The tortoiseshell cat wasn’t out on its deck watching the sunset yesterday. A few doors away, the fluffy grey, which is sometimes lying on an outside window ledge, wasn’t there either. Nor was the proud black and white king of the front steps in evidence …
Driving past, we were disappointed. We had gone down that street just to look for them.
Well, it was a wet day. And very cold. Surely any cat with dignity would have been indoors, claiming the warmest spot on the rug near the heater?
That is what our cat, Kritter, would have done. She would have wheedled her way past the rain-spattered screen door and installed herself, imperiously, in spite of her shabby fur coat – and then she would have communed with the red glow of the heater instead of the setting sun.
But it’s two years since Kritter lived here. Nearly the anniversary of the day of her one way trip to the vet.
So that warm spot on the rug, the special chair in the corner she claimed as hers, the wrought iron bench in the garden and the piled ‘bed’ of old jumpers and foam mattress under the house all stay empty now.
Cat spotting – keeping an eye out for other people’s cats as we drive around the neighbourhood – is our way of remembering her. It is also our way of getting just a frisson of the comfort and pleasures of a cat, without actually owning one.
Kritter was a tortoiseshell cat. She was dappled with marmalade and black and a little grey, but she also had white paws, a white bib on her chest, and just enough crisp white on her face to soften all that dark colouring.
‘They’re tough ones,’ the vet said, admiringly, as she tried to jump away from his bench after he gave his sad diagnosis. It was only a weak little attempt at escape, though, because by then she was surviving on will as much as physical strength.
After being badly wounded in a fight three months earlier, Kritter had healed herself amazingly, with much saliva and solitude, but when her kidneys began to fail, even her stoic spirit was battered. She had only a few days left, the vet said. And she was clearly in pain. The kindest treatment for her, he suggested, was an injection to end her life.
Undoubtedly, it was the kindest thing. I do wish, though, she hadn’t given such a sharp little cry – then looked at me so accusingly, as her leg was shaved and the needle prepared. She seemed so shocked and hurt, as if she knew humans were letting her down, yet again.
By the time Kritter decided to adopt us, she’d run away from home sixteen times. That was what her original owner said, when she was contacted and asked if she wanted her ‘Puss-Puss’ returned.
Puss-Puss as a kitten at the pound had been so sweetly beseeching – and probably she had been much loved, in her early days, only several doors away from our place.
But then human babies started arriving. As the family grew, their pet cat ran away, more and more. Each time, someone found her roaming the streets, took her to the pound … she was claimed again, taken home, but would not stay.
When I first saw her on the driveway of the house of our neighbor who’d been taken for extended ‘respite care’ to a Nursing Home, this streetwise cat was so weak she could barely meow as I came close to see whether the furry bundle on the bitumen was alive or dead. Nearby, on the grass, there were scattered feathers and bones of a noisy miner. Her last meal, presumably.
We never really intended to bring her home – but eventually, our place became hers. So ‘Puss-Puss’, who had been ‘Tiger Cat’ at another temporary foster house, became ‘Kritter’.
Kritter was never really our cat. In fact, I doubt that she was every really anyone’s cat. She was the classic ‘cat who walks by herself’ – affectionate and endearing, when she wanted to be, but equally inclined to wander off whenever it suited her.
Her age was uncertain. Probably she was fourteen – quite geriatric in cat years. Old enough, her superior glance often suggested, to do whatever she chose. She’d been independent so long, surely she knew what was best.
Age, however, made her vulnerable: to other, more aggressive cats, as well as to the failings of her body. In her later years, she needed looking after.
‘Are you going to get another cat?’ people ask now, as they have asked ever since Kritter’s death, two years ago.
‘No, no,’ we say. ‘We’d like one – but we’re away from home too much. We can’t really look after a cat properly at the moment.’
That was how it was with Kritter in her last year or so, as well. She had moved in – but just when she was settled, what did we do? We went off to Paris for half a year and she was shuffled between new places and new owners until we returned.
Then – she always knew when it was about to happen – all too often we had to go away again. It was only for short periods, usually no more than a week – but still her cat needs were ignored. She’d stalk off in a huff, swaggering down the drive as we packed the car, as if to say, ‘well I can abandon you too … don’t expect me to be here when you come back!’
Once we returned, she was happy enough. But wary.
And even though our absences probably didn’t shorten her life significantly, still it doesn’t seem fair, or responsible, to invite another cat to live here while we’re still coming and going so much.
One day, perhaps, a real warm purring creature will hog the heater again or demand a lap to lie on…
In the meantime, cat-spotting is the next best thing. Most afternoons, there’s a cat, somewhere in the suburb to be seen. On the driveway, waiting for its owner to come home; at the front door, begging to be let in; on the deck, solitary and self-sufficient, as the last sunlight fades …