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Farewell to Shadow (1991-2010)

My father just called me to inform me that our cat Shadow, who lived with him, was put to sleep today.  The news doesn’t come as a great surprise; just a few weeks ago, when I went to visit, I discovered that Shadow was getting very skinny and weak, and when we took him to the vet, she advised that it might be time to end it right then and there.  But he wasn’t in any pain or anything, and she was able to “jumpstart” his system with a subdermal fluid injection to compensate for his failing kidneys, or some such thing, and he seemed to rally for a while.  So while I knew this was coming, I wasn’t expecting it so soon.

Shadow 7/03

Shadow in his prime, July 2003

 

So I kind of already said my goodbyes to Shadow.  I knew it might happen when I wasn’t around.  Still, it feels kind of unreal.

But maybe that’s for the best.  It was rough for me when we said goodbye to Tasha, Shadow’s sister, back in June ’08.  She’d become very ill and was in considerable pain when we took her to the vet.  She also lived with my father instead of me (since my building doesn’t allow cats or dogs), so it came out of the blue for me, and I had to deal with suddenly having this awful choice thrust upon me.  I stayed with Tasha right until the end in the hopes that it might bring her some small comfort, though I’m not sure she was even aware of anything at that point.

At least this way my final memory of Shadow will be of a time when he was alive and reasonably comfortable.  And maybe in the back of my mind I’ll be able to pretend he’s just vanished into the night, returned to the primal darkness he embodied so magnificently.

Shadow eyes

Glowy evil eyes!

 

Shadow was so very good at being scary.  When I was a kid, we had a black cat we called Spooky, but stereotypes aside, he was a nice ol’ chubby guy.  Now, Shadow was really spooky.  Sometimes he would stare at me and I’d have this shiver of primal fear run through me.   He was that good at it.

And he was a mighty, cunning predator, a master of stillness and calculation. When he and Tasha would go after cat toys, she’d be the Tasmanian Devil, a whirlwind of claws and teeth flying every which way, but Shadow would bide his time, wait for his moment, then BAM!  His claws and teeth would snap like a sprung beartrap.

Tasha & Shadow 6/91

My father, Tasha, and Shadow, June 1991

 

He was smart, too.  In the house where they first lived with us, we had a back door with a cat door in it, but it had a cover so we could keep them inside at night.  But the cover was loose so we had to put a chair in front of it, or actually more of a highchair/ladder/stool sort of thing with a seat high enough for the cats to stand on their hind legs and see out the window.  Now, once I saw Shadow pawing at the deadbolt knob, trying to unlock it.  He’d observed that we used that knob to lock and unlock the door and had deduced that if he wanted to get out, he should do the same!  He didn’t have the leverage to turn the deadbolt, let alone work the stiff knob and open the door, but he’d reasoned it out.  (And I’m not fooling myself here.  It’s well-documented that cats are skilled at figuring out how to open doors by watching and emulating humans.  Which is a far more genuinely intelligent behavior than simply learning a trick through stimulus-response conditioning.)

Of course, Shadow didn’t always like going outside.  At first, we had to get him and Tasha used to the idea.  We’d try taking them out into the backyard in their carrier and letting them out, and they’d usually make a beeline back to the house, the carrier, or us.  So we’d take them farther out into the grass, let them out, and walk away.  Once when we did that, Shadow promptly ran over to me and climbed clear up to my chest level before I could get a hold of him and get those needle-sharp kitten claws out of me. I was laughing and in pain at the same time.  That was Shadow all the way.  He didn’t make it easy, and he was always quick with the claws and teeth, but he was worth it.

And we were lucky we had so much time with him.  One night when he was just a couple of years old,  my father heard him racing through the cat door and into the living room, and then we didn’t see him at all the whole next day.  We found him huddled under the couch, very quiet and still, and when I moved the couch and picked him up, I realized one of his back legs was hanging limp.  Apparently he’d been hit by a car and broken his leg, and had done what cats do, secluding himself to wait for death.  But we had other plans.  We took him to a specialist (though we had to wait a couple of days until the guy was available, something that wouldn’t be tolerated with a human patient), and despite the wait, the doctor did amazing work.  Shadow’s femur was shattered into little pieces, but the doctor managed to reassemble them into a functional bone, supported by wires.  All that work to train the cats for outdoor life proved moot, since we were told that Shadow’s leg would never be strong enough for outdoor survival again and we had to keep him indoors — and we couldn’t let one out without letting them both out, so Tasha had to become an indoors cat too.  Shadow was in a cage in the living room for weeks before he was well enough to regain normal activity, and the whole experience left him kind of neurotic (well, more so than usual for a cat).  But despite what could’ve been a crippling injury, he managed to regain nearly full mobility, certainly enough to keep up with Tasha, who was the fastest, most hyperactive kitty I’ve ever known.

I guess we got lucky with Tasha too, since she developed a serious medical problem a few years later, lymphoma or something, I think.  She had to be shipped to Columbus for special treatment, but she came back okay.  And ultimately they were with us for a very long time.  Tasha lived 17 years and 4 months, Shadow 19 years and 1 month.  Those are records for me.  The previous longest-lived cats we had were Mia and Spooky, two of the first cats I ever lived with.  Mia, a beautiful blue-eyed white cat with a grey forehead mark like an inverted Y, started showing up in our backyard shortly before my seventh birthday, i.e. somewhere around June 1975, and we soon found that she had a litter of kittens including Spooky.  When my mother passed away not long thereafter, Mia and her brood kind of filled the void, and we got kind of carried away letting her and her offspring breed; we had dozens and dozens of kittens over the course of a few years, though what with giving them away and losing some of them, the most felines we had in the house at any one time was seventeen.  But eventually we got Mia and the junior matriarchs fixed, and the number of cats continued to dwindle, because we gave a lot away and because outdoor cats have short life expectancies or sometimes just run away.  Eventually we were down to just Mia and Spooky.  Spooky left us after 15 years, and Mia, who we estimated was about a year old when we found her, outlived Spooky by another year.  Ironically, our first cat of that line was also our last.

It was a week after losing Mia that we adopted Shadow and Tasha.  They were two of a litter of eight belonging to a coworker of my father, and they were about six weeks old when we got them.  The litter was a mix of black cats, grey cats, and a couple of multicolored females.  That family had named the eight cats Rocky, Bullwinkle, Boris, Natasha, Larry, Moe, Curly, and Pizzaface (who was a mottled female, kind of a tortoiseshell).  I took one look at Natasha and it was love at first sight — she was the most beautiful kitten I’d ever seen.  My father was drawn to the one who became Shadow, who was the most beautiful shade of grey I’ve ever seen.  No grey has ever been so colorful.  As a kitten, he had kind of a nebulous, shimmery quality as if he wasn’t entirely there, or as if he were made of fog.  It was remarkable to see.

I don’t know which of the names listed above was given to the grey kitten we adopted.  I wanted to keep Natasha’s name because it reminded me of Natasha Yar from ST:TNG, but whatever name her brother had been given, we didn’t want to keep it.  (I’d like to think he was Boris, since it would’ve been fitting given what a menacing figure he was.  On the other hand, I kind of hope he was Bullwinkle or one of the Stooge names, because it means we saved him from being saddled with such a monicker.)  I wanted to call him Kiri, the Japanese word for fog.  But since I decided on Tasha’s name, my father got to choose the other, and he went with the basics, so Shadow became Shadow.

I guess it was always that way — Tasha was closer to me and Shadow was closer to my father.  Though I’ll miss Shadow a lot, my thoughts right now are more with my father, who’s lost his best friend.

But we had over 19 years with Shadow, which is a really long time for a cat.  As the vet said a while ago, he’s been in “bonus” time for a long time.  I guess you could say everything since his car accident has been bonus time.  We’re lucky he and Tasha were with us for as long as they were.

But I still miss them.

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Balcony cats

December 1, 2009 2 comments

The coolest thing about having a balcony that’s more or less at ground level (it’s in a bit of  a trench around the building) is that I sometimes get visits from neighborhood cats.  Many of the cats that have lived on and around the apartment building’s grounds have been strays who were fairly aloof, but some are cats that tenants keep (against the building rules) and then abandon when they move away.  Those cats are used to being around people and are friendlier — not to mention being accomplished beggars.

I’m afraid I never got pictures of the first two I got to know.  The first was a beautiful ginger tabby who was incredibly friendly; she just showed up while I was sitting on my balcony, curled up in my lap, and fell asleep there.  And once I needed to stand up, I just held her in my arms for a long time and she was more content to be there than any other cat I’ve ever known.  I called her Angela or Angie-Cat, after a former college friend of mine with the same gorgeous red-gold hair color and a similarly friendly manner.  Sadly, Angie-Cat never came back after that one time.

The next was kind of a scruffy-looking grey tabby with a clouded eye.  She was quite the beggar, always coming by and meowing for food and attention.  I took to calling her Mandy, which was short for “demanding.”  She showed up periodically for a few months and then stopped coming by, which has turned out to be a pretty regular pattern for the local cats.  I hope they’re just wandering to other territories or ideally finding new homes.

Somehow, virtually all the cats who come to visit me are female.  I wish I had that kind of luck with humans.

My favorite feline visitor was another grey tabby, but a much more beautiful one I called Gracie.  Here she is at her most coquettish (click on any picture to enlarge):

Or maybe that’s this one:

Isn’t she gorgeous?  I liked her because she reminded me of a cross between my family’s two cats, Shadow and Tasha (who was still with us at the time).  You can see photos of them both at my website’s Kitty Pictures page.  Gracie’s base grey shade looked a lot like Shadow’s and her features and behavior were not unlike Tasha’s.  And she was the friendliest neighborhood cat I’ve known in all my time here, coming by almost daily.  Well, every single day since I started putting out water and an occasional bit of chicken for her.  For a while, it was almost like having a cat of my own. Except she kind of took turns residing on various near-ground-level balconies on this side of the building, and one other had a water dish out for her.  She was quite the effective beggar herself.

It took me a while to hit upon the perfect name for her.  Her color reminded me of Shadow, and it occurred to me that I sometimes called Shadow “George” (an old family inside joke based on the Looney Tunes Abominable Snowman, who in turn was a pastiche of Lenny from Of Mice and Men: “I will call him George!  And I will hug him and squeeze him and pet him and love him and…”).  So it struck me — George and Gracie! Plus she’s grey, see?

Did I mention she was really friendly?

And adventurous:

Gracie eventually stopped showing up, then came back once a couple of months later, and I haven’t seen her since.  I hope she found a good home.  I’d be surprised if someone didn’t adopt her.  If I could’ve moved to a place that allowed cats, I might’ve done so myself.

I had a few other visitors during the time Gracie was around.  Here’s a tomcat who came by once, the only male cat who ever came within my camera range:

This next one was a particularly diminutive cat born and raised on the grounds.

She probably didn’t get very big because of the poor quality of food being provided.  I learned once that the maintenance man fed some of the grounds-living cats with bologna sandwiches, which wouldn’t come anywhere near satisfying the protein requirements of an obligate carnivore such as a feline (cats need 5 times as much animal protein per day as dogs, IIRC — in proportion to their weight, I assume).

This little one (whom I came to think of as “Tablet,” i.e. a diminutive tabby) had interesting whorls on her sides.  That’s called a classic tabby pattern, I gather, while Gracie (like my Tasha) was more of a mackerel tabby.  But look what Tablet had on her starboard flank:

She’s in Starfleet!

Unlike this disreputable character:

This big calico lived across the street and sometimes came over, especially when I had food out for Gracie.  She often muscled Gracie away and took the food for herself, a habit I tried to discourage.  At times, she could be pretty affectionate, letting me pet her, but then she would unpredictably attack me.  And not the playful kind of attack, but in earnest.  I got some substantial scratches from her once or twice.

Since she had a split personality, going from friendly to violent, I started calling her Niki/Jessica, after Ali Larter’s multiple-personality character on Heroes.  Niki-slash-Jessica quickly got shortened to the highly appropriate name Slash.  Which became Slash Calico, which sounded like a hard-boiled detective name, so I ended up calling her Slash Calico, Cat Detective.  Even though she was hardly on the side of law and justice.

Anyway, because of her bad attitude, I kind of had to shun Slash Calico, Cat Detective for my own safety (one doesn’t want to risk a bite from an unfamiliar cat, or even a familiar one) and for that of my other feline visitors that she tended to bully.  She was kind of the exception to the rule that I never met a cat I didn’t like.  Except it was kind of too late; Gracie’s visits tapered off before Slash Calico’s did, and I was afraid the bully might’ve run her out of town.

Anyway, I had a dry spell on my balcony for a while after that, but finally I started getting visits from another cat.  This one was very aloof at first, always on edge, darting away when I reached for her.  She was a small grey tabby, and at first I thought she was Tablet, but photographic comparison proved otherwise:

Plus she was too big to be Tablet.  I took to calling her Edgy.  But over time, she got more used to me and finally let me pet her, and it wasn’t long before we got to this stage:

Which ended up happening almost every day for a while, until I discovered that Edgy is one of those cats who drool when they’re happy.  And she must’ve been really happy.  Ick.  Call me overly squeamish, but the excessiveness of it made me wonder if there were some health concerns, and it’s probably a good idea to err on the side of caution when dealing with unfamiliar cats (I’d say strange cats, but that’s a tautology).  So I kinda made myself less available, and Edgy stopped coming around after a while, but I’ve seen her intermittently since then.

But when it comes to feline presence, my side of the apartment complex has nothing on the other side.  There are more bushes and trees there, it’s away from the road, so it’s a more amenable place to supporting stray cats.  I often go out of my way to walk by there to look for cats and kittens.  That’s where I originally met Mandy.  I usually don’t have my camera when I’m there, but one day I saw something so adorable I raced to get my camera and document it, though my lack of zoom capability didn’t help:

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