Tuesday, February 5, 2008

An unfortunate occurence



The picture above is of my very old kitten, Solar, taken this Christmas break at my Dad's. I got her the summer before entering 3rd grade, as a kind of delayed birthday present. My brother already had a cat, and I decided I wanted one, so we went to find me a kitty. Since his was a girl cat, mine was to be as well, just to make life easier despite his cat already having been spayed. I had no particular phenotype in mind when searching for a cat, unlike my brother--who, incidentally, ended up wanting the first cat he saw, even though she didn't match his expressed preferences at all. Still, of the two kittens in the cage, I thought she was the cuter one, and thus was pleased to find out she was the girl kitten when we asked. Their cage was too small to get a sense of the kitten personalities, but they were a reputable pet store which only had a small number of mammals at any given time, so we decided to trust them to provide a healthy cat.

Solar's personality actually first emerged on the car ride home. Not content to be in a moving box unable to see what was happening, she poked a paw out of the small space left by the folder cardboard, latched her claws into a flap, and pulled it open. She then climbed out and began to explore the car.

She was quite tiny when we got her, and fell quickly into the beta cat role, with my brother's cat effectively acting as her mother. Solar was always rather skittish around people - even people she knew - but somehow she clued into the fact that she was my cat and I was her human. I was able to pick her up with no difficulties, while she'd squirm and yowl if anyone else tried to do so. She'd run and hide under furniture, in crawl spaces, or anywhere else small and out of the way when strangers came by, and even with most family friends. Her asymmetrical facial markings always made her look like something of an idiot, and she had the frequent problem among six-toed cats of being unable to fully retract her claws, which lead to a very distinctive clicking on the hardwood or the tile while she was trying to stalk. That appearance of idiocy was sometimes challenged, though, by items such as her figuring out how to open the cabinet in which we kept her cat treats.

Certain traits of hers remained adorable well into adulthood. She remained tiny - never reaching more than 5 pounds, and spending most of her life at 4 - and playful, though it wasn't until around the age of 8 that she began to pay any attention to all to catnip. Prior to that her favorite toys were pencils, twist ties, rubber bands, and especially the plastic rings from the mouths of milk jugs. Those plastic rings were actually used to play fetch by her, and though she wouldn't come to the call of her name, she would come to me if I snapped my fingers and held my hand low enough for her to rub her head against; something she did for no one else. We actually realized we should stop feeding her kitten chow when it dawned on us that she was approaching middle age, despite all evidence to the contrary. She essentially never ate dry food out of her bowl, but would pick up each individual piece, drop it on the floor, and then eat it from there. Most of the time when she drank, it was by dipping her paw in the water bowl, then licking the water as it dripped from her paw. And her two most common poses were asleep in the sun with her paw draped across her eyes, and awake and sitting with all four paws tucked under her, invisible, with her tail wrapped tightly around her left side up to her chin.

That's not to say that she was an utterly ideal cat. She became a bully towards other cats when she grew up, even scaring the heck out of some 25 pound outdoor cats despite being puny and declawed. She was convinced that she was fiercer than any dog, and tended to try to attack them whenever she encountered them. She marked her territory in the hallway carpet a little too often for comfort. She was also a very early morning cat, and would sometimes choose to try to instill this early-to-rise mentality on others by yowling for no discernible reason, or by pawing your cheek if you insisted on lying in bed but had left your door open. She highly enjoyed any plant she could come into contact with - she even insisted on trying to eat a cactus once - and felt that insects were fun moving toys to be tortured. And, in her old age, she would sometimes gorge herself on too much wet food, and make herself sick. She was, after all, a cat.

Still, I'm more likely to remember the amusing things about her. Poised, as a kitten, on top of the television and trying to catch Mario whenever he jumped too close to the top of the screen. Trying frequently to escape out the back door, only to freeze if she hit the pavement with a look about her of "what do I do now?" before that moment of indecision caused her easy recapture. Leaping across my brother's bed towards the window he always left open, only to find my mother had wisely closed it in the winter while he was at college, and thus bouncing off the glass and backwards onto the bed. Being launched across the room by a recliner with a hair trigger, causing her to avoid the living room for a week.

The fact that she went to go live with my Dad when I went to college - my mother convinced herself that she had become allergic to the cat, when it was really her decades of smoking catching up to her - has made the news I received today of her death much less traumatic than it otherwise easily might have been. As does her advanced age; 19 is old for a kitty, and she had had a few health scares in the past few years. On top of all of that, she died fairly peacefully, in my step mother's arms on the way to the vet. But even though for the past few years she's been more of my step mother's cat than mine, it's still a certain sense of loss, though not of sadness. There's just a definite degree of introspection in the death of a creature so tightly linked in my mind to my childhood. I suppose it's one more sign - as if I needed another - that I'm not a kid anymore. I know this, and yet my ability to recall so clearly what it was like to be, say, 10, sometimes makes it less obvious than it should be.

1 comment:

AdamX said...

I realize this response is totally inappropriate but:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/feb/15/stemcells.animalwelfare?gusrc=rss&feed=networkfront