"Can you tell me why I am a cat, please?"
December 5, 2012 8:16 PM   Subscribe

The Bear was found on a motorway, lost all his fur (twice), got poisoned, had a hole ripped in his throat, lost chunks of ear and went awol for six weeks. But at 17 he's still going strong - The cat with 17 lives
posted by Artw (29 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
The world needs more cat biographies (hagiographies?)

I myself am partial to the life of Jeremy Bentham's cat, The Reverend Sir John Langbourne, D.D. (Doctor of Divinity). The philosopher's "felicific calculus" found that his own happiness was maximized by giving the cat the seat closest to the fire, and scratching him behind his ears.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 8:37 PM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

Aww...my sister has a fantastic old kitty too! It will be so rough at the rainbow bridge! :(
posted by swooz at 8:53 PM on December 5, 2012

I've often questioned our sanity when it comes to cats and dogs. We let them into our lives and to some extent, we let them dominate our lives, we become attached and dependant and all along we know they will not last as long as us. And then that terrible day comes and your world ends. We spend years setting ourselves up for a massive fall.
posted by 13twelve at 8:58 PM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

and all along we know they will not last as long as us.

Perhaps, subconsciously, that's why I waited until I was 60 to get a dog. I figure the odds, given my lifestyle, are about even.... Perhaps we'll go together....I sort of hope so...
posted by HuronBob at 9:08 PM on December 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

In that way, pets mirror most relationships.
posted by flaterik at 9:15 PM on December 5, 2012

We spend years setting ourselves up for a massive fall.

We spend years banking tiny pleasures against that day, accruing joy with every headbutt, every dozy couch session, every blinking yawn and stretch. When Al, the Best Cat Ever, goes, I will be heartbroken. But I will know that no cat anywhere has ever been so fiercely loved. Every day of his life.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:17 PM on December 5, 2012 [30 favorites]


posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:47 PM on December 5, 2012 [10 favorites]

I have a long, winding history with cats. I love them. My family loves them. When I was young, due to poverty and my mother's own personal difficulties, we had too many of them. As in, north of 30 too many of them. It made my life a living hell, as the stench wasn't something my classmates wanted to deal, or had any kind of sympathy for. I was lucky to have family that was willing to take me in, which allowed me to finish high school, go to college, and pretty much do all of the stuff I've done since then. When I left home, I reminded my mother that I'd always told her that she needed to get rid of the cats, or get rid of me, and pointed out the cats were all still there, and my bags were packed.

I thought I'd had enough of cats. To my thinking, they'd nearly ruined my life (which, now, I understand had nothing to do with them, and a lot to do with the failures of the humans around them). But then, when I got to Japan, I met a wonderful woman who was sad because she was so far from her cats back in Canada. We lived in an apartment, and couldn' have cats, but she was quick to point out any strays we saw, and more than once, she stopped convenience stores to get some food for them. One stray she pretty much adopted. It lived behind the convenience store where she parked her bike for the day. It was there in the morning, and there in the evening. It loved everyone that walked by, unconditionally. Often, she would put food out for the cat, and sit down. The cat would jump into her lap, ignoring the food, wanting cuddling more than anything. She called her Grateful Kitty (let's just say names weren't her strong suit).

Then, one day, on here way to work (she left earlier than I did), she found Grateful Kitty in the middle of the road. It was a road that a lot of people used as a shortcut through an otherwise residential neighborhood as a way to get around the traffic lights. Some fucker killed my girlfriend's cat so he could shave a couple seconds off his commute time.

When she called me, I couldn't even understand her at first. I jumped on my bike to go meet her, and I've never seen someone so totally destroyed like that. She was hyperventilating, unable to even make sounds.

A couple months later, a stray began hanging around our apartment. Bowls of food were placed outside. The cat would literally hiss at us while she ate. Ungrateful Kitty. We'd leave a shoe in the door, holding it open, and she'd wander in. She slowly got used to us. We picked up a litter box. She stayed started staying over night. A couple more months go by, and she's pregnant, and gives birth to a litter behind the apartment. We do what we can, but in the end, two of the kittens make it. Baby White and Jomo Junior (spitting image of the probably dad, a cat who lived near the Jomo Gas gas station). They come in, sleep on the bed with us. We find a vet, and get Baby fixed. Because it's for a stray cat, he does it for cost, and vacinates her and her brother for free.

When my girlfriend went back to Canada, there I was with the two cats. All this time later, and there I am with cats again. Later, Jomo went away, and never came back. Ungrateful Kitty disappeared. I stayed in that apartment for years, mostly because I was worried that if I moved, Baby would do some Incredible Journey shit and go back. Other families in the building had pets, too. Baby learned how to open the screen over the window in front (with the bars on it). Every year, she'd disappear for a couple weeks. I'd worry, and then just when I told myself that she wasn't coming back, there she'd be. The year of the Pistons-Spurs finals, a friend came over to watch. He was a Spurs fan, and it ended up being the last game. I saw that the Pistons were going to lose about ten minutes before the end, and went outside, despondent. There was Baby, sitting on a car in the parking lot, looking up at me like she hadn't been gone for three weeks. She came running upstairs, and I couldn't have cared less about basketball, or anything else.

She's a full-time indoor cat now, now that we have a house. She has, however, managed to get out a couple times, once leaping from the balcony to the awning over the front door, to the neighbors yard. I covered the neighborhood in signs in Japanese with a picture of her and our phone number. I was out for three hours, blanketing the neighborhood (and other adjacent ones). When I got home, there she was, sitting on the wall, waiting to be let back inside.

She's not the friendliest cat. She runs from pretty much anyone but me. She's terrified of the sound of plastic bags, which makes me wonder what trauma she went through on her long journeys. She's chipped now, and well loved. She has a new friend, Gazpacho (because names should be cool, damn it), who she mostly hits in the face and runs away from. Gazpacho was the runt of a litter someone found in the park and took to the vet. The vet called us, knowing we were looking for a second cat. She's a year and a half old now, and she's twice the size of Baby, who for all the food we set out for her is still rail thin. We've asked the vet, and there's nothing wrong with her, she's just a skinny, awesome fucking cat.

I'm so happy I've got cats back in my life.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:55 PM on December 5, 2012 [23 favorites]

I enjoyed reading that...I could really relate to it as I have my own almost-17-year-old cat who seems to have used up a few of her own nine lives. I've noticed in the last year or so (!!) she has started to show signs of her age, though surprisingly few. I have had her since I picked her out at the animal shelter, the only female in a litter of scrappy orphaned kittens. She is such a character, and she has seen me through my young adulthood into actual adulthood...I'm trying to accept that she is getting quite elderly and that I might not have that much longer with her, but I know I'm still going to have a hard time when she goes. I almost couldn't read to the end of the article because it was making me tear up, but I'm glad I did.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:29 AM on December 6, 2012

I really like cats. Problem is, I'm also really allergic to cat hairs.
posted by Pendragon at 12:37 AM on December 6, 2012

I did this before, but the thread was deleted, so:

|  ,,
ll ll
posted by JHarris at 1:13 AM on December 6, 2012 [10 favorites]

One of those articles that could be replaced with the words "I have toxoplasmosis" over and over.
posted by Hogshead at 2:32 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I really like cats. Problem is, I'm also really allergic to cat hairs.

Get a sphinx. Problem solved.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:44 AM on December 6, 2012

Really enjoyable read – both The Guardian's and Ghidorah's. And they both remind me of a cat I named with equal gravitas and imagination: Black Cat, known to him as Chat Noir.

I'd just moved to Nice with my then-partner, and had convinced him we should adopt a cat. I had grown up with animals: cats, dogs, rabbits, and the horses of friends, as well as the occasional house mouse and lazily-sunning-lizard I managed to catch (I always freed them after a week, much to the chagrin of my parents when it came to the mice, which I eventually learned to hide from them). When I came to France for my studies, and later lived in Finland, it was the first time in my life that I had been animal-less. As such it was delightful to be able to adopt little Malo, aka Le Chat Malo, which in French is a homophone with le chamallow, "marshmallow".

Soon after Malo came to live with us, Chat Noir made his presence known. He was clearly a stray tomcat: big, muscular, battle-scarred, and permanently hoarse. He very quickly adopted Malo as his playmate, and would visit us at specific times of day: late morning and mid-afternoon. I worked from home as a freelance translator at the time, so was able to watch the two gleefully hunt and tackle one another on the patio. He refused my offerings of food, looking at them from his favorite perch of a white lawn chair with an expression that seemed to convey: "have you not noticed that I am entirely self-sufficient?" But he closed his eyes at me, so I knew that in some way, he trusted me, which was not the case for any other humans in the vicinity. We shared the ground floor of a multi-room home (only two storeys) with two other couples/apartments, one on either side of ours – they didn't even know of Chat Noir's presence until the couple to the left of our place got a kitten of their own three years later.

Not long after he first met Malo and me, Chat Noir began prrowing at me, matter-of-factly, as befit his general demeanor. He would close his eyes and tilt his head invitingly while prrowing, so I ventured to pat his head. He purred like an old motorboat engine that had been unused for years. When he had deemed that he had sufficient head-pats, he head-butted my hand and gently bit it (firmly, but without breaking the skin). Then he prrowed again, flicked his tail, hopped off the chair and sauntered off.

This became our daily regime for the three years I knew Chat Noir. Only once did he break his schedule: one night, he got into a fight and was injured. "Prrow! Prroooow!" I jumped out of bed and went to see why Chat Noir was prrowing for me: there he was, sitting on his white lawn chair, scalp and right ear bleeding. "Prrooooowow!" he said with a new mix of anxiety and trust. I went to get a non-stinging antibiotic spray I had around, and some cotton. Chat Noir patiently let himself be tended to, purring, eyes closed, letting me move his head as needed. Once finished, he gave a thankful "prrow!" and trotted off as always.

When our neighbors got their female calico kitten, who they dubbed Mimi, Chat Noir soon had another friend... but once she had her first heat, he also bore her a romantic interest. It proved to be his undoing. One weekend, after my then-partner and I got home from a day trip, we saw Mimi's guy-human on our patio, cursing under his breath while he trimmed the already-trimmed hedge along our patio wall. My partner asked him how things were going. "Oh, fine now," he replied, "I just shot that damned black tomcat that's been fucking Mimi." (He was a hunter, so this being France, he had a legally-owned hunting rifle.) My heart just dropped.

Malo went on to live another seven years, but every time I remember him, I also remember his first and best friend Chat Noir, whose only requests to me were for care and affection.
posted by fraula at 4:09 AM on December 6, 2012 [12 favorites]

My older kitties, littermates who I got at the same time, are now past 16. Even my 'new' cat is 12. They're all still in pretty good health, but they're slowing down. Eventually, they'll go and I'll be a wreck.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:24 AM on December 6, 2012

Fraula, what a sad story...
posted by Pendragon at 4:34 AM on December 6, 2012

I am the proud companion of the meanest fiercest angriest tortie (whom you may remember from this story). She has never been a lap cat, she isn't very affectionate (her need for pats and skritches are at her convenience only and there is a specific way you do them, dammit), but she's beautiful.

She is also getting old. She just turned 14 in September. She's in great health so far, enough where the vet remarked upon it, but she is also the last link to my life before my husband. Her brother (also the subject of another popular MeFi story) died too soon and my heart still breaks when I think about losing him so quickly after I moved to Canada.

Once Drusilla is gone, then I will...well, I will be in pieces, unsure if I can be repaired.
posted by Kitteh at 5:30 AM on December 6, 2012

Cat biography
posted by doiheartwentyone at 5:31 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

*** cries forever ***

My cat Mini was the most affectionate being I've ever encountered. She was a street kitty that I picked up in Albany one frigid night. After a few months, Mini would excitedly visit me in the bathroom, purr loudly, and drool! When I asked the vet about the drooling, she said that Mini was probably so excited to belong to someone that she couldn't help herself. She was a complete snugglebunny and would crawl under the covers Bombay-style (I think she may have had a little Bombay in her).

However, she was not the Giving Tree. I once carried her up a flight of stairs after she had spent a bit too much time visiting the downstairs neighbors. On the way up, she swatted my glasses off my face - it was an incredibly accurate hit. And one day she was visiting my neighbor when said neighbor was studying on the porch. After a few minutes of the neighbor paying her no attention (which was unusual), the book mysteriously went flying out of the neighbor's hands. When the neighbor looked for the culprit, Mini was calmly sitting on a coffee table next to the neighbor's chair, expecting attention as always.

Mini left the planet five years ago next April; I haven't had another cat since. I had litter box duty for 21 years and I'm not sure I'll ever be ready to return to it. But I'm certainly privileged to have had Mini in my life.
posted by Currer Belfry at 5:45 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Punk Leader: Nice night for a walk, eh?
The Purrminator: Meow
Punk: Wash day tomorrow? Nothing clean, right?
The Purrminator: Meeeeowwww
Punk Leader: Hey, I think this cat's a couple cans short of a six-pack.
The Purrminator: MEOW!
Punk Leader: Fuck you, asshole!
The Purrminator: ROWWWRRRR!!! HISSSSSSSS!!!!!!
posted by orme at 6:24 AM on December 6, 2012

Oh, don't...

My old cat died about 18 months ago, aged 22. I' got her aged 34, and I'm now 56. A more gentle and devoted creature I cannot imagine, and I still miss her.

In some ways, owning a pet is a terrible thing...
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 6:28 AM on December 6, 2012

Tom Cox has the best twitter feed ever. Even if you don't like twitter, his little vignettes are fun.
posted by winna at 7:34 AM on December 6, 2012

I did not like Roger when we got him. He was my mother's cat and would have gone to the pound if she died. He is obsessed with food and will eat himself to death if you leave food out; he will also bug the shit out of you to feed him more than twice a day no matter how much you yell at him. He is needy and "mees" at you from a distance rather than coming up and asking for a scratch like a normal cat. He is cross-eyed, longhaired, not terribly bright and prone to vomiting. He refuses to poop inside his litter box, so he now has to access his litterbox through a cat flap to the garage as a result.

But he's grown on me and I know I will miss him when he's gone. I am angry at whoever his first owner was (not my mom) who declawed his front feet cause I can tell they hurt sometimes. He sheds a lot but has a really gorgeous coat. He's mostly Maine Coon and is, literally, the largest cat most of my friends have ever seen, but he has never even hissed at any person. I was incredibly proud at him for catching a dragonfly the other day given that he's not that quick and can't see straight.

It's probably the toxoplasmosis, but what the hell.
posted by emjaybee at 8:30 AM on December 6, 2012

"The Bear was found on a motorway, lost all his fur (twice), got poisoned, had a hole ripped in his throat, lost chunks of ear and went awol for six weeks. But at 17 he's still going strong"

How cruel of The Bear's owners to keep letting him out, where he can -- and will -- get hurt, and will hurt and kill other things.

I see nothing special about humans taking horrible risks with their beloved pets, only to revel in how they've managed to survive the experience. It's not character-building. It's negligent.
posted by markkraft at 5:44 PM on December 6, 2012

"Mini left the planet five years ago next April; I haven't had another cat since." . . .
"My old cat died about 18 months ago, aged 22. I' got her aged 34, and I'm now 56. . . I still miss her. In some ways, owning a pet is a terrible thing...

I've had cats my entire life, and have lost many over the years. I can't even remember all of their names offhand, though I have loved them all. (We currently have two.)

I don't think we do cats any favors when we humanize them too much, or allow ourselves to get too broken up about their passing. The one constant about cat ownership is that as much as we might like to have some degree of control over our cats, in the end, we're the ones who adjust to their lives, and not visa-versa. If you own a cat, you are making a deal with them... food, comfort, and safety, in return for their presence.

All the horrible things that happened to The Bear, and that happen to other unadopted cats every day? Those are reasons why you should look past your own feelings of pain, and open your door again to the next cat that turns up on your front porch... or should make a point of visiting the cats at the local humane society.

People nowadays increasingly talk about pet owners as being inhumane or irresponsible if they don't -- usually can't -- pay $250 an hour for them to have the best medical treatment... but the truth is, even if you feed your pet table scraps and cannot afford anything more for your pet than basic flea control, and occasional antibiotics, your pet will be infinitely more fortunate -- and have a much longer, happier, less stressed life -- than those animals who are left to go feral.

You may think that your heart cannot afford to be broken yet again by the loss of a pet... but ultimately, this was never about you. Rather, it was about providing room and a future for a rather special, curious occupant into your life... and, by doing so, measurably improving your own life as a result.

You fell in love, but had your heart broken? Great. Now go love some more.
posted by markkraft at 6:10 PM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

markkraft, while I disagree with your earlier comment (I feel that some cats, especially strays, being kept inside is cruel in a way. And yes, cats kill things. It's what they do. Spiders kill things. Dogs kill things. It's part of nature), your second comment strikes a chord. Feral cats have, from what I've read, a three year life expectancy. Baby is now 8 or 9. When I wasn't in a position to do more than provide food and temporary shelter, she was the only one who lived longer than two years (though I like to believe that some loving family adopted Jomo Junior), and I like to think that she has lived a long, happy life, free from the terrors she faced before. Gazpacho was the runt of a litter someone had abandoned in a park. Some wonderful person found them, and took them to our vet, who managed to find homes for all of them (they even agreed to hold onto Gazpacho for us until she could eat solid/wet food). Without that chain of events, being the runt, I'm sure she would have died by now.

but ultimately, this was never about you

I love this idea. Thanks.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:45 PM on December 6, 2012

"And yes, cats kill things. It's what they do."

True, but people and the food they provide around where they live are the reason why there are so many feral and outdoor cats, which are non-native predators responsible for killing 480 million birds a year in the US, as well as being responsible for the extinction of at least 33 species of birds.

Actually, let me correct that. The humans who let their cats go outdoors in an unsafe manner are responsible for those extinctions. Cats are non-native predators who aren't responsible for their decisions. Only their owners are. The National Audubon Society has said that “worldwide, cats may have been involved in the extinction of more bird species than any other cause, except habitat destruction.”

So, basically, you're saying that it's okay for pet owners to be irresponsible and both risk their pet's lives and the lives and environments of the native wildlife in a very, very significant manner, because you think it's cruel that cats have to stay in.

I like to eat the occasional tuna sandwich. I very rarely share any of it with with my cats, though. How cruel of me. If I had kids, I wouldn't leave them unmonitored and let them play in the street, either... or let a dog wander off of my property. Or intentionally set loose any other invasive, non-native animal with a significant record for wiping out the native wildlife.

Cats like to chase, hunt, and run. They also like to fight other animals, reproduce, eat anything that looks like food, run in the streets, and mingle with other cats carrying disease. That's why the average lifespan of pet cats that are allowed outdoors is about a third less than that of cats kept indoors. That's why the story of The Bear is kind of special... The average life expectancy for an indoor/outdoor cat like him is about ten years... few cats that have lived a life like Bear's ever live to be 17, compared to all those other cats who died early and unnecessarily, due to their owner's negligent behavior.

I don't know about you, but have you ever tried to comfort your dying pet, after they got hit by a car, because you let them roam freely and unsupervised? Or lost a cat to feline infectious peritonitis or feline leukemia? Maybe you'd reconsider your feelings on the matter, if you knew that you played a major role in the death of your pet.

Really... might I suggest building a cat enclosure, or buying a laser pointer instead?!
posted by markkraft at 7:03 AM on December 7, 2012

True story: the oldest, most beloved cat I've ever owned was called Blixa... a real princess of a cat. A beautiful black and white cat.

At the time, we were renting a house with roommates... our landlord lived in the back cottage.

My wife and I got home one evening and the landlord immediately flagged the two of us down at the driveway, and told us that our cat was playing in the street and had just been hit by a passing car. They had been able to get her in a box, and were about to take her to the vet, but didn't think anything could be done, but she was still alive and we should see her.

We went back to their cottage, and saw a mangled black and white cat bleeding from the nose and mouth in a frothy red, with a clearly broken leg and obvious internal injuries, making painful noises I've never heard out of my cat. The whole experience was very surreal and very sudden. My wife immediately started crying like crazy, as she had opened up a window earlier and suspected that Blixa got out through a screen door that we had recently built and put up, which was held in place by just simple penny nails.

My initial reaction is that It didn't even look like Blixa, with her face showing fear and pain, but I felt that it probably was, considering the circumstances. It was a bit dark, I could hardly bring myself to look closely, and certainly didn't want to move her, and there was too much blood -- and we were in too much shock -- to really tell. We took her into our house, with her crying all the way as the box was moved.

My wife also felt the same way, and, just in case, started desperately calling for Blixa... but Blixa didn't come like she usually would. We got the phonebook and located a nearby emergency vet, as our regular family vet was 25 minutes away, when we heard a curious meow. Blixa came out from a comfortable nook behind the couch, wondering why we had woken her. To say we were relieved would be an understatement. More crying ensued.

We did our best to make the other cat comfortable, but things were getting worse for it. We took it to the local SPCA, went home, and spent *LOTS* of quality time with Blixa and the other cats that night. I went to the hardware store and bought and installed proper hinges and clasps on the screens the next day.

A bit less than a week later, while walking around our neighborhood, I saw a missing pet flyer on a telephone poll. Turns out that a house about half a block from ours had lost their cat... and the picture looked like what I remembered. In retrospect, there were a fair amount of differences, but you don't think about such things when you're told that your cat just got hit, and all you want is for her to not die.

So, I went home, called them up and said I was calling, because of the cat... and I got their teenage daughter, who had put up the flyers around the neighborhood. She sounded excited, and wanted to know whether I had found her cat. Obviously, it wasn't an emotionally pleasant call.

So yeah... please consider keeping your beloved pet inside, please.
posted by markkraft at 7:48 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Blixa died about three years ago, btw, at the age of 19 from liver failure, after an otherwise long and healthy life... she the first cat my wife and I ever owned together. She went from being the princess to being the old queen of the household. We went from three cats down to two, and we'll probably never have three cats again.

Another cat of ours, Neko, died about six months after Blixa did at around 17. About a month and a half later, we adopted an amazing new cat, Tristan. She grew up outdoors among squirrels, chasing them up and down the local pine trees. Surprisingly, she has an amazing, bushy, rather squirrel-like tail... and I've never seen a cat jump as high as she can. She's gradually transforming from a bundle of energy to an elegant princess with that beautiful tail swaying behind her... the next generation, really.

One of the great blessings of pets is that they'll keep you busy, happier, and squarely focused on the here and now... at least if you're doing it right. And those advantages cut both ways, really.
posted by markkraft at 8:26 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

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