It is only a Cat:
A Goodbye, to and from, an Old Man
The following is what I later acquired while “channeling’ the old man; the words are his.
The post-Katrina period marks my introduction to feral cats. When we returned to our home after the storm, the neighborhood was mostly empty. There were no birds in the sky, no squirrels in the trees. The first animal that I encountered was an old, feral, mother cat; she was starving and crying. Over the next several days, members of a group of a dozen or more cats were begging for food, usually after dark. These were feral cats and abandoned house cats that survived the storm. A visit to a neighboring house by a man and his dog coincided with a decrease by half in the number of feral cats. I have been feeding feral cats since that time; the poor things come and go.
Buster was little more than a kitten when he joined the group of feral cats who collected each evening at our backdoor. He was mostly black (with a brownish tint); his neck was decorated with a white triangle; small white arches decorated each toe of his front paws. He had not developed his full mantle but his big face was round with white eyebrows and whiskers. He had an indistinct white streak along one side of his nose. His angulated eyes were yellow, his expression somewhat fierce. In such an innocent young animal, his expression was more humorous than intimidating. He had a willingness to look at my face, and into my eyes. From the first he was not frightened of me; he would walk up to me, rub my legs, and then walk between them. I could pet him without him flinching. If however something was on his mind, he might swat at me, or turn his head back as if he would bite me. When my wife and I would return home after our afternoon trips to stores, I first would look for Buster. I would always find him rounding the corner, his long, fuzzy tail erect with a hook fashioned at the end. On seeing me, he would increase his pace. Once beside me, he would pause and I would embrace him with both hands. He, then, would walk to the side door of the house. He would take his place on the sidewalk to the left of the door; he would patiently wait to be fed. From the first he would sit at the door, or even get on the chain wall at the bottom of the door. If the iron, outside door (a grated structure) was closed he would get between the iron door and the wooden door, as if anticipating any willingness on my part to grant permission to enter the house, once the wooden door was opened. At night, he often would be found chasing flying insects, or small creatures scurrying about in the grass. On occasion, he would break into a run; head for the nearest tree; and on arriving, easily climb the tree. Often, while presuming to be a part of the pride, I would try to engage Buster’s attention. He only had brief moments for me; his concern was with birds in the sky - some harboring an intent to steal some of the cats’ food - that might land nearby, and squirrels, in the trees, harboring similar intents.
My wife and I did not appreciate the need to accommodate him. We waited too long to let him enter the house, and too long to neuter him. By then, he had established the life style of an outdoor feral cat; I would have to coax him in by offering him his favorite food, tuna fish. He would eat (always in a most particular manner with no haste), perhaps play a short while in his room, and then sit at the door, wanting out. When I would open the door to let him out, I would find the other members of the pride clustered at the door; they seem to be disturbed by his having been in our house. An old female feral cat, in an obvious expression of anger, sometimes would take a swat at him as he crossed over the threshold; she would scold him.
When at play indoors, his antics were animated. He was fond of a small white toy mouse. He would swat it under things and then fish it out so he could swat it again. He would grasp it in his front paws and then roll over on his back. On his back, he would wiggle and contort until his hind legs were embracing his face. He also would play with a small, multicolored ball in a similar manner. He was fastidious about his grooming, and would get in surprising positions while trying to groom himself. He would get on his back and then lick the inner surfaces of his thighs. He was remarkably agile and quick. He was territorial to the end, even after being neutered. I don’t think he understood that his aggressiveness carried with it a risk of an encounter with a more experienced, or stronger animal.
Buster’s litter mate showed up for the feedings about 2 weeks after Buster first appeared. The colorings were sufficiently similar to identify the two as litter mates. I thought that Fatty was an appropriate name. Fatty’s fur was longer and stiffer than Buster’s, but his bulge in the abdominal region had more to do with appetite; in an evening, he would eat twice as much as Buster. Fatty was slow- moving and laid-back. He would show up later in the afternoon than Buster. He would approach me, but if I leaned down to pet him, he would shy away. He would bump into Buster, seeking a sign of recognition from him. Often the bump would be followed by a tap with his paw, and Buster would swat him back in a more forceful manner. Sometimes Buster would wrestle with him; at the end of this rough play, a swat or two often would be exchanged. Although, different in temperament, these two were obviously close. Since Buster no longer shares the space and time of this life, Fatty comes earlier in the afternoon; he patiently sits in the back yard, as if awaiting the arrival of Buster, the beginning of another day in his company, another adventure after completion of their guard duty. Late in the afternoon, Fatty disappears for several hours. While he is away on these excursions, I picture him visiting old haunts that were favorites when Buster was his companion. While he visits these sites, I picture him looking for Buster.
Buster caused all sorts of problems during my daily routine of trying to feed several old, neighborhood feral cats – cats that were not of his pride, and would be beyond the security line that his pride had established. I was to be denied the privilege of taking some of “our” food supplies beyond these boundaries. He would inevitably chase the other cats away, and some of them were sorely in need of food. I would get irritated with him but could not stay mad at him. On the other hand, food was not that important to him. He was almost indifferent to some of his companions when they would push him aside and take his food. As he matured, he would always come to see me, but was less dependent on me for affection. I would try to get him in for awhile each evening but was not always successful. The most reliable bait was a dish of tuna fish meat, but even this was not a sure thing. On his last night I tried to get him in because a storm had been predicted; he ignored me, and was even more troublesome than usual. I did not get to see him when I last checked outside looking for him. The next morning Peggy told me she had fed the cats. I asked about Buster only to be told that he was not with the other cats. I got dressed and went outside to look for him. I saw a small black form in the front yard of a house that was 2 doors away. As I approached, I recognized his little white paws and called to him. There was no response. He was dead but still warm.
He is gone and I am devastated by his absence. I accepted him as a Gift to an old man in need of comfort. Whatever was expected of me, I obviously had failed. He was a marvelous little animal, sweet, independent, and brave; he could not have been more agreeably colored or structured, he was trim and tall, lithe and long.
It is of interest that Buster’s demise reprises an earlier encounter between a dog and cat. Months before the loss of Buster, a young orange cat and an older black cat had become regulars at feeding time. In short order, these two came to dominate the activities; they established a pecking order in which some hungry feral cats were denied access to food; the orange cat was the leader. Like Buster, the orange cat exhibited élan with a certain confidence in his abilities. While still a young, somewhat inexperienced cat, he was torn apart by two dogs near the same area as that where Buster met his end. The dogs were not true strays; the owner, who lived on a neighboring street, cared little for the dogs, or for other animals or humans. The dogs, without the restraint of a human companion and a leash, were regularly given the freedom to take a “walk.” The black cat (Black Kitty) was also attacked but survived; he is crippled.
Old men, with the expectation of a soon-to-be encounter, by inclination, presume to have acquired the right to a familiarity with God; with presumption, they often question natural events, as if God owes us an accounting. In this spirit, the death of the orange cat prompted an inquisition in which I took God to task? Then, when Buster entered our life, I wondered: Was a message being conveyed from on High; were amends being made with Buster as the offering? Later, on a review of the separate attacks, the similarities again suggested to me the possibility of providential intervention. If so, I am at a loss to fathom why two such exceptional examples of a cat had to be sacrificed. If messages had been delivered and, then, had they been deciphered, would a proper action on my part have saved Buster? The proper conclusion seems to be that I obviously was too slow to understand. I feel responsible for the awful thing that happened to Buster.
My relationship with the surviving members of the pride has changed. The cats are more approachable. I can touch “Areyja” and “Fatty” without eliciting from either of them a flinch, a squeal, or a rapid movement away from me. Even “Black Kitty” will allow me to get closer to him and, on occasion, will try to approach me, as if he might rub my legs. In such encounters, Fatty usually would move between us to prevent contact. He has become the leader; he seems to take the position that the other members are not to condescend to me. Belle, an old mother cat, who years ago was put out of what had been her home, but was not neutered until years later, has been living on the landing of our porch since the storm. I try to make life easier for her. As I knelt beside the dead body of Buster, she, indulging her curiosity, approached me. When she saw Buster’s body, she drew back with a shudder. For a time after the discovery, she would neither enter, nor perch upon, her “house” on the landing. She would sleeps elsewhere. I was bothered and confused by this change in behavior.
A dog owner who lets an unleashed dog walk free in an urban neighborhood is unprincipled. An owner, manifesting such carelessness, is expressing an aggressiveness which is on the same level as the more palpable aggression of the vicious dog who attacked Buster.
Where is my outrage? Outrage is the outward projection of inward despair. The question of who is to blame diffuses one’s ability to focus, and direct, anger: Grief, guilt, and despair are the filters. I suspect that, if I focused my despair and directed the resulting anger, the owner of the dog would find inward gratification in the ability to provide a grant of either life or death; the social value of the pitiful life of the victim would be disregarded. Is there, at the end, to be no accounting?
Buster, I miss you each day. I will experience an ache in my heart when each day ends and I have to count another day without your company. I find myself each morning going outside to look for you – as if I cannot accept this loss. I do not expect another opportunity to find a companion like my Buster.