Thursday, November 25, 2010

Farewell to a Friend

Our cat, Jack, died today.
That's the short version. I'm going to allow myself the opportunity to reminisce a bit, so feel free to follow along.

In the Spring of 1997, Chrissy got a job teaching at a fairly prestigious private school in eastern Pennsylvania. We were in need of a place to live and were fortunate to be offered the opportunity to live on the campus of this school in a little 19th century 4-room cottage and serve as night caretakers of the property. We would have to go around each night and make sure doors were locked and lights were turned off and kind of just be a physical presence on the property at night. It was pretty cool, because it was just us for about a mile in any direction. What does this have to do with a dead cat, right? We're getting there.

There was only 1 entrance/exit to the school which wound down a 1/4 mile driveway before getting to the school proper. Save this entrance, the entire property was ringed in thick woods. People would abandon pets there all the time. I guess they figured it was the humane way to get rid of an unwanted pet.....it was far enough from the road that no one would see, nor would the animal be in immediate danger of getting hit...and during the day, the place was crawling with upscale parents who might want to take in a new pet...it's twisted rationale, but it happened all the time. I had made many trips to the ASPCA to drop off a newly abandoned critter.

One day, Chrissy and I came home from work to find this small, emaciated, all-black cat sitting on the farmer's porch of our cottage. Skin and bones, this thing was. As soon as either of us got within 100 feet of it, it took off across the campus. A few days later we saw it again. Same result. Finally, one day, I decided to leave some food out for it. The closest thing to cat food that I had on hand was some cut up hot dog. We stuck it on a paper plate and put it out in the front yard, right off the porch. The cat showed up and DEVOURED the meal. Then took off. The next day, we did the same thing. Same result. Every time we served this meal to this little black cat, it would let me get closer to it. And closer....until one day, while it was eating outside my door, I was able to creep right up to it and give it a little pet on it's head. Now, growing up with a houseful of cats, if there's one thing I know, it's that cats LOVE getting their bellies scratched. I tried this with the little black cat on my porch and it just about attacked me. It hissed and booted off through the bushes. No doubt this reaction was triggered by some abuse he received before being abandoned. At any rate, sooner or later, it came back and we continued this little nightly feeding ritual. Then one night, we took it a step further.
I opened the door to our cottage and put the food inside the kitchen. The cat stepped onto the threshold of the cottage and peered around the room the way that a Marine might survey a room behind enemy lines before entering. Not sensing an immediate threat, the cat came inside to have his meal. Then he promptly took off into the night.
Cut to a few nights later...it was raining...HARD. And wind. And lightning. The window of our bedroom just so happened to look out right onto the roof over our farmer's porch. The rain was coming down in buckets and it was somewhere around 2 am or so when we first heard it.....meowing. again and again. It woke me up and as I looked out through the window I saw the silhouette of the little black cat sitting on the roof of our farmer's porch and meowing through the window, soaked to the bone, and begging to be let in from the storm. We let him in, dried him off, and fed him. He spent that night sleeping at the foot of our bed. I was in love.
In the morning, it was in no hurry to leave, and as it wove figure eights around my ankles, purring after it housed it's breakfast...I looked to Chrissy and said "I think we just got ourselves a pet". She agreed.
A trip to the vet revealed that what we had was an approximately 1 1/2 year old male cat who had already been fixed. He was in relatively good health (no doubt due to the hefty hot dog dinners he was fed), was given his shots and sent on his way to join life's journey with Chrissy and I. We named him Jack. That was thirteen years ago.
About a year later, we moved to New Jersey. Jack came with us. About 3 years after that, we moved to Massachusetts. Jack came with us. We've lived here since 2001 and Jack had taken to the role of "feline protector of the homestead" like a champ. I'll spare you the stories about him that are probably only endearing to me...but I will say this. That cat could hunt. Watching him take down a mouse or a bird was as enthralling as watching one of those super slo-mo National Geographic bits where a lion takes down a wildebeest. I remember one Summer, maybe 4 or 5 years ago, where jack took down an entire family of rabbits that holed up near one of our rock walls. Ever time he made a kill, he would leave it right in front of our back door. He'd stand over it as we showered praise on him for being a protector of his territory. See, that's what cats do...they don't kill for the fun of it...the do it to protect their territory...any other animal that came through Jack's territory was a threat to him and his home..and, although he spent most of his time as a calm, cool, loving house cat...when push came to shove, and his home was "threatened"... he took care of business. I kind of always admired that.
About 2 years ago, he started to slow down. The "treasures" left on our doorstep became fewer, and he became a bit more vulnerable...he let me rub his belly. He dealt with our small children trying to pull his tail without as much as a feeble hiss. He was winding down.
He died this afternoon...about an hour after we finished Thanksgiving dinner. I made my peace with him this morning...I kind of knew that today was the day. I scratched him under his chin...in that "sweet spot" that he always LOVED to get pet...and he mustered up enough energy for a few quiet "purrs". He died a few hours later, at home, and in no pain. Part of me feels silly caring this much for a small animal when we live in a world where human beings are neglected and mistreated every day...but another part of me feels that if the hearts of people cared for the small things in life...then we'd have a much easier time having regard for the big things.
We'll miss you, Jackie-boy. You were a great addition to our family. Thank you.

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