Animal companions

Our Gaby

Pet ownership is a joy, and in spite of the accidents, infighting, and just plain orneriness they display sometimes, the animals in our house add to our enjoyment of life. They are as necessary to our home as the furnace that provides heat, and Julia and I could not imagine life without them.

Gaby (The Beautiful One)<br>1988-2008

Gaby (The Beautiful One) 1988-2008

Sadly, we lost one of our feline family members recently, and the emptiness left by one still hangs in the air and is felt by all of us, whether we walk on two legs or four. Gaby, Julia’s lovely 20-year-old long-haired tortie, died on Monday evening. Her mood had taken a downward turn on Sunday, and she was showing signs of dehydration. A family friend, fellow Scott County Humane Society volunteer Traci, came over on Sunday to give Gaby fluids to at least give her a chance. But as the day wore on into night, Gaby did not move from where she lay on the bed, stirring only when stroked. Many of the cats in our home—fosters and the ones that we have adopted into our family (although it’s hard to draw the line sometimes)—sat near her on the bed as she rested. Gradually, they left her alone, having (I can only suppose) said their goodbyes to her. The only holdout was Chance (aptly named…I may write about him at some point in the future), who sat right next to her, even after death had come.

Most of the animals in our house fall into certain roles. For example, Zephyr is the greeter, Evie is the chatty girl, Jersey is the muscle. Gaby’s job was to look beautiful and to let everyone know it.

When I first met Gaby at Julia’s apartment in Chicago, I decided she was going to be my favorite. Julia’s response to that was something to the effect of “Just you wait.”

It turns out Gaby was a diva—”The Beautiful One,” as we called her. She’d only come out for certain people, and when she did come out, attention was generally expected. If I was laying down on the bed reading a book, she’d hop up beside me and start head-butting me. If I was sitting on the sofa and she walked by my ankles and I just happened to reach down and stroke her back, she’d stop and let me do it. But if I’d stop, she’d just sort of look up as if to say: “Excuse me, monkey, I believe I’m still standing here.”

Gaby will be missed. Even if she was a bit high-maintenance at times, there was always love underneath, which she doled out sparingly to those who deserved and appreciated it. We will not forget her.

And it occurs to me that I ought to be writing more about our cats while they’re still alive because these obituaries are just too depressing. So in the months ahead I’m going to shoot for profiling each of our cats, and maybe a few of the distinguished foster cats who are shacking up with us, and some reminisces of those who are no longer with us. They are our children, after all, and if you’re proud of your children, you let the world know about it.

Look for the first in the series, coming in the new year.

Remembering Kita

While much of the blogosphere will no doubt be reflecting on the death of former White House press secretary Tony Snow, I’m a bit more concerned about a certain feline that Mr. Snow might see walking around the afterlife, wondering where her owners have gone.

Kita, our 21-year-old brown tabby cat, died very early on Saturday morning. My wife, Julia, and I were with her in her last moments. At 21 it can be easily argued that she lived a full life, and she did. Julia rescued her 18 years ago. Kita was the first cat she ever rescued. I’ve only known Kita as long as I’ve been with Julia—about six years—and she never acted like the oldest cat of the bunch. When Julia and I met, she had four cats: Kita, Gaby, Topper, and Zephyr. We had to have Topper euthanized in 2006 because of his failing mental health. He was 14. Zephyr is that age now, and still the mascot of the house. Gaby is about 16 or 17, longhaired, beautiful, and somewhat of a bitch. But in her case, good looks really do a lot to take the edge off her attitude.

In recent years, we’ve added a few youngsters to the bunch, Lulubelle, Evie, Cubby Bear, and Jersey, but to me Kita will always be the Grande Dame of the pride.

She was graceful and cool, and had a beautiful face; almost Egyptian. It befitted the nickname Julia had for her, “Princess Kita.” When Kita spoke, she did not do so with an obnoxious meow, but rather a tiny coo. Sometimes, in that coo, you could almost hear the words, “We are not amused.”

She patiently suffered through the dozens of foster cats that have been in and out of our house the past three years, and did not launch into a tirade whenever one of them made the mistake of getting too close to royalty.

At the core of her, Kita was a gentle and fair creature. It really is true that the cat picks the owner, and I still remember the night right in bed when Kita crawled onto my stomach and chest and started kneading her paws into me. It was as though she was stamping me with her seal of approval. Then she started purring and her ears got warm, a sure sign of a happy cat.

We may never know another like her, but Julia and I are blessed for having known her at all.