Archive for September, 2013

He Was A Good Cat

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

OttoHis name was Otto. A strange name for a cat, but I didn’t name him. When I was living with Renee she wanted a cat and I was in favor of it; I had not had a pet since my beloved dog Saffron died near the end of the 20th century.

We ended up getting two. Her friend knew someone who rescued animals, and they had two cats that were raised together, Otto and Shadow, both nearly a year old.  Instead of separating them, we accepted both.

They were as different as the proverbial night and day.  Shadow (whom I nicknamed Lucifer because of his bad habit of deliberately knocking things off tables to see them fall) was charcoal gray with yellow eyes. He would have been a perfect familiar for some witch or some Halloween display.  But this is not about Shadow, who darted out the open door of our third floor apartment one day and was never seen again.  This is about Otto, who had no interest in leaving and was with me for over a decade, because he stayed when Renee moved out.

He was a funny-looking cat, as you can see from the photo.  he had a black patch the shape of Australia on his right side, a black toupee on the top of his head, block spots on his chin as if he had been drinking ink, and an all-black tail growing straight out of his white butt.

He was a talkative cat.  Of course he meowed, but even more than that he would make the “rrrrrrt” sound that sounded like an amplified purr.  We had many conversations, but they mostly went like this:

Me:  ”Hi, Otto.”

Otto: “Rrrrrt”

Me: “You can’t prove that. It’s just your opinion.”

Otto: “Rrrrt”

And so on. When we got him and Shadow, we lived in a two-bedroom apartment, and the middle room was mainly filled with boxes.  The cats darted in there and we did not see them for the first three days. I could not even verify they were still in the apartment.  Finally on the third day I was calling “Otto! Otto!” and he stuck his head around a corner to let us know he was still there.  Later, they got over their shyness. After Shadow ran away Otto grew closer to us.

When I lost my job and could not afford the rent anymore I had to move back in with relatives in Florida. I was dreading the 1,000 mile trip with an unhappy cat, so on the recommendation of others I took him to a vet to get some tranquilizers to keep him calm in the car. Naturally, the vet insisted on a examining him first and doing a blood panel to check his health before giving me the prescription. I was nervous about that because in his eight years in Virginia Otto had never seen a vet.

You don’t have to say it: I know that makes me a bad owner. But he had never been sick, and since we lived on the third floor of the apartment complex Otto had never needed a flea collar. I never liked them, and was convinced he would be better off without poison in his body to ward off fleas we never had.

What did the vet say about his health? “He has the blood of a two year old!” Apparently Otto did not suffer for my neglectfulness as an owner.

So I got him some tranquilizers and headed down to my mother’s house in Florida. I had a brother in Virginia, but his wife was having health problems and I didn’t want to burden him with a broke younger brother and a cat, so I went to Florida instead. I tested the stuff on Otto before I left, giving him a pill and watching to see if it was enough to calm him. he staggered around as if drunk but seemed none the worse for wear, so when the time came I packed up the car, drugged my cat, and set off on the journey south. He was calm even confined to his cat carrier in the back seat, his tongue protruding slightly. I made the trip without stopping, as my father had decades before when our family moved south.

Otto was a shy cat, but bonded to me like superglue. If I didn’t latch the bathroom door he was sure to push it open and walk in to watch me sitting on the toilet as if it was the most natural thing in the world. He would follow me around my mother’s house and come when called like a dog.

He was a good cat. I think I’ve said it before, but it seems like there is no such thing as a “normal” cat. Ask any cat owner. They’ll tell you.  Dogs are wonderful for their unconditional love and their obvious delight when you get home to them. They are eager to please, which is hard not to like. But cats are different. Most cat owners will tell you their cat is crazy, but I have become convinced over the years that crazy is normal for cats. Dogs are pack animals. Establish that you are the alpha dog and they will obey you,  But cats are different.  They are solitary hunters, and a cynic would tell you they bond to places, not people, and tolerate us only because we feed them and empty the litter box for them.

Otto bonded to me, but like most cats he was a weirdo. I got a laser pointer to play with him and he loved it, but then I would get perverse and slide the little red dot straight up a wall and out of his reach and he would go nuts making weird noises about it. When I got to my mother’s house he would sometimes dash around in the larger space as if chasing something or running away from me.

Florida was Otto’s doom. It is flea heaven, with no snows and ice to kill them the fleas live here all year long, and my mother, bless her, had acquired two small dogs to keep her company after her sons moved out. And of course they brought in fleas. For the first time in his like Otto was living with parasites.  She got Comfortis for her dogs, which killed them, but the damage was done. Otto began to scratch and bite at himself and grew thinner.

Last month, on August 23, Otto left my bedroom and crept across the hall to the computer room and hid under a spare bed there. I knew that was a bad sign, because he had never hid from me since the day in Virginia when he poked his head around a corner to let me know he was still in the apartment.

And then he made terrible sounds that will haunt me for the rest of my life.  Otto was in pain, and there was nothing I could do about it. His last act was to craw onto a sheet of plastic that had fallen under the bed. He coughed up blood in it and died right in front of me. But even in death he was a good cat. We slid the plastic out and there was not a drop of blood on the carpet. I wept and we buried him in the back yard he had never set a foot in, under the shade of a camphor tree.

He was a good cat, and he deserved better than his life with me. Excuse me, it has taken me a couple of weeks to be able to write this, and the tears are starting to flow again. I am going to have to stop and weep for a while.

He was a good cat, and I loved him. Rest in peace, Otto.

—MRK

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