Yesterday my dear friend Jim had to put down his marvelous cat Skeeky. She was a grand dame who lived to the ripe old age of sixteen, a respectable lifespan for a well-loved feline. Skeeky’s lust for life and her ability to continue to survive quite happily in her later years, despite her reoccurring bouts with the cancer, was actually a bit inspirational. She always had a healthy appetite. In fact, she got very fat. Jim used to say, “She’s just a big-boned girl.” She had gorgeous calico coloring and enormous green eyes.
When I called Jim to give him my sympathy, my Ella was sitting in my lap. I felt guilty stroking her furry ears while talking to my friend who was saying good-bye to his beloved pet. I have had about a dozen cats during the forty years since I got my first kittens as an undergraduate in college. And for ten years I provided a home for the smartest damn Australian Shepherd you’d ever meet. It still astonishes me how much an animal can become an integral part of one’s life. If you never had a pet or if you don’t care much for animals, you no doubt have a hard time comprehending the attachment some of us humans have for our furry friends. There is no human-to-human relationship that matches the relationship of a person and a pet.
My cats, Ella and Golda, give me a category of delight in a class unto itself. My seven-year-old Ella is a black cat with green eyes and a goofy walk with her turned-out hind legs. Of all the cats I have ever owned, Ella is the smartest and she has the most character. Her face is remarkably expressive. This cat figured out how to open the screen door to the deck and she lets herself out when she pleases during the summer. She knows how the door handles work on the other doors in the house, but she’s not strong enough to open them. This does not prevent her from jumping up and batting at the door handles, an activity that gives me a good laugh except in the middle of the night. She only does this during the night when we have houseguests and she wants to get into their rooms to sleep with them. Therefore, poor Ella is banished to my study for the night whenever we have company.
I can’t help myself, I’m going to tell an Ella story. The other day I cleaned out the cats’ litter box only to discover that I had no more litter in the garage. Yikes! It was a cold rainy day so they had not been outside much, and in any case, Ella has a habit of using the litter box for serious business right after she eats her dinner. So I had already put their food in front of the sisters, emptied the box, and then discovered I had no clean litter. After eating, Ella strolled into the bathroom, looked at the empty litter box, and looked up at me in panic with those huge green eyes. “Mom, what were you thinking? What did you do to me?” she seemed to say. I told her to hang on and I raced out to the store. (My husband and children tease me mercilessly for talking to my cats.) When I returned, forty minutes later, she was standing in the utility sink in the laundry room right by the door to the garage waiting for me. I proceeded straight to the bathroom and dumped the fresh litter in the box. Ella immediately ran into the box and did her do. That cat is so well-behaved. She didn’t go elsewhere, but waited for me to come home with her litter. She trusted me to provide. Biggest smarty-pants there is! I could tell so many more Ella stories. She keeps me entertained and she’s such a cuddly sweetheart. Her sister Golda is a dumb-dumb who wants to spend her entire day shedding massive amounts of orange hair in my lap. Needless to say, her favorite time of year is football season, when she settles on top of me on the couch for hours. Now if I could only hear the football announcers over her loud purring.
I reckon my cats are of little interest to anyone else. So thanks for reading if you’ve gotten this far. As you can see, their personalities and behaviors keep me amused and delighted. I’m not sure I could call a place home without a cat in it. It is such a sad twist of nature that humans live so much longer than cats and dogs. When they go, they leave such an empty place in our lives. My heart is with Jim today, and the cold spot on his bed where Skeeky once curled up. He took terrific care of her, and there is nothing to warm the heart like a well-cared-for pet. My dad used to have a bumper sticker that said, “Oh Lord, help me be the man my dog thinks I am.” If I could be half the person my cats think I am, I would be satisfied with my life.
Here is Jim with Skeeky. Such love.