Don't worry, it's not Athena! Some background: When Kashka, the wonderful cat in my book, passed, I waited about 8 months and got an adorable Somali kitten I named Finnegan Fox. Within three months, he had to be euthenized, because he developed FIP--a nasty kitten illness with 100% mortality. I got a "replacement" kitten from his breeder four years ago from a different litter. If you don't mind the length, I have written a tribute to that cat, who I named Alistair.
I know this is a German shepherd forum, so I thank you for your indulgence. I lost my four-year-old kitty this weekend. His name was Alistair (or if you please, HillstreetBlues’ Alistair Flash), and he was a purebred Somali. For those who may not be familiar with cats, Somalis are known as “the Fox Cat”, and indeed he looked like a whittled down cougar blended with a brown fox. He was known as a “ruddy” Somali, so his fur was a rich brown ticked with black, with peach arm fringe, ruff and pants. His eyes were golden-green jewels and his tail was his supreme pride—an elegant fluffy glory that would wiggle when he was excited (which was often). Alistair was, as Somalis often are, mischievous, clownish, puppy-like, and also like many of them, dexterous. They often use their paws like a little monkey and are a bit too clever for their own good. I had to hide his treats in a drawer, because he learned which cabinet they were in and at a very tiny age jumped onto the counter, opened the cupboard, knocked the correct bag onto the floor and carried the bag into me in his mouth, trilling around the corners of the foil. He loved dogs and had no fear of Athena, his much larger sister. I’m not sure if he knew he wasn’t a dog, actually. He sat on command, gave his paw, and played fetch with spongy foam balls (at times, he liked his ball so much he brought it to bed with us—Athena with her stuffed toy, me with a book, and Alistair with his ball). For a while, to make sure he left Athena alone while she was eating, I had to put some of her dog food into a small metal bowl for him nearby so he could mimic his big sister. His nose always seemed wet, like a dog’s; he liked to give kisses.
Unfortunately, Alistair also was an adventurer. He used Athena’s dog door to go outside, and although I only let him out at night (less traffic, fewer people) and told him every single time to be careful and that I loved him, one time he wasn’t careful. I live on a dead end street, with many other fenced-in condominiums next door offering protection, and he was as nimble as a squirrel. I worried about him going outside, and I knew the risks. But he was happiest when he was outside. He truly was. He would bring me insects from goodness knew where (and occasionally, other things, like when he proudly deposited a dead mouse on my sleeping form that went undiscovered for a disgusting two hours) and he would lie on his side, languorously licking his paw smugly while whatever he had brought us (Athena and me) hopped around the floor. The only time he ever became quarrelsome was when he wasn’t allowed to go out. He paced around the house from room to room to room yowling, and if I ignored him, he would march up to Athena, turn his head, and nip her legs, scowling at both of us. One day when I relented and let him out, he ran back inside after a few seconds, jumped on my lap and with his wet puppy nose, gave me a joyful long rub against my face, looking at me with gratitude before running back out. He was a good boy; usually staying out for only a few hours, returning like clockwork for his dinner and “come-inside-treat”. Alistair played hard, loved hard, slept hard, finished his plate clean like a good Somali should and was nice to everyone. He made friends with the other neighborhood cats, and apparently, after getting sprayed once, had a détente with the skunks that run rampant in my neighborhood. When I went out some mornings to look for him with Athena when he stayed out, he ran as stiff-legged and jubilant as a newborn camel to us, launching to wrap his arms around Athena’s face before springing away, maybe going halfway up a tree, showing off, just happy to be alive before skipping along, following us back inside, bell jingling.
He was part dandy part Dennis the Menace. He was a good sport about both his bird bib and his buckle collars, seemingly the only collar that would ever stay on him. His last one was a bejeweled pink collar with a sparkly bell, and he seemed to preen with it on, unconcerned with ruining his masculine reputation. I called him Dennis the Menace, because he was also a lot like a naughty little boy wearing dungarees with a slingshot sticking out the back pocket, especially with Athena. He liked to tease her like an annoying younger brother, wagging his tail whining “ehhhhhhhh!” that usually preceded a jump onto her head with his paws wrapped around her neck. His other trick was to lie just out of reach while she was chewing something, stretching a paw to juuuuust a centimeter away while she frowned and growled at him, as if he was saying “I’m not touching youuuu!” Even with his tormenting behavior, he was very sweet. He never hissed or scratched when he was doing it, instead purring playfully. His attention-seeking games were purely for his own amusement.
Thursday night I let him out, and he came back in shortly after to eat some food. It was so nice out I let him go back out with a “it’s okay buddy, just be careful!” It was a decision that will haunt me forever. That was the last time I ever saw him alive. When he hadn’t returned, Friday I took off work, made up flyers, called the shelter and vet and looked for him. Friday night a search party of my good friends and I went around with flashlights, but the fact that he didn’t appear was worrying. He always came when he was called. So I knew something was terribly wrong.
Saturday Miss Holli, from Pony & Pooch (see my massage thread!) came to give Athena her massage. Miss Holli is also an animal communicator, a vocation I had much skepticism about, until later that day. I showed her Alistair’s flyer, and she said “do you mind?” I said “no, please” and she sat quietly, stroking his photograph with her eyes closed. “He looks up and sees trees,” she began “I know that doesn’t narrow it down; there are trees all over around here” she continued apologetically. “He seems very far away; the response he’s giving me is faint, but he also seems very close by. He was following a mystery.” I nodded. “He’s not terrified.” She said. “But he’s on his side and is very very tired. I don’t know if he can’t answer, but he is meowing. Just no sound is coming out. He just keeps saying he’s very tired.” I asked if she could tell if he was still alive, and she hesitated. “I can’t really tell that. The signals I get are sometimes from when an animal has crossed over. I can only tell you it’s very faint. But at the same time, close.”
“I get the feeling he’s that way,” she said, pointing towards the back of my house, which was the exact direction he used to go every time he went out (in the next development over, there was a lady who fed him with her cats, and he liked to visit them). “Can we go outside?” Holli asked. I said yes, feeling a slight tingling—I hadn’t told her the direction he liked to go. We took Athena and walked out back, and Holli kept pointing diagonally. We went up towards Route 50, a busy six-lane road that was far enough from my house, but reachable if you (like a cat) cut through fences and yards out behind my dead end street. I hadn’t thought to look up that way, or maybe I did, I just didn’t want to. We crossed Route 50, and walked down the opposite way of Chantilly Road, the main road running through my development. I called him. Holli said “I asked if he can hear you. He can. He can see you, but it seems like it’s very far away to him.” Holli kept pointing to groups of trees back towards Route 50 so we turned around and crossed back over the highway. An access road runs parallel to Route 50 and I was mid-sentence, thinking Holli was right next to me as I crossed the access road to the sidewalk. Holli had stopped in the grass that ran along Route 50, and as if in a daze started walking alongside the road. She didn’t react as she stood ankle deep in grass, and she came back to me as I stood with Athena. Very calmly, she said “There is a deceased animal right next to the curb in the road. I’m not sure if it’s him, but it does look like a brown fox.”
“Here, take her please,” I said, handing Holli Athena’s leash. I commanded Athena to stay, jogged across the access road into the grass and looked down into the road. The only recognizable thing greeting me was brown fur, a leg, and his long fluffy tail, still completely intact. I recognized the black eel stripe going down that magnificent plumage; the rest was ugly wet viscera skidded along the road. “It’s him! OH GOD it’s him!” screaming and wailing, I crouched down, crying in a universal aria of pure grief that didn’t stop for hours. I went back to Holli, who didn’t say anything but put a steadying arm around my shoulders and let me scream. To her credit, she knew I needed to. Athena was very quiet and sat next to me. I had to get something from his body, some kind of memento, crazily thinking of trying to detach his beautiful tail from the carnage. I had to wait for the cars to slow down for the light, and I just kept shrieking “I’m so sorry Alistair! I’m so sorry!” over and over. It’s a small mercy that no cars ran over his remains while I was bent over apologizing. I was able to move the tail and the rest looked fresh, so I pulled a large tuft of black fur from the tip of his tail that I clutched to me like a talisman, kissing the tuft. “You found him!” I screeched at Holli. I was grateful that she was there, she had found him and not me, and that he had been found at all—without me forever wondering what had happened to him. Holli nodded, and she nodded a second time when I laid out the scenario. Alistair had, for the only time in his life, crossed Route 50 probably a deserted empty expanse late on a weeknight and gotten stuck across the street. He had tried his hardest to come back to us, and he had almost made it, just miscalculating in his confidence ever so slightly yet fatally. “He was trying to come back,” I sobbed, and Holli nodded. Whether that’s the scenario she saw or not, she didn’t correct me.
I cried all the way back to my house, getting a sudden inspiration. “I have to get help,” I sobbed. “I need a shovel. And a bag. I can’t leave his body there. He was too beautiful. To leave him there… to leave him there… would be vulgar.” It was the only word I could think of, but to imagine his loveliness ground to an unrecognizable scrap was horrifying. I would never do that to him. Miraculously, all my neighbors and friends were not only home on a beautiful perfect fall Saturday, they all answered my call. Steve said yes, he had a shovel. Stephanie and Matt said “we’re on our way” and hung up. Jim said the same. As did Liz. My neighbor Dara was just coming out, and I told her Alistair was dead and when Dara learned the plan to get his body, she volunteered to go too. Holli insisted that they would take it from there; I didn’t need to see the clean up. I made a frantic call to Chantilly Animal Hospital, open for fifteen more minutes, begging them to remain open so we could bring in Alistair’s body. They agreed. I walked alone to the vet, still relentlessly sobbing, and Holli, Matt, Stephanie, Steve, Dara and Jim huddled in a circle, blocking the recovery view (I saw Dara put a distressed hand over her mouth), which was easily visible from the vet’s large glass windows. A vet tech ran out with a bag and I watched the clutch of people make room for him to come through. “I’m sorry for your loss,” the receptionist said and got me some water. I filled out the all-too-familiar cremation form apologizing that I hadn’t thought to bring my credit card, as the group filed in, surrounding me. Hugs were all around; Stephanie was crying. Holli stayed back, watching, and I gave a little laugh saying “I’m so sorry Holli. You just came to give Athena a massage today—you didn’t sign up for this.” Holli put a serene hand on my arm and said “you did the honorable thing for him. I didn’t want you to even see him when I found him, but I also understood that you had to. But he knows you loved him very much. It wasn’t your fault, and it was quick. And the most important thing is—you brought him home. He’ll be coming home with you.”
Steve offered me a ride home, but I wanted to walk. I walked home still wretchedly crying, Jim, Matt, Stephanie and Holli following me—a regal procession, like we were part of a New Orleans wake. Everyone said their goodbyes, and I thanked them all. Holli said to call her anytime, as did all of them. By then Liz had arrived, weeping. She had loved Alistair, and was going through the recent sudden death of her father on top of it. Liz helped me get rid of Alistair’s litter box and I was about to throw out his kitten bed, a tiny oval covered in wooly blue, but remembering how small he was when I got him, that he actually fit in that little bed, I hugged it to me and began sobbing anew. I kept accidentally setting off a tweeting bird toy, one of the few Alistair ever played with, and I laughed, remembering how that tweeting had plagued me one night when he kept making it go at the inconvenient 3am hour.
Liz went outside to get some fresh air, and when she came in, she said “Cat, look at this. It’s so weird.” I looked down and put my hand over my mouth, laughing and crying at the same time. Liz looked puzzled. “Look at this bug. It looks just like a leaf. It jumped on me and wouldn’t come off!” One of Alistair’s favorite and most common prey items was the large green katydid. The katydid was still clinging tenaciously to Liz’s pant leg. I have been out in that yard countless times, and never once has a katydid jumped and held onto my clothing. As soon as Liz went outside, it latched onto her jeans, and wasn’t going to let go until she brought it inside. Thinking it would just be like the funny prankster Alistair to send in a Katydid. I looked up to the sky and said “Thanks buddy. I know.”
I miss you Alistair. The one word I think of when I think of you was exuberance. You were happy every single day, and you made Athena and I happy every single day (although I think probably more me ha). Your cheerful, sweet nature and fearless optimism made every morning brighter, and you were like a piece of art, your coat and coloring like a soft touchable desert come to life.
Kashka and Finnegan are waiting for you. It hasn’t escaped my notice that you died one day before Kashka, who died on a September 23. You did it on September 22. He’ll probably proclaim you a show off. I’ll see you again my nice little boy. Athena and I will join you someday; I’m sure there are many adventures you’ll be excited to show us over the rainbow bridge. Love, mommy.