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Posted by joeabbott on April 8, 2012

P1040810Spencer left us and took with him a lot of daily interaction. He had gotten into the habit of visiting me at my pillow if my alarm went off and I didn’t get up, he walked me to his food dish, would return Suzy after I’d left for work, get a few strokes with a comb as she did her hair after her morning shower, would get “second breakfast” with Suzy, and then, I imagine, snooze much of the day. I’d get home from work first and he’d remind me his food dish was empty, stroll out onto the deck with me if the weather was nice (and make it most of the way up to the coop before I was heading back from egg-collecting), and then sit with me for a little early evening gaming by the Xbox.

When Suzy got home he’d be underfoot as we prepared dinner … although we now knew the dance well enough that he was never stepped on … and would join us hopefully at the dinner table for the evening meal. We didn’t feed him from the table or serve him his food there, but he’d sit proudly at a chair with us nonetheless. The evening routine involved either more gaming time with me or snuggling time with Suzy as she read the evening paper or quietly worked on the iPad.

It was a nice routine for many years.

On the edge of our yard stand three maple trees, a lean cluster of little significance except this is where we’ve laid or pet friends to rest. Trooper, king of cats, is laid beneath a stone slab, at the center within the roots of all three; Trout, who was ever my companion in the house, is laid to the side beneath a teeming blanket of tulips; and now Spencer has joined them.

We didn’t have plans on what sort of marker we’d want for Spencer before he got sick but, when we were forced to think about it, the only fitting choice was a damned big rock. Using 4×4 timbers and a 3/4” plywood bedding for the back of my SUV, we got a stone as big as we could maneuver into the car from a local quarry. It took a bit of doing but we managed to place it along with a couple partner stones over Spencer after we laid him to rest.

We chose a spot between Trout and the fence in a place where catnip and ferns had grown. It was a place all cats would visit in the yard and seemed like a nice place for him. We planted a few tulips by the stone and they’re already taking off and blooming. It was a good choice.

I started this post to describe two more recent weekends we’ve had: where friends have told us they have the “perfect cat for us”. Twice now we’ve hosted cats … who were marvelous in their own right … but it just hasn’t worked out and we’ve returned them. Which is a very hard thing for us to do; hard on the animal, hard on the people.

The first cat was a Siamese kitten who had been rescued from his life on the streets. He was full of fun, absolutely fearless, and had impeccable litter box habits. We put him up in our master bedroom suite (which now it is, after the addition of the sun room) and he’d race about, play with toys, and trill quietly as he went about his cat games. What didn’t work was the way he stared down Trimble when they saw each other through the sliding glass door, how he showed an exceptionally high interest in outdoors (through windows we’d crack open), and that he didn’t want to be held. Like Trimble, he’d only want to be picked up on his terms.

He was hard to return because he had so many qualities we liked, but the breach that Spencer left to fill included a cat you could pick up, carry about, or have nuzzle up to you. This little guy didn’t want that sort of suffocating closeness. It was a heartbreaker to return him but, when we took him on, we all knew it was to find out if he was compatible in our home. That didn’t make it any less difficult … ours is not a home from which cats are turned out.

The second cat came a week later. We drove to a small town some 100 miles from Seattle. A long trip for a stray but we made a road trip of it, enjoyed a chance to talk and share time, and listened to a book on tape. The cat we were interested in was a tiny, orange tabby who was shy and quiet but would let you pet it any way you wanted. Suzy had the little fella on his back, purring as his belly was rubbed. At the same time, however, he never looked completely comfortable. We chalked that up to him being in a shelter with dogs barking and people moving about.

So, we brought him home and set him up in “the suite” where he promptly hid for a full day. The caregivers had warned us this might happen but we thought we could wait him out. Over the next 4 days he continued to hide and didn’t eat or drink a thing. We could pull him out and pet him, he’d purr and seem to settle down, but if you stopped he’d slowly slink away, once out of arm reach he’d cast a glance over his shoulder, and he’d run to find a place to hide. The only time he showed outward interest is when he’d see Trimble … who made it clear he wasn’t interested in this new cat.

So, we spent a day or two syringe feeding him bits of tuna juice but apologized to the previous caregivers and, for the cats health, returned him. The person who accepted him knew immediately what the problem was: he was a cat who’d always been around other cats and needed cat buddies. We were in touch the next day and he was already eating and socializing normally now that he was back with more cats.

He was a hard friend to give up because he had the sweetest little face and was so easy going, but I hadn’t built up much of a bond with him. Hard to do when you have to fish him out from under a table just to hold him and then have him cast that look as he slipped away.

Lines from a quote that I’d shared before continue to ring true

We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way.

And yet Spencer left a gap that’s proving hard to make whole again.


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