It was summer of 1995, and I was working away from home for the first time, in a resort town up north in Saskatchewan. My sister and my boyfriend at the time sometimes came up for visits on the weekends. One weekend, they came with a handful of fluff – a tiny kitten, with half his fur falling out. I told them I couldn’t have a kitten where I was staying. They both welled up and sniffled, and cried “but he’ll die if you don’t keep him!”. I could not face them both down.
We took the kitten to the vet, who said he probably would not live to the end of the week. He was throwing up, pooping blood, and his hair was falling out. He had ear mites and an eye infection. He must have been separated from his mother, because he did not know how to eat or drink. He was so tiny, he could curl up in the palm of my hand. I spent two weeks’ wages on eye drops, pills, ear drops, skin cream, more pills, and a special kind of milk that supposedly wouldn’t make him throw up. The vet did not have much hope, and, to be honest, neither did I, but I did not want to let my sister and my boyfriend down.
I was working as a chambermaid at a hotel. I kept the kitten in my jacket pocket while I worked, and took him out every hour to feed him and administer the various treatments. I moved to a place that would allow a kitten. I found a raven feather on the ground, and tied it on a length of purple yarn to make a toy for him, which he chased all over the cabin most nights. It was cold that summer, and the cabin was not heated. The sleeping g bag I slept under was too heavy for him, and he could not get warm enough in his own bed, so he tended to creep up and snuggle on my neck, the only part of me that was exposed for him to warm up on. Later, when he got bigger, it was hard to break him of that habit, and the best I ever managed was to teach him to sleep on the pillow beside my head. Another ‘cute’ habit that was hard to break was that he would climb up my pant leg when he wanted to get attention or be picked up. Once his claws got long enough to go through my jeans and into my leg, I taught him to just put his paws up on my leg when he wanted to be picked up. He loved being carried over my shoulder, like a baby. Since he was such a snuggly teddy bear, I named him Pookie.
He survived the week, and the week after. His fur grew back, and he turned out to be a beautiful long-haired chocolate tabby, with white toes, a white bib, and white on the tip of his tail. His whiskers were the longest I have ever seen on a cat, and he had tufts of fur on his ears and between his toes. He was a beautiful cat, and loved all the attention it got him. Pookie knew he was handsome, and was vain about keeping his white bits pristine white, and his luxuriant tail was his pride and joy. He was downright vain. Even as an old boy, when he was too arthritic to keep himself perfectly groomed, he would happily let me pull knots out while I was combing him. it had to hurt, but he would just sit patiently and purr. He liked to look his best!
I moved in with my boyfriend that fall, and started going to university. Pookie came with us, and chased my pens and pencils while I was trying to study at the kitchen table. Whenever I sat down, he jumped into my lap, to the point of being a nuisance. My boyfriend felt Pookie needed a friend, so we got Gwen, another stray, from a rescue organization. After a couple of days, they were fast friends, chasing each other all over the apartment and playing constantly. When we shuffled the cards to play cribbage in the evenings, they would both go nuts, and run laps up and down the hallway.
One time, Gwen pounced over the end of the bed and onto Pookie, who was lying against the wall. He made a horrible howl, and hid under the bed. We fished him out and took him to the vet…turned out the head of his femur was broken clean off. The vet told us we had three options. We could put him down for $20, the vet could go in and clean up the broken part a bit for $500 and let a false joint form, or we could pin everything back together for $2, 000. We chose the second option, even though we barely had enough money for groceries that month. Rent was $350 a month at the time. We called Pookie gold-plated after that.
Dad always liked Pookie. When he was a teeny kitten, Dad fed him a big can of tuna. The fish must have weighed more than the cat did, but Pookie made a heroic effort to finish it off. He was so full he could barely walk, and Dad joked about it for ages. One time, when Dad came to visit, though, he made a very realistic kitty hiss. I was holding Pookie at the time, and he launched off me so furiously that I was bleeding quite heavily and thought I might need stitches. He ran and hid under the couch. Dad had just been teasing, but for ever after, Pookie hid under the couch when Dad came over. Even a can of tuna was not enough to coax him out. He had a very long memory.
I eventually broke up with the boyfriend, and won the custody battle.
When Pookie was about eight, I got a dog. She was a husky, about 55 pounds, and young and bouncy, though not really a puppy anymore. I brought her home from the shelter, worried about how the cats would react. I brought her into the kitchen to get her a drink, and Pookie came around the corner. Tail held high, he sauntered over to sniff noses with the dog. he was pretty cocky. he would shove his way into her food dish and steal her goodies. It’s amazing he never got bitten.
When Pookie was twelve, my husband and I rescued a couple of kittens. They were tiny and grungy and sick and scared and underfed. I expected Pookie, now an arthritic old puss, to be grumpy and standoffish. Imagine my surprise when, not a week after we rescued the kittens, to find them snuggled up to the old boy in his favorite chair. Gwen had passed on about two years before, but I had never really realized how much he had missed her. The kittens were ‘his girls’, and he was cozy and protective with them. Even just before he died, Pookie would flatten one or the other of the kittens under a paw to lick her ears if he thought they needed attention. They would all sleep together in a heap, and the more feral of the two kittens was always seeking him out for comfort:
He was a Mama’s boy, and would get snarky with me if I went away for more than a couple of days, and would ignore me for a day or two after I got home. Sooner or later, though, he would be curled up on my pillow, purring me to sleep as always. He had the loudest purr.
Pookie moved around quite a bit. From his kittenhood in Saskatchewan, he moved to Alberta for a few years, then to B.C. for a year. Back to Alberta, and home to Saskatchewan just a few months before he died. I wonder if he knew? He was a lap cat to the very end, and the day before he died, he was snuggling with me on the bed, in a sunbeam. He was not sick, or in any unusual pain. He was old, and arthritic, but still jumping on the bed and being a nuisance and bugging for scraps of people food the day before he died. I really thought I would have more time with him. He was such a good pet, loyal and loving.
On Friday morning, I woke up at 4am. I went to the bathroom, but heard something not right in the livingroom. Pookie was stretched out on the floor, panting. I knew right away that it was the end for him. We debated taking him to the vet, but a half-hour car ride would have been cruel, so I stayed with him, petting his head and soothing him. At the end, I gathered him up in a towel and held him on my chest. He did not suffer for long, and did not really seem to be in much pain, except for at the very end. The dogs and kittens sat with him, too, so he died at home, with his loved ones around him. After he died, we curled him up in a box in the livingroom, and went for a walk with the dogs, so the kittens could say goodbye, too. I think they know he is gone, but they are still poking around the house, making funny little noises and being overly friendly – they miss him, too. Hubby and I took him out and buried him at the Farm, under the maples and the lilacs. He had never been there, but that was the final destination for all of us, and I like to think he will still be sort of ‘around’ when we move there for good.
It is hard to say goodbye to a pet I’ve had almost half my life. I got him when I was a teenager, and he would have been turning sixteen right about now. He has been there through the good and the bad, through breakups, get-togethers, several jobs, a dozen moves, and more. He was a constant – no matter what, if I sat down to read a book, he would curl up in my lap and purr. When I was crying, he would always come to snuggle. Right now, as I lie here on the bed, typing on my laptop, there is a cold spot at my shoulder where he should be.
Goodbye, Pookie. You were a good friend. I will miss you…