Friday, June 15, 2012

My Little Ratty Cat

Good-bye, Bootie

Boutros Boutros Kitty came to me one day at the tennis courts, a tiny handful of long black fur with a white blaze on her chest and four matching boots.  I felt her watching me from the shrubs near my car, peeking between the branches as I unloaded my tennis bag.   She was so tiny, so beautiful, and so friendly that I just knew she was somebody’s much loved pet.  I filled a little pet with water and put it near her shrub in case she was thirsty.  I felt certain she would go home before my match was over.

The little cat was still in the shrubs though, water was gone, so I refilled it then drove home and swiped some cat food from my other three cat’s supply, drove back to the courts, and put it in the bushes with her water.  This went on twice daily for over a week when finally my son Steven brought me to my senses.

“Mom, let’s just bring the Court Cat home.  We have two cats; one more won’t make much difference.”

We named her after the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali and brought her home, where we lived with a Rottweiler named Andy and a little Australian Cattle Dog, Mary. Andi had reared Mary since puppyhood and they ruled our house. 

Jack, our elder cat, was a feisty, opinionated calico.  She and her silver-haired offspring Smokey were there to greet this tiny kitten.  Jack, the matriarch, demanded the same respect from this youngster as she got from her offspring and from our two dogs.

Smokey, with his long silver hair and his laid-back-hippie ways, eyeballed the kitten from a distance, and went back to sleep.  He was nobody’s boss.

In the end, Jack got little respect from Boutros.  Each time she chastised Boutros and turned her back to make a regal exit, the kitten swatted Jack on the rear end.  Her Regal Self would stop, turn and hiss at the kid and that was the end of the confrontation.  This ritual was repeated until Jack made her transition.

Jack and Smokey were content with sheltering in the garage or sunning themselves on the cement of the rather large and fenced side yard.  At night though, all cats slept in the garage safe from raccoons or skunks.  They never dreamed of coming into the house where dogs resided with people.

Boutros immediately established her Superior Catness over our canines by leaping onto their haunches as they squatted to take a wee.  The dogs lived their lives on the look out for the little black and white that terrorized them from behind the flower pots, and the little cat shared the backyard with them.

In time, young Boutros decided the front yard was her personal territory, taking on any dog who dared to walk down our street.  She was as beautiful as she was a tough: this tiny cat challenged all dogs, stalking them if they came too close to our property.  She once shredded an unsuspecting pit-bull’s nose. 

She remained a dainty eight pounds, and knowing she was gorgeous, seemed to pose in front of the vibrant flowers we had in our front gardens.  A visiting artist painted a picture she took of Bootie and our flowers.  The painting was hung in a gallery in San Francisco.  I wish I knew where, it means so much to me now.

1996 was the year when my son moved out to live with his father, leaving me a note in the mail box and a decade and half of grief.  It was also the year my daughter presented me with an unexpected grandson, a sweet and loving little boy who never knew a day without Boutros.

It was also the year that I finally agreed to step out onto the tennis courts “to just hit a little” with my future husband, and the world of competitive sports revealed itself to me.

In retrospect 1996 was a year that brought on some of the very best and worst times of my life. Perhaps we just have to reach a certain age before the real and unpredictable heartbreakers happen; have to reach a certain age to realize you are never too old to give new challenges (like tennis) a go.

Time rolled on. I remarried; and Andy, Jack and Smokey all lived nearly sixteen years before making their transitions.   My daughter and grandson moved out and began to make their ways in the world; my son remained trapped somewhere where I couldn’t seem reach him.   I continued nudging him with cards, notes and phone messages.  Let him know that he remained in my heart and that I would always love him.

When Rottweiler Andy passed, my long time neighbor demanded get a new partner dog for little Mary.  You see, my neighbor had been coming into our backyard to sit with our little cattle dog while we worked.   “Mel! Mary’s wasting away in grief!  It’s not good for her, she gonna die if you don’t get her a partner!”

So, my husband and I loaded Mary into the car and took her with us to various shelters and “tried on” possible partners.  At a shelter in Berkeley we found a tall black and white goofball with the impossible name of Mysticka.  We brought her out to see how Mary reacted, and to the shock of the shelter workers and us, the two dogs immediately sat down butt to butt and leaned into each other.  They looked at us as if to say “Well, let’s go already!”

Mystica, now dubbed Bisbee came home with us, and the two dogs doted on each other.
Bisbee gave all the garage cats respect, and life settled in with everyone understanding boundaries. 

Boutros claimed the entire front yard as her realm, and policed it as any good black and white should.  She chased away offending dogs, including the before mentioned pit bull with the shredded nose.  Our home was well guarded by our pets.  

Little Boutros “Bootie” outlived Jack, Smokey, Andy, Mary and Bisbee.  They all made their transitions in their sixteenth year.  So it seems fitting that she too went at the end of her sixteenth year.

But in her last six years she found her own personal dog, a shelter dog named Lulu.  Lulu is a Border Collie, a black and white longhair just like Boutros, with the same blaze and feet. No doubt Bootie took to Lulu because they were kin, wore the same tartan.  Or, was it because Lulu had been raised with cats and respected them?  They became partners, running shoulder to shoulder and chasing neighborhood cats from our back garden.  

Bootie began using Lulu’s doggie door, with great effort for a cat who never weighed more than eight pounds. I sometimes found the two snoozing on my bed.  They sunned themselves in the back yard every day, but at night, Bootie always wanted to go back to the garage, to the cave where cats slept.

She passed yesterday.  We just weren't prepared, were not expecting a trauma.  It was a sorrowful accident involving my grandson’s loveable dog Roscoe.  Nobody knows how or why he picked Bootie up, we only saw him walking with her held gently in his mouth.  She was still alive, but had three punctures in her chest.  We made the decision to let her pass on, be euthanized.  So, a few hours later she was let go. 

In 1970 I lived and worked in San Francisco.  Our flat was in the Outer Mission and my husband, Larry, was in the Navy, based out of Alameda across the bay.  We had a couple of cats, Angie and Barfie, and when Larry was stationed on the east coast I stayed behind, kept my job so he would process out and return to San Francisco, college and our future.  

But someone knew I was alone in that flat.  And they knew we had an expensive collection of records, recording system, turntable, speakers and such.  Thre times they broke our doors down, cleaned our flat out.  When I moved out I could not bring our two kitties.  I took them to a pet store and the owner promised would try to keep them together and find a home for them.  I made the mistake of turning around as I walked out the door. I saw their big eyes pleading with me not to abandon them.  

I left, hoping for the best because I didn’t know what else to do.  

Their eyes have haunted me ever since, still bring grief to me. I am crying now recalling something that occurred  nearly a half century ago.  I see and feel their terror, my grief, my pain.  They taught me a huge lesson.  Animals are creatures of emotion as much as any human.  When they are disregarded like a pair of dirty old socks they are wounded as deeply as any human child would be.

Since then, my much loved pets never leave their lives in the company of strangers, alone, in fear and harsh surroundings.  I will be the last thing they see.  They will feel my familiar arms and my lap; hear my voice saying I love them.  And their last breath will catch the scent of me.  

This is the least I can do for all creatures that bring such joy.  In the end, grief is all about love.  We are fortunate to grieve.  It is clear evidence that we have known, created, and experienced Love.

Bootie, my little baby ratty cat, you are the cat of my heart.  Thank you for all your devotion, your affection, and your trust. 

And, little cat, show some respect to Jack, okay?

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