As I slowly awaken, Tobie curls up across my chest, covering my heart, purring. Paco nestles under my right arm, his big, soft, furry body inviting attention.
It feels like they are trying to fill in the space that Freddie left behind two days ago. Realistically, cats are seldom motivated by single intentions, except when food is on their minds, but now they greedily demand and absorb my attention that was in short supply when Freddie was moving toward his death. Do they know he’s gone? How could they not notice when he’s been in their lives for all the years they’ve been in mine. Freddie witnessed the birth of Paco, Zeeba, and their two litter mates with detached interest, while Ollie, a long-haired bundle of love with a Buddha-like personality that I had at the time, hovered with concern and later filled in as caregiver, curling up with the kittens, giving mother cat a break. After Ollie died, I adopted Tobie, an affectionate and very vocal orange tabby who had been abandoned at the vet’s, thinking he and Freddie could be buddies. I was so wrong. Freddie resented the intrusion of a new, adult cat, and made no bones about it. I didn’t witness actual fighting, but they both showed up with chunks out of their faces, each costing $250 to repair. Later fights were limited to sound effects and tumbleweeds of fur flying, but still little evidence of brotherly love.
It took years for some level of acceptance that probably only happened because Freddie grew older, slowed down, and conserved his energy by doing no more than growling ominously. It was enough to warn Tobie, who is generally a timid being and generous with his affection. However, even he has his limits, like most of us, and he’d be sneaky, lashing out when it seemed like he was going to passively take the scolding, rolling Freddie over in a threatening but harmless tumble.
Freddie was slender with both tabby and aristocratic Abyssinian characteristics, the most delicate of my pride, but with a commanding presence. When freed from the house, he would strike gracefully and purposefully away, as if on a mission, disappearing around the neighbor’s garage. Sometimes I was reminded of a Gary Larson cartoon with the title “When Irish setters go to work” that showed an Irish setter on his hind feet in coat and tie, carrying a brief case, saying to his doggy wife, “I’m going to go run around in circles and pretend there’s something in my head.” Freddie gave the impression that he was very clear about where he was going and that he had important work to do, always taking the same path, like a commuter in his daily routine. American writer Roxanne Amberson said, “In the middle of a world that has always been bit mad, a cat walks with confidence.”
I never did find out exactly where he went, although I don’t think he usually went too far. Did he curl up and sleep in a patch of sun? Did he hunt mice in the overgrown empty lot, patiently waiting, listening for telltale (telltail?) sounds of movement. Once he stayed out overnight, ignoring my calls, and was not back in the morning. Worried, I canvassed the neighborhood with flyers, meeting neighbors for the first time on the next street up who knew who Freddie was and appreciated his successful mousing.
Some people dislike cats, even despise and fear them, as if a shrieking feline had once leapt from a tree onto their head, digging in their claws. Ailurophobia refers to the persistent, irrational fear of cats that has provided fodder for cat-hating cartoons, books, T-shirts, etc. Perhaps this fear is buried in DNA, harking back to the times of saber toothed tigers, but I have always benefitted from ailurophilia, an inordinate love of cats. I’ve snuck them into hospitals to visit friends and attempted to keep one in my freshman dorm, so reluctant was I to live catless. (I was busted and the kitten evicted.) P.J. Wodehouse, English 19th century humorist, said, “The real objection to the great majority of cats is their insufferable air of superiority.”
Some people are just “dog people,” preferring the adoring, slobbering devotion of co-dependent canines, often constant car or truck companions. I’ve also housed and loved many dogs, a variety of adoptees who ambled into my life. I’ve enjoyed their antics and companionship, but cats do offer a different type of relationship. Although my cats will usually come when called, with the promise of food, it is clearly still their choice on their time line. They hold leashes in disdain, can walk on their own without a lifeline, thank you very much. An occasional cat has padded along with me on my walks, uninvited, as if to say, “Dogs. Humpff. Anyone can do this.” But when you need a warm body on a cold winter night, they’re there, increasing the R-factor. So really, cat owners ought to get credit for energy-saving, based on how many cats they have.
Freddie was really not remarkable in any way, except for his sweet nature and his beautiful, slender, tawny body and sensuous, gliding stride, bringing to mind the female lions on the hunt in the Serengeti. He didn’t do amazing tricks or strive to amuse, but he was an affectionate companion for 19 years. How do you quantify that? Much as I exhort them to help out with chores around the house, they are quite satisfied to accept my gifts of nutritious food and a warm house without any sense of obligation.
There are over 96 million cats in the U.S., and let’s face it: we all think our own pets are the cats’ pajamas, quirks, misbehavior, and all. Freddie brought his quiet affection to me with few demands beyond food and the occasional vet visit for repairs. He is missed.