I lost my cat on the tenth of December. He was only with us for seven years, but he was a very special friend to me. I used to say to people that he was able to understand English. I illustrated this by an example of when he was an outdoor cat and had slipped into the house through an open door and ran down to the basement where we were working. I scooped him up and slung him over my arm the way I would carry a baby boy with his chest in my right hand and his body stretched over my forearm. He reached around to hold onto my arm as cats will and I felt the tips of his claws against my skin. Without looking down or breaking stride in our progress to the back door I said quietly and calmly, “If you put your claws into me it will be the worst experience of your life.” I felt his paws relax and he did not then or ever after intentionally break my skin with his claws. Over time I relented of his assignment to the outdoors. He became a part time house cat and particularly mine. I never had his claws taken away as we had done to the other two cats of the household and I simply endured the furniture damage that naturally ensued. It was a good trade. He treated me with great respect and affection, maybe more than cats are normally inclined to know.
The cats are not allowed upon the furniture or into certain rooms of the house. When I walk into a room I can often catch a glimpse of one or both of the other cats frantically scrambling to reach the floor and pretend nonchalance. I do not deceive myself that Tiger would not climb upon the furniture, only that he would not be careless enough to allow me the sight of the affront.
He would oftentimes sit next to my chair as we ate although I almost never fed him from the table. When he seemed to feel I was not properly aware of his presence he would stand and place one foreleg on the arm of my chair with his paw extended and claws showing as if he were stretching. I would quietly say two words, “Get down,” and he would return to his sitting position on the floor.
Tiger was a true predator and thoroughly enjoyed his time in the outside world, but after a bout with antifreeze poisoning and after he was diagnosed with feline leukemia we would no longer allow him the freedom to roam. For a time he would seek opportunities to bolt when the door was opened, but eventually he resigned himself to sitting longingly staring out the window, now and again uttering that unearthly feline howl at intruders into his displaced domain.
Tiger was always at the bedroom door to greet us in the morning when we stepped into the hallway. Sometimes in the evening if he didn’t agree that it was time for us to retire he would push his orange paw under the door and feel around as if trying to grasp something to pull back out.
Tiger had a rudimentary understanding of doors. All cats will learn to pull unlatched doors open and push them shut, but Tiger had an understanding of what doorknobs will do. Sometimes he would stand up and place his front paws on either side of the knob and then move them repeatedly in opposed directions as if somehow he could grip the brass and cause the knob to turn. I would joke with people that he was too stupid to realize that the deadbolt had been set.
Sometimes when I worked in my office, down the upstairs hall from my bedroom and from his bed, he would lie at the open door just into the hallway. From there he would watch to see if I would acknowledge his presence. If I did not grant him the attention he sought, he would ease ever closer to the doorway until ultimately he would lie with his left forepaw just over the threshold. When I spoke to him he would obediently move back into the hallway and the routine would begin again.
As this past Thanksgiving approached Tiger began to show increasing signs of weakening. He tended to be less active, his always shiny coat began to look bedraggled, and he was noticeably losing weight. We were not surprised as the vet had told us that one day the disease would begin to take its toll.
Near the end he would remain on the main level of the house declining to climb the stairs to his bed.
Most of his time he spent lying on a heating vent, and a few times he hid under the couch, which, although a normal practice for the other two cats, was uncharacteristic of his behavior.
Lori took him to visit the doctor and she confirmed our suspicions. She rehydrated him and offered us the option of having him “put to sleep”. We declined as he really did not seem to be suffering to an extraordinary extent and we determined that we could continue to care for his needs. Lori placed a towel for him to lie on near his favorite heating vent and we positioned food and water where he could reach it if he wished.
Saturday afternoon I came home to find him in the upstairs hallway. I was surprised that he had made the effort to climb the stairs. We moved his towel up there to accommodate him and he spent the afternoon in that hallway moving about very little.
I came out of my office at one point and as I passed him I bent down to rub his head. He struggled to his feet, something he had not done much of in the recent past, and leaned against my leg pulling himself past my ankle to securely deposit the scent of his ownership upon my clothing. Having brushed my leg he collapsed rather roughly against the bathroom door and rolled onto his side. I reached down and rubbed his belly and told him, “Tiger, you don’t have to do that. Everyone knows that I belong to you.”
He started to cry and I thought initially that my rubbing had hurt him. He continued to cry rhythmically and Lori came upstairs, picked him up and held him for a moment before placing him on his towel down the hall. As she laid him down he rolled his head back, ceased crying, and he was gone.
We built for him a coffin of oak and placed his body in the ground beneath Lori’s willow tree in the back yard. We did our best to say good-bye to the little beast that had been so much a part of our lives for seven years.
It’s been over a month now and I still think of him often. Sometimes when I come home I will see another cat silhouetted in the window and have to remind myself that Tiger will not be at the door to greet me. Sometimes I open the bedroom door in the morning and am surprised to not see him turn and bound down the stairs. Now and then at night I turn on my pillow away from my wife and I cry quietly so that no one else can hear.
I am thankful for the time that I knew my little friend. I am grateful for the memories, the pictures in my mind. I will always remember him with fond thoughts, and I don’t believe I will ever give away the small piece of my heart that belonged so much to him.