a blur, all of which Tiki spent by my side. He sat with me in one place for two days straight as I finished my thesis (thankfully I stocked up on enough food for those 48 hours). He watched from the bed as I got dressed for my last ever college formal. And on graduation day he dozed and gazed at the rain out our bedroom window.

The end of college is a phenomenally bittersweet experience. It is in turns surreal, unreal, stupendous, disappointing, sentimental, and hopeful. I came back to my room after getting my diploma to finish packing, feeling extraordinarily sad to be leaving but excited about moving forward. I closed up the last few suitcases, carried my box of textbooks downstairs, and managed to squish my pillow into the last inch of room in my back seat. And then I went upstairs to put Tiki in his crate. The same crate had brought him 30 hours from central Florida to central New Hampshire. Now it would bring him somewhere new. He looked at me and let out a screeching meow, clearly saying: “I don’t think so.” I scooped him up and gave him a hug. “Well at least we aren’t in danger of getting suspended anymore,” I said and put him in his crate, ready to start our next adventure.