Tuesday, February 5, 2013

They teach us, these fur-clad companions

 Written for the Door County Advocate, Feb. 5, 2013.

The most iconic picture of Hemi is the one where he’s sitting in the bathroom sink looking up at the world. His expression is, “What? I’m in the sink. It’s nice here. You should try it.”

That was Hemi. He sought out the nice. He was always the first one to try out a newly settled lap.
It’s a shame when good cats die before their time. Hemi was a little more than 8 years old.

Most of our cats have been shelter animals or abandoned or surrendered. Hemi is the only cat I ever bought at a pet store.

I was buying fish food, and Red stayed in the car. She’d been suggesting we get a kitten; I’d been suggesting we have enough cats.

There was a display case full of cavorting 8-week-old kittens and a display case with one remaining 12-week-old kitten. He looked like he would have been a tabby cat but they ran out of tabby paint and left the bottom half white.

He wasn’t acting lonely, all alone in that big case. He was playing with a small plastic ball with complete delight, knocking that thing around as if he enjoyed making the little bell inside ring for its life.

Wary of tiny claws, I poked my finger through the bars anyway and wiggled. He pounced at the opportunity and seized the finger — but instead of sinking his claws in, he just held on with his paw pads, as if to say, “Hello! Are you a toy, too?”

I bought the fish food, went out to the car and told Red, “You have to see this kitten.”

The clever salesperson let me hold him. He promptly settled against my chest, purred like a high-performance engine and closed his eyes.

A nearby shopper cooed, “Looks like he found his papa.” Yes, he had.

We’ve had a lot of cats, Red and I. Hemi stood out from the crowd — first to greet us, first to check out the lap, most willing to show his appreciation with a hearty purr and, of course, first to explore the sink.

Sunday morning he seemed fine, but Sunday evening he couldn’t use his back legs. Monday morning he was growing cold; Beeker, the motherly big fat cat, had crawled into the cat bed with him and sprawled over his backside to keep him warm.

I wrapped him in a blanket and set him on the passenger seat; the cat carrier seemed too mean. Driving to the vet, I drove with my left hand, reached out with my right and stroked him the whole way. My right arm got tired and sore, but I was pretty sure this was my last chance and he appreciated the reassurance.

The doctor said it looked like heart disease may had caused a clot and cut off the circulation to his legs, but whatever it was he was fading fast. We said goodbye.

These sweet fur-clad companions are only in our lives for a short time, but they teach us so much: From Hemi, the art of gentle greeting and exploring the opportunities. They leave a paw print on our hearts that creates a smile to ease the pain.

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