When my wife and I got married twenty-one years ago, I was not a cat person. I was a pet person. Cats were okay, and they would be an okay substitute for a dog, but that was the best you could say for them. Because I wanted a dog, and my wife didn’t want anything, we settled on a cat, after I pushed the issue and two fish of ours died. I’d never even considered a fish as a pet before that, and — truth be told — I still don’t think of them that way. Beauty is a nice thing, and fish are often beautiful, but they don’t talk, they don’t play, they don’t cuddle, they don’t, as far as I know, want to be with you after a hard day’s work, or a lazy day’s rest.
As I said, though, cats are okay, so we got a cat and named it the silliest, most royal name we could think of — Tiglath Piliaser the 4th, after an ancient Babylonian (I think) leader in history, Tiglath Piliaser the Third. We both sort of liked that combination of royal (which Tig thought she was) and silliness (which we thought she was — and we were for taking her in, in the first place.
Like good cat owners, we had Tig spayed and she immediately became our least favorite icon — a fat cat. She had this bulbous sack under her stomach that waddled from side to side when she walked forward. Later, we brought Betty the Wonder Dog home from the pound and, when we did, Tig became somewhere between territorial and anxious. She kept to herself and this wasn’t what we’d intended, so Michelle suggested we needed another cat. Still, three pets seemed like a bit much for two humans, so we tabled the idea.
We loved Betty almost immediately and we spent afternoons with her running free at a local park, bounding effortlessly over the tall grasses there (the dog bounded, we just walked). But tall grass is great for other things, like hiding predators, and the lineman who where there at the park that day, discovered an animal that thought it was a predator, attacking booted feet, insects, and other such fierce stuff.
When it became apparent that the linemen couldn’t take the cat home, I yelled to my my wife, “Do you still want that cat?” and we took it home. Because she had a puff of orange on her chin that looked like smoke, so my wife said “she looks like a Dutch Master”, and Dutch became ours.
Dutch taught Tig how, like a predator, to hold her ground by whapping Betty across the nose and everybody slowly found their place in our lives. That was twenty years ago or so. Betty’s gone to animal heaven, Tig went last year, Betty’s been replaced (as much as a dog can), by “Lady” and today, Dutch went to that place where kitties go.
Dutch has gone from Bridgeport to California to Rhode Island and back to Connecticut with us. Dutch has seen the bringing home of those two human children from the hospital, the apparent disappearance of Betty and the appearance of Lady, the long-lasting diabetes of her sister Tig and the final empty nest of life without her.
It’s weird. I normally say that parents shouldn’t outlive their children and — as much as Dutch was like a child to us — she also lived to be 104 in cat years, so she may have seen us as children, for all I know. Cats always were hard to understand. Still, their presence is felt when it’s here and awfully, horribly missed when it is not here.
Our housemate, Lisa, when she knew Dutch’s time had come, asked me, “How do we get so attached to pets?”. Because I didn’t realize it was a rhetorical question, I answered her that I think it has something to do with touch. I still do.
As my friend Paula would remind us, skin is the largest sense organ we have, and it is the one that we stimulate the least in our fast-paced, visual, and often too loud, society. The number of hours that I have spent petting the cat in twenty years probably has a lot to do with it. Unlike the dog, it wasn’t always the most fun experience or the most conversational, but it was clearly an experience that literally, I suppose, got under my skin.
There is nothing quite like having a cat cuddle up next to you, or purr in your lap, at the end of the day or rub against your leg while you’re trying to balance toast and coffee in the morning. Even if you trip over them or get flustered by them, you still have the experience of cat with you. It’s as though cats offer the Ministry of Presence — that silent, ineffable, sacred moment of bonding when there is nothing to say or you are too tired to say it anyway.
Dutch was all that, and more. Like every pet, she was her own person, with her own identity. In this case, she was shy most of her life — so much so that many visitors never knew we had her. If you stuck around long enough in our lives, she would check you out and go away… and check you out and go away until she just stayed. After her “sister” died, she took to walking the halls at night mewling. Dutch was the animal for those quiet times in life, (which, in my businesses, is a long time). A good friend in the morning as I slowly woke up, a companion at night when the house calms down, a quietly purring skin-graft when I was writing on the computer having coffee. In each of these places, she will be remembered on some biological/spiritual connection kind of way. Maybe it’s just because I associate her with times when I meditate on life that I feel the loss spiritually.
In any case, without a lot of words, but with much cat fur, I say goodbye to Dutch. May she rest or play in ….