Posted by: JDM..... | March 24, 2013

Friends….

one thousand make a lot of noise………..

but one can quietly change a universe………..

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I’m a cat person. I have been for as long as I can remember. As a toddler, I gave life to a bit of unending family lore and amusement when I announced that I would open a cat house when I grew up.

Well, that never came to pass, but in the years since, there have been but a few short stretches when I haven’t shared my space with at least one feline. One particularly memorable period when that space was at a premium was forty years ago when we moved on short notice across seven hundred miles and several states to a new city without yet having arranged for a place to live when we got there. We made the journey nevertheless, with that sense of blind optimism typical of people in their twenties, and our little caravan was made up of a rented U-Haul stuffed with our worldly possessions, the family Ford Pinto, a toddler, and two very pregnant female cats.

By the time we arrived at our destination and set up temporary housekeeping in an economy style motel room to serve as a home until we could secure more permanent digs, we had two no-longer-pregnant female cats and nine or ten kittens. I forget the exact count, but I recall that it felt very much like one of those sentinel moments when one falls into a bucket of roses and comes up smelling like shit. One room, with an air conditioner that had seen better days, three people, and a dozen cats, in June, in Miami…..fortunately it was soon resolved, although we did have to lie a tad on the lease agreement, you know, the part about “do you have any pets?

Today, we have two male Maine Coon cats, litter mates, adopted nearly five years ago and just one day after our seventeen and a half year old tabby, Scud, had come to the end of his journey. Two years before then, his housemate, and the focus of this story, a mixed breed black and white fellow named jada, with whom I seemed to have had an unusual bond, had used up all of his own alleged nine lives, and then some. Fifteen and seventeen plus years were remarkable scores for outdoor cats, but we were grateful for the bonus time.

Jada was a gift to me from my wife. When I opened the big mystery box on the dining room table that day, I was greeted by saucer-eyed ball of fluff and attitude that soon became my shadow for the next fifteen years. He was the subject of a series of stories I wrote for what served as my first “blog” before the term was an established part of the popular lexicon. I have often thought of resurrecting some of those yarns, and in fact have some of them parked on another blog that I haven’t touched for several years. Those will have to wait for another time, though.

Our traditional daybreak coffee & chat time this morning covered the usual disembowelment of the local newspaper, tsk tsk assessments of the world today, and laughter, but settled into a period of quiet contemplation when something triggered mention of a remarkable occurrence during Jada’s final days.

To preface the telling, Jada was many things. He was affectionate, being one of those cats that would tolerate the ungentle affections of a child or become as silly putty on someone’s lap when he was indoors and when he was in the mood. Other times, he was a roving adventurer and yard clown. Every day without fail, rain or shine or the deepest snow, he went to the kitchen door, or to the slider in the living room that opened onto our deck, and then disappeared for the better part of the day. He could be aloof, and was. That is the way of cats.

He could be annoying, as well, and was, on occasion. Once, during his youth and one of the regularly scheduled midnight feline NASCAR events we had become accustomed to, he and his house-pal “Scud” chased each other up the stacked stereo speakers in the living room, bringing them down with a crash and launching me out of bed in full fight or flight mode.

Without fail, he would sit in my lap each day while I wrote or played on the computer. When I would walk down by the river to sit, he would follow me, and park by my chair. He seemed to fully enjoy being with us.

The other part of him was a loner, a street fighter, and a hunter, a not too surprising expression of his genetic memories. His outdoor shenanigans led to more trips to the veterinarian just up the road than I can count, where he would be stitched back together and medicated. One time, he did battle with a motor vehicle instead of some four legged challenger to his staked out territory, and he lost. He survived the encounter, however, and thunked around the house in a day-glo green leg cast for several weeks, subsequently retiring from his hobby of moseying along the yellow line in the middle of the highway beyond the front yard.

I chuckle when I recall one visit to the vet necessitated by a rather nasty open wound in his hind quarter where some foe had gotten the best of him. The vet noted the site of the wound and the fact that it was on his butt end instead of his face. “Well, that’s new,” he remarked with a grin. “At least he’s heading in the right direction now!”

We lived by the riverside, so his territory provided some interesting opportunities for adventure that the ordinary house cat might not have a chance to enjoy. There was a small patch of woods beyond the house next door, and upstream there was an old house with an open barn that Jada never tired of. I suspect it may have been where local cats and uninvited guests went to settle their difference, or to just do battle for the hell of it.

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He would flatten himself into the grass in the middle of the back yard, taunting the swallows that nested on either side where they could easily access the endless food fest of river-born insects. Patiently, he would lay stone-still as the birds swooped lower and closer, until he would suddenly spring straight up in the air, with surprising agility for a rather large cat, and score his kill for that day. He always thought of us, too, and with great regularity deposited some tiny corpse, or a piece thereof, on the doorstep for our approval. In addition to the usual variety of rodents and birds, he would occasionally bring home a frog as well.

As mentioned earlier, other than his housemate Scud, Jada was not particularly tolerant of other cats in the area. It was amazing that he had survived fifteen years of what apparently was a rather cantankerous social life, not to mention the periodic jousting with traffic in the road out front, only to be ingloriously felled by a physical ailment. After a couple of years of pharmaceutical maintenance, he began to fail. It was sad to see such a vigorous friend slow to a near stand-still.

It was early Spring, and one thing he seemed to enjoy was stretching out on the deck on a sunny day, and he spent many of his daytime hours there.

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One day, I looked through the slider to the deck where Jada liked to sleep, and was stunned to see another cat, lying quietly next to him in the sun. I had never seen the cat before, and had never seen any evidence that Jada even had neighborhood “friends”. My wife and I were both amazed and puzzled by this sudden revelation. He appeared quite content to share his deck and sunshine with another cat, though.

The mysterious cat began to appear regularly, whenever it was sunny and my ailing companion went out on the deck to enjoy the sun and the view of the riverfront that had been his domain for fifteen years. They would lay two or three feet apart, quietly, and any communication or interaction that might have taken place was invisible to the human eye. But the stranger was there for him nearly every day.

By the end of May, it became increasingly clear that it was time to take my feline friend up the road to the veterinarian’s clinic one last time, and to say goodbye. It was one of the hardest things I had ever had to do, but he was suffering.

It was a crazy time in our lives, too, with many unconnected things going on. In a rapid fire sequence of events, within the span of four or five weeks, I unexpectedly spent eleven days in the hospital; we sold our camp lot upcountry, with me signing the papers from my hospital bed; we lost Jada; we put the house on the market, selling it the same day the sign went up; and we moved to the village where we now reside.

And yet, with all of that, the thing most vivid in my mind seven years later is having witnessed that act of feline hospice, as the strange cat regularly came to our deck and kept our old friend Jada company during his final days.

 

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Responses

  1. Thanks, Jeff! I am also a cat person and I think I have you to thank in part for that because many of the cats I grew up with were descended from one of yours who came to live with us, yes? To my knowledge I have never been without at least one feline friend, except my freshman year at college but that was only because I lived in a dorm with a roommate who was a dog person and was not the type to tolerate a secret third roommate. Anyone who has a copy of Tom and my wedding invitation (circa 2003) can see proof that my furrbies are always “in the picture”… the artist was kind enough to humor me in that regard. Cat tales are good medicine so please continue to share yours!

  2. Thank you so much, Sharon. Your comments meant a lot. I’ll have to make a point of including some cat tales now and then…….. I’ve got more than a few, and our two current fur factories supply fodder for new ones now and then….

  3. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. How heartwarming to know that another cat would come to comfort Jada in his last days. Animals have more compassion than most of their human counterparts. Having lost eight of our outdoor clutter of nine in the past 7 years (the two oldest, 16 and 12, just this past year), I know how heartbreaking it is to lose our four-footed friends of feline persuasion.

    We still have one female and our recent addition, a strictly indoor male. Our female, the last of the outdoor clutter, is in poor health now and, to her great disliking, makes frequent visits to the vet and knows that each visit means more of the much detested medication. On bad weather days she retires to her insulated, Sherpa blanketed, heated “cat house”. (Our cats aren’t spoiled or anything.) On good days she lays in the sun on the porch. If she is feeling particularly energetic she is still capable of catching a bird or pouncing on a mole or field mouse. She is fond of leaving us the heads of her latest catch on the door step.

    When her ninth life has come to its end she’ll be laid to rest out back with all her friends and those who came before them. We have 37 years of pets buried out back. Currently, to the best of recollection, some 21 cats, 2 dogs, 3 birds, 2 hamsters and an iguana, buried in our little pet elementary out there. In the far off future if archaeological teams dig this piece of property they may determine we were psychopaths, hoarders or worshipers. The latter would be closer to the truth.

  4. Love this…


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