Thursday, July 19, 2012

My Best Sweet Kitty

Once upon a time, there was a guy named Seth. He wanted a cat. And he got one. Her name was Willow. She was loved by all. Especially Seth's sister, Becky.

One day, Willow met the local tom and got busy. Her tomfoolery resulted in four kittens. One died shortly after birth and the other three went to good homes as quickly as possible. Everyone thought Willow had learned her lesson, but apparently, the local tom was her steady beau, and presently, Willow began to waddle around again.

Seth's sister, Becky, watched vigilantly for signs of labor, and when she saw some, she planted Willow on her bed and acted as midwife. She stayed right by Willow all the live long day as she produced kitten after kitten after kitten. One was stillborn and underdeveloped, and Willow ate it. Becky just about puked over that, but her mom told her it was natural, and Willow had done it to protect her thriving kittens from any smells that might attract predators.

At the end of the day, seven kittens stumbled pitifully around the comforter on Becky's bed and mewled blindly for their mama, protesting at the onslaught of her rough, pink tongue as she cleaned them mercilessly, knocking them over with each lick.

Becky was particularly excited about this litter of kitties because she would get to keep one of them. Being there at birth and spending the first weeks of life with the kittens, Becky enjoyed learning their personalities and taking care of them. Once she had taught them how to drink milk out of a platter, she supplied them with a hearty helping every morning, even after they were on solid food.

The kittens learned quickly that the scent and voice of Becky meant milk, and whenever she entered whatever room they were in, they stumbled and flopped and clawed their way toward her feet, where they scratched her skin raw demanding the treat they knew she would supply.

One kitten in particular, the biggest and smartest kitten of all, always came and found Becky wherever she was.

In keeping with Becky's lifelong practice of gravitating towards beings who like her, she decided the kitty who loved her would be the kitty she loved. Even before the other kittens had been given away, Becky claimed the alpha kitty as her own and named him Jack.

From the time Jack was a tiny kitten, Becky affectionately called him Jack-Jack-Jack in ascending arpeggios. "Jack-Jack-Jack," she would say, "Are you my best sweet kitty?"

Jack would purr indulgently in response and count the minutes until his next saucer of milk.

Jack was privileged to get to spend the first year of life with his mama, Willow, and they were quite good friends.

She taught him how to perch on windowsills and explained to him the meaning of life.

Poor Jack was neutered at the very tender age of four months old. Most kitties don't get neutered until six months old, but Jack was a wild kitty in his youth, clawing and spraying all over the place, and the vet said that because he was such a giant kitten, it would be okay to neuter him a little early. Becky was concerned that Jack would lose his spunk, but he didn't. He just started going potty exclusive outdoors, like a good kitty.

Before too long, Jack had outgrown his mama. When they sat together in the windowsill, she curled up and purred on about the meaning of life, but he sat right up on his haunches and gave all his attention to the critters out in the yard.

By his first birthday, Jack looked more like a baby panther than a cat, being half again as large as the matronly kitty who had given him life. Becky decided he must have taken after his father. He was a big, big kitty, weighing in at twenty pounds.

Finally, the day came for Becky to leave home and get her own apartment. With great joy and anticipation, she packed all her belongings into her parents' minivan and her little white car. Before she left, she purchased a kitty carrier for Jack, and the vet gave her kitty drugs which she was told would knock him out all the way to Oregon.

The vet was dead wrong. It is a seven hour drive from Hailey, Idaho, whence Becky was moving, to The Dalles, Oregon, where Becky and her mom planned to spend the night with family. While Becky's mom drove the minivan, enjoying the peaceful bliss of soothing radio personalities and entertaining music, Becky drove the little white car, in which she listened to a very cranky kitty yowl at the top of his voice for seven. very. long. hours.



The kitty drugs from the vet certainly did not knock Jack out, but he did sound quite drunk for the majority of the trip. Until he lost his voice. And then he just sounded pathetic.

Becky and Jack settled together into life in the city, living quite comfortably in a very kind lady's basement apartment in Southeast Portland. Jack was Becky's constant companion. Her answering machine said, "Hi, you've reached Becky and Jack! Leave us a message!"

Becky found Jeff, the love of her life, on the day she moved into her apartment, and she quickly fell head over heels for him, which greatly alarmed the majority of her acquaintance. One caller in particular, a dear college professor who had become like a surrogate grandfather to Becky, forgot that Becky's true love's name was Jeff, not Jack. Upon hearing Becky's answering machine message, his responding voicemail said, "Okay, now that is too close. He should not be on your answering machine. Call me back, Hon. We need to talk." Becky quickly assured her adopted grandpa that Jack was the cat, not the man.

But the man lost no time in asking Becky to marry him, and when she said yes, he informed her in no uncertain terms that she was living in the wrong place. "You need to be on the West Side," he said emphatically.

"Why?" asked Becky.

"Because it's the West Side," was his ambiguous reply.

Becky was an office manager on the West Side, and Jeff lived with his parents far out past the West Side toward the coast, so she was happy to move to the West Side. Whatever.

Move to the West Side she did, to an apartment that backed up to a designated greenspace. She enjoyed gazing out her sliding glass door upon old growth timber and marshy green undergrowth. But Jack did more than just gaze. After Becky and Jeff were married and Jeff moved in, one of his first projects was to fit a cat door into the back bedroom window, through which Jack came and went at will, spending many happy hours traversing the entire greenspace and making it his own territory.

In fact, Jack was so very thankful for the wonderland Becky had provided that he devised a very clever and thoughtful way to show his gratitude.

He brought gifts!

One morning, Becky woke early to stumble to the bathroom, but before she got all the way there, her bare foot landed squarely on a small, cold, wet, mushy, furry mass that squished up between her toes and made a loud crunch as her weight landed on it. Jack trotted over, meowing proudly, tail high in the air. Becky lifted her foot to find a headless shrew beneath it. Her stomach lurched her through the bathroom door, where she promptly gagged.

Over the next several months, Jack regularly supplied Becky with tokens of gratitude. The shrews he brought were mostly dead. Sometimes he brought just a body, sometimes just a head. But he also brought other animals, and being a predator through and through, Jack liked to play with his food, so the other animals were usually brought in alive and let loose in the house, to be batted around for a day or so before they were finally caught in Jack's sharp jaws of death.

This habit of Jack's caused Jeff and Becky to tightly seal every single food item in their kitchen to keep Jack's mice away from it. That was pretty annoying, but it was a good habit to get into.

One day, while Becky sat at the computer in the back bedroom, something furry shimmied between her two bare feet. She shrieked loudly, scaring the little critter out of its wits and sending it rushing into the linen closet, where it remained cloistered until Jeff got home from work and eradicated it.

"What was it?" Becky asked with trepidation when Jeff emerged from the back bedroom, removing his leather gloves.

"A mole," Jeff replied grimly.

Becky shivered, remembering the feeling of fur rubbing against her raw flesh.

But that wasn't the worst of it. One evening, Becky stood happily in the kitchen frying up some chicken breast for dinner when she suddenly sensed a fluttering just above her head.

"Jeff! There's a bird!" she shrieked.

Jeff took one look, closed his mouth, set his jaw, and herded the creature deftly to the back bedroom. He shut it in there, came back for his leather gloves, and muttered to Becky over his shoulder, "Don't come in, and don't open the door."

Wide-eyed, Becky quickly agreed to stay out of the way. She stood uncertainly in the hall, listening intently to a series of shuffling, thumping noises. After what seemed like an eternity, Jeff emerged from the back bedroom and announced that everything was fine.

"It's gone," he said.

"Holy cow! Jack brought a bird inside?!" exclaimed Becky.

Jeff put his hands on her shoulders, looked seriously into her eyes and replied, "It wasn't a bird."

As realization dawned, Becky's eyes widened impossibly further and she freaked right out. "A BAT!!" she yelled, dizzy with adrenaline.

Jeff nodded soberly.

Becky turned to Jack, sleeping lazily on the couch, and gave him what for. "BAD KITTY!! YOU DON'T BRING BATS INTO MY HOUSE!! BAD, BAD KITTY, JACK!!!"

Jack opened one eye, yawned, and tucked his face into his paw.

After that, Jeff and Becky began locking Jack either in or out at night, and after their first baby arrived, Becky's post-partum antics propelled her into super-vigilant mode when it came to protecting her sweet firstborn son from the local rodent rabble Jack was so fond of.

Becky also spent a fair bit of time protecting the baby from the cat itself. Jack was, after all, more than twice the size of the baby at birth, and Becky was a very worrisome first-time parent. As soon as Baby Jay began to wave his arms around in the air, Jack tried diligently to catch them in his paws.

Having seen what Jack was capable of doing to shrews, mice, rats, moles, and bats, Becky could not take any chances with her baby (or her fragile nerves). Jeff's mother graciously agreed to let Jack go stay with her for a while, and then Jeff and Becky ended up moving to an apartment that didn't take pets. They didn't anticipate being in the apartment for very long, but alas, it was three and a half years, plus another baby, before they were able to move to a pet-friendly dwelling. Jack spent all that time blissfully plundering the country setting of Jeff's parents' home. Unfortunately, he was a ferocious alpha, and he was not overly kind to the other cats on the farm, often asserting his dominance, which was easy for him because of his size, and sending the other cats into hiding.

One of Jack's abiding habits from kittenhood was his morning milk. He quickly learned the fine art of making everyone in his immediate surrounding completely miserable with his shrill demands for his lifelong routine, and Jeff's mom, not in the habit of giving morning milk to all the farm cats, sometimes gave him some anyway, just to shut him up. She called Becky on occasion and demonstrated over the phone the racket Jack made if she stood up to him. She was diligent to keep Becky in the loop about how Jack was doing overall, which Becky greatly appreciated, because she missed Jack dearly, despite the baby and toddler who kept her constantly busy and frazzled twenty-four hours a day.

One day, Jeff packed Becky and the boys into the car and drove them from their no-pets apartment to a little tan house. He opened the front door without a word and led her inside, watching closely for her reaction. When he felt sure she did not absolutely hate the place, he told her there was a very good chance they would be able to buy it. The house had everything Becky had been longing for. A fenced backyard, a garage, no shared walls, a quiet street. "And I'll get to have Jack back!" she said, eyes shining.

When it was decided that Jeff and Becky would indeed be able to purchase the tan house, it quickly became the yellow house, with white trim and a red front door. Jack came to live at the yellow house after the family was all settled in, and he spent many hours curled up in Becky's lap, reclaiming her as his personal property and assuring himself that he was home at last.

The boys were old enough that Becky did not need to worry about Jack seriously injuring them.

She did worry slightly, however, about the boys injuring the cat.

But Jack was very gracious to the little boys, being careful to set his boundaries by breaking only one or two layers of their baby soft skin with his sharp teeth whenever they squeezed him too tightly. Can't say as much for the two kittens we tried to acquire, both of whom Jack indignantly drove off in no time.

By the time we'd moved again, the boys and the cat coexisted peacefully.

Jack even consented to share his best chair every once in a while.

He was not as ready, however, to share his favorite napping spot. He really liked, of all places, the toilet seat cover.

This was problematic for three-year-old Jonathan, who often waited until the last second to use the potty. One day, Jonathan dropped his toys midplay and pattered quickly to the bathroom. But instead of the normal Jonathan-potty sounds, Becky heard this:

“Get off. I have to go potty.”


“I need to go NOW.”


Urgently, “Get off, Jack! This is not a home!”

Then Jonathan came running out to the living room and tattled on the cat. “Mom! Jack won’t get off the potty! I need to go potty! Oh dear!!”

Becky called Jack, and Jack came to her. With relief, Jonathan scurried back to the bathroom and made it just in time. Whew!

As Jack grew older, he took less interest in being a rabid rodent hunter. He was not too lazy to kill James and Jonathan's hamster when it escaped its cage one night, but he certainly could not be bothered to help with the rat who lived under the house and routinely stole Becky's socks and dish towels.

When Jeff and Becky moved again, Jack didn't even try super hard to drive off all the neighborhood cats. One cat in particular sort of bullied him into submission. She'd been sleeping in the carport before the family moved in, and she was not about to give up the only home she had. She snuck into the back entry where the cat food was kept and brazenly ate out of Jack's dish. And he decided it would be okay to share with her. She wouldn't come inside, though, and that worked out pretty well for Jack, who reigned supreme indoors.

The family attached themselves to the pathetic carport cat, and they named her Gracie and took her with them the next time they moved, shortly after which she bit Jeff's hand and sent him to the ER for a shot in the butt and strong antibiotics. He remarked sullenly that Jack would never have done that to him. Becky proudly agreed.

When Jack was eleven years old, he moved for the last time, out to the country home God provided for Jeff, Becky and the boys.

He spent his first year there becoming master of all he surveyed, including Gracie.

He also did a sleep study.

And tried to wedge himself between Becky and the backrest of her chair.

He particularly enjoyed sunning himself.

And asking for more milk.

And being Gracie's rodent scout.

But in July of 2011, something happened. Jeff and Becky didn't know if he had caught a virus, or suffered an injury while out cavorting, or just had a stroke of bad luck, but whatever the case, an ugly growth appeared on his right back foot. Jeff kept a close watch on it for a while and treated it at home, but when it didn't heal and only got bigger, it was decided that Jack should go to the vet.

He did not want to go.

But go he did, and the vet informed us that the growth on his foot was a tumor. She removed it, along with two of his toes.

Jack passionately hated his bandage.

He spent many long hours gazing out the window, waiting for his mobility to return. He successfully learned to hop on his good back foot, but he wasn't totally happy until the bandage was completely off and he was putting weight back on his remaining toes.

But the vet did not get the whole tumor out. She only took enough to seal up Jack's skin and save as much of his leg as possible, and she warned us that the tumor would return. A pamphlet at the vet's clinic promised the same gloomy outcome: kitty cancer is incurable.

That Christmas, Becky knew it was Jack's last Christmas.

In the spring, Becky knew it would be Jack's last spring. When the family went to Disneyland, she told the housesitter, "Jack is dying, so if he dies while you're here, don't be alarmed. It won't be your fault."

Becky was super glad to find Jack very much alive when they all returned from Disneyland.

Jeff and Becky didn't know what was going on inside Jack's body. Were there tumors growing inside? He seemed pretty chipper, so they decided just to watch and wait. Finally, a growth appeared on his right back foot again. It was small at first, just a little raised lump of fir.

But it grew steadily for several weeks, and Becky knew the end was near.

Jeff and Becky, being humane pet owners, prepared to have to put Jack down, and they discussed it with the boys as well. The boys understood and steeled themselves for the day the entire family would willingly kill Becky's companion of thirteen years.

But when? Was Jack in pain? He didn't seem to be.

One day, the growth split through his skin, and he bled all over the house. Jeff bandaged him up, and Becky spent quite a while cleaning and disinfecting large sections of floor.

Becky's heart wrenched as she watched her best sweet kitty grow old overnight. She did not want to say goodbye to him, but she did not want him to suffer, either. Jeff was leaving the decision up to Becky, and she could not decide.

One morning, watching Jack hop around the house, Becky cried out to God, "Lord, when should we put him down?"

The answer came back crystal clear. "Let me take him."

Becky's soul immediately flooded with the peace that passes understanding, and she put forth her heartbroken request, "Please take him soon, before he suffers too much."

Both Becky and Jack made an effort to be near each other during the following weeks.

Even though God had said He would take Jack, Becky and Jeff still watched vigilantly for signs of pain and suffering on Jack's part. He really didn't seem to be in any pain, but he didn't quite make it outdoors to do his business a couple of times, and the discussion resurfaced. Was it time? Becky felt puzzled, because she knew God had spoken clearly to her. She wondered at His timing.

Jeff and Becky decided Jack would spend the rest of his days outside, enjoying the warm summer weather. Every morning, Jack came to the door and demanded his morning milk with all his usual voracity, and he slept on the front porch, curled up on the red shawl Becky had knitted the previous winter.

And then one day, Jack did not come for his morning milk.

Becky had not slept well the night before, owing to a nightmare in which she had said goodbye to Jack, so partway through the morning, she took a nap.

Around noon, from the bed, Becky heard Jack meowing at the sliding glass door. It was the meow she had been waiting for. The one that revealed pain. And she knew. She drowsed back to sleep, mentally noting that later in the evening, she would tell Jeff it was time. She still wondered about God's instruction, but she reasoned that maybe "Let me take him" meant that God would take Jack through Jeff and leave Becky out of it.

While Becky went back to sleep, Jeff gave Jack some tuna. He took a couple of bites of it and then went back to meowing. So Jeff put some milk out for him, but he just sniffed it and walked away. He had not found what he was looking for.


Jack walked around to the back of the house and lay down outside the window closest to where Becky normally sat. Jeff found him there a few hours later, curled in his favorite sleeping position. Becky heard Jeff go out the back door, rustle around, and come back in. When he motioned silently for her to come into the kitchen and talk to him, his face said it all.

He sat Becky down on the kitchen couch.

"Is this about Jack?" asked Becky.

Taking her hand, Jeff nodded. "He's dead," he said gently, "And I'm here for you."

Becky was a little surprised by her response. She thought she might burst into tears, or go into shock, or something. But her first reaction was to smile. "God took him," she said peacefully, "Just like He promised. And He took him before he suffered much, just like He promised. He answered all of my prayers for Jack."

An overwhelming sense of the love and presence of God swept over Becky. She went to see Jack where he lay, and she could see that he had died very peacefully in his sleep. She went to the front porch and retrieved the red shawl while Jeff picked Jack up and brought him around. Then Becky wrapped Jack in her shawl and held him on her lap while Jeff found the boys and told them to come outside.

The boys saw Jack sitting in Becky's lap, and before they had to guess, Becky said simply, "Jack passed away." They took it hard. They both collapsed to the porch floor and expressed their grief in their own ways, each crying passionately out to God. Becky gently set Jack down and comforted her children.

The family sat for about half an hour, just taking in the reality that Jack was actually gone. Eventually, Jeff loaded pick, shovel and kitty into the back of the Jeep, and the whole family drove down to the bottom of the property, to the woodsy area Becky had already chosen as Jack's final resting place. She picked which tree he would be buried under, and Jeff got to work digging the grave. James helped shovel dirt out of the hole while Becky and Jonathan huddled close together in the nearby grass and discussed why God allows sin and death.

When the grave was deep enough, Jeff walked over to the Jeep to pick up Jack, but Becky sprang up and beat him to it. She wanted to lay Jack in the ground herself. As she placed him gently in his grave, her mind flashed back to the day of his birth. She had been with him at his birth, and she was with him at his death. He had been her kitty for his entire life, and he had been the best sweet kitty she had ever known.

Everyone said goodbye to Jack one last time, and then Becky watched as her three men covered him over with fresh, cool earth. Jeff had picked roses for the occasion, and he gave one to each of the boys and two to Becky.

As the family piled back into the Jeep to head back to the house, the boys discussed what should be written on Jack's headstone. They threw out a couple of ideas, but Jeff replied, "I know what's going on Jack's headstone."

"What?" the boys asked together.

"My Best Sweet Kitty. Because that's what your mom always called him."

And that's what he was.