The Senior Emissary from Moo.

She hated me on sight. I don’t know why. Her compatriot, Nutmeg, was a furry little slut who climbed into my lap the moment we met and wouldn’t stop talking (still hasn’t, actually). But Minion— back in the early days, Minion would hurtle towards the front door at the sound of someone entering the house (obviously assuming that her beloved mom was home at last) only to slam on the brakes at the sight of me. It was like something out of a Warner Brothers cartoon. She would screech to a halt and give me a glare of pure green hatred— You!— before turning and heading back downstairs.

I hardly ever saw her those first weeks. Neither did Caitlin, for that matter: Minion, ever-loathing of the intruder, basically retreated to the basement and would not come out while I was around. I swear, I did nothing at all to piss her off.

Eventually, she relented. The BUG nudged me awake early one morning to see Minion creeping ever-so-slowly onto the bed between us. I remember my bladder filling, my back increasingly stiff as I lay there like a statue, loathe to move lest I fuck up this tiny bit of progress and startle her back down the stairs again. She basically got me to torture myself for an hour by the simple act of of snoozing at my side.

Looking back, of course, she knew exactly what she was doing. That cat was a fucking genius.

She was unremarkable to look at: your standard subcompact tuxedo, who always looked perfectly dignified and not a little reserved whether imitating a loaf of bread or a table lamp. (She did, admittedly, look like a complete goof when drinking water from the bathroom sink.) But she was smart: you could see her sizing up every room, every situation, before stepping into it. She was one of only two cats I ever knew who figured out the Sliding Window Principle on her own; the only cat who kept that discovery to herself.

We’ll never know how long she was sneaking out to explore the world while we innocently continued regarding her as an Indoor Cat; she would make her clandestine exit after we’d gone to sleep and return before the alarm went off in the morning. Sure, I could’ve sworn I’d closed the window the night before, but the BUG was always going on about fresh air; she must have slid it back during the night. Clearly none of the cats were getting out; they were all present and accounted for every morning (and it’s not like a slip-of-a-thing like Minion would be able to leap the eight feet from patio to windowsill anyway). The BUG and I were so oblivious we thought we were sharing the same dream, thought we were psychically bonded through Love: Honey, I dreamt that Minion was coming in from outside— Really? I had the exact same dream!

It wasn’t until we noticed the muddy paw prints all over our sheets after a rainy night that the truth finally sank in. By then, Minion was already Mistress of the Ravine— and once she knew we knew, she dropped the pretense. She started going outside during the day, spent her evenings sleeping with us.

She was a bit of a dictator about that. She would stand on the headboard, staring at us until we flipped over on our backs and pulled up the sheets[1]. Then she’d step down and try each of us on for size, pipping each chest, bonking each face, walking back and forth and finally settling on whichever thorax she wanted to use as her mattress that night. And while she generally selected The BUG and me with equal frequency, I could not help but notice that when she slept on the BUG she would stretch out across her shoulder, cheek to cheek, purring happily. When she chose me, she would usually turn the other way around and I’d end up spending the night with Minion’s butt in my face.

Caitlin kept calling her a “Moo”, which I’m given to understand is a habit endemic to people with a background in the Humanities (and which at least was consistent with her insistence on calling the household rabbit a “Boo”). As an empiricist with a strong scientific background, I could not let such mushy cutesiness stand. If the BUG insisted on using the term, it would fucking well mean something. Which is how “Minny Moo” became “Min of Moo”— or more formally, “The Senior Emissary From Moo.”[2]

She was master of the proportional response. If, for example, you were to mime the use of her nose as a button on a NORAD missile-control panel, she would first meep her objection. If that didn’t work she would nip, but gently: Seriously, Can Opener, you do not want to continue down this road. Only if both those warnings went unheeded would she resort to the nuclear option— at which point you would find yourself walking gingerly around the house with a cat balled around your hand, anchored to your flesh by four sets of claws and a mouthful of teeth. And you would not be able to claim you hadn’t asked for it.

She was impervious to rain. She would rejoice in the snow. She’d freeze our asses off at 3a.m. in the dead of winter, hopping onto the sill above our bed, hooking her paw around the edge of the windowframe, leaning into it with her shoulder and pulling until it was open far enough to leap away into the night. Frigid air would cascade into the room and I’d reach up and pull the window shut and growl That’s it, she’s out for the night and the BUG would say She is not and sure enough, 5 minutes or two hours later, Minion would be back on the windowsill knocking (no gentle paw-tap here— the previous owner had installed a metal security grid across the window, secured with a padlock that Minion had learned to bat to get our attention). I would heroically try to ignore the incessant clacking of metal on glass but eventually I’d give in or the BUG, exasperated, would climb over me and open the window and Minion would nonchalantly hop back inside and do whatever cat things she did at 3:30 in the morning until deciding she wanted to go out again.

She stalked the night. She prowled the day. She ruled the roost. (She was, admittedly, kind of a bitch to Swiffer.) She somehow managed to be both the most aloof of our cats and the most affectionate. There was a nobility to her. It was not enough to merely love this cat: you had to admire her.

It was Caitlin who first noticed, of course. After we came back from Tel Aviv: something different about Minion. She wasn’t sleeping in the sock drawer any more. She was a little more— withdrawn, somehow. We took her in and the blood work came back— kidney disease, stage 3; then Stage 4, just a few weeks later. Weeks, the vet told us over the phone, and I didn’t believe her, and we looked up the literature and the literature said weeks and I still didn’t believe it. I’d lost a cat to kidney disease years before, you see— but not without a fight. Special diet, sub-q fluids, and you could buy a whole year of high-quality life, easy. I’d seen it. I’d done it. Fuck your median survival 35 days post-diagnosis.

So we stocked up on Ringer’s Lactate and k/d diet. The BUG and the Meez learned how to tent the skin between shoulder blades, slide the needle into that gap between skin and muscle, feel the hump of saline growing under the fur once a day, then twice. Minion bore it all stoically, even when we fucked up, even when we had to stab two or three times to get it right.

Thirty-five days came and went and we cheered. But Minion was— disappearing, piecemeal. She slept on our chests. Then she slept on the bed. Then she slept outside. She receded from us in concentric increments as the disease ran its course.

All those behaviors so uniquely hers, that suite of Minionisms that made up her interface with the world. She stopped leaping onto the ledge ringing our porch pillars; stopped leaping onto the windowsill. She stopped racing to the bathroom whenever anyone went for a pee. That high-speed patter of paws, the leap onto the sink, the steady demanding stare until you cranked the faucet just enough to let her lap from the stream: inevitable, then intermittent, then a memory. Her appetite faded. Where once she’d line up with everyone else for brekky and dins and elevensies, now we’d seek her out in the garden or the ravine, tempt her with tuna when she turned her nose up at the k/d, try her on IAMS when the tuna lost its appeal, on salmon when she turned her back on IAMS. She was spending almost all her time outside now, she built little nests and hideouts to curl up in: in the back garden, in the tall grass by the oak out front, in the copse across the fence or under the hostas our neighbors had planted in their guerrilla garden on city lands.

She diminished. At first you’d just notice the shoulder blades sticking out like they never had before; then you’d scoop her up and she was light as twigs. Once or twice she’d go a whole day barely eating anything, barely even present in our lives. We’d brace ourselves and fear the worst (and I would rage inwardly because I’d been here before for fucksake and it wasn’t supposed to go like this. She was supposed to get better, we were supposed to get a few more months at least, a year or more, not these short fucking days. Not just days).  And then things would seem to turn around: Minion would jump up on the patio table and purr and bonk and eat half a tin of k/d in ten minutes, snarf a divot right down to bedrock. (And my gut would unclench because the trajectory had finally bent back in the right direction, and the reprieve was on again.)

“It’s like she’s pissed off,” the Meez said. “Like she knows she’s sick and she refuses to give in and she’s going to keep doing what she’s always done no matter what.”

Caitlin and I had a wedding to attend last week, out in Vancouver. Right up to the last day we weren’t sure we were going to make it. We’d warned the happy couple that our beloved Minion was ill and we might have to jam on the celebrations. But the day before departure we saw her rolling in the ravine, stretched out in all her bony glory and squirming in the way of cats doing their sun-worshiping thing. She accepted our scritches with hedonistic purrs. “This is a quality-of-life moment,” Caitlin told me. “If this is the last time we see her, it will be a good memory.” And I thought What do you mean, the last time? She’s happy, she’s eating, we’re only gone for a few days. I swear she’s even gained back some weight.

Sure enough, when we arrived in Vancouver, Emma had good news: Minion had hung out downstairs with them. She’d eaten “with enthusiasm!”. She’d even leapt up onto the porch pillar, something she hadn’t done for weeks.

Twelve hours later she was dead.

We know when, almost to the minute. Emma couldn’t find her in the morning; she checked all the places we’d mapped out— at 6a.m., again at 9—  and found them empty. But Minion reappeared sometime before noon, curled up in our back garden; she’d stayed away, stayed hidden, until just before she died. Then she came back to that first little retreat she’d made for herself all that time ago, and she curled up in the sun and closed her eyes. She twitched, just once, when Emma found her and picked her up. Then she was gone.

Emma’s dad came over and dug the grave, in that same spot. The in-laws and Emma’s partner arrived for the burial; the BUG and I Skyped in from the coast, watched through chunky low-bandwidth video as they laid to rest something wrapped in a towel. They poured a little half’n’half into the hole, a ritual we’ve observed ever since Banana died seven years ago. All the while I couldn’t stop thinking: it was like she’d planned it.

And that’s the irony of all this. It was the best way Minion could have ended. She didn’t die on some veterinarian’s table, surrounded by disinfectant smells and strange noises, pumped full of lethal chemicals. She didn’t starve to death; she was skinny and emaciated but she never stopped eating, never had any trouble keeping her food down, never spent horrible days or weeks unable to eat or move or take any pleasure from life. The last time we saw her— less than 24 hours before she died— she was happy, I swear it. When she’d had enough, she took herself off to some unmapped spot where she could be alone— and at the very end she came back home to die in the sun. I’ve lost a lot of cats over the years. This was the best death of the lot, by a long shot.

So why does that make it worse, somehow?

Maybe because it implies a kind of awareness that I wouldn’t wish on any dying creature. It’s so hard not to project, not to anthropomorphize; who knows what goes on even in another Human mind, let alone a being of an entirely separate species? But she was a being, no more a machine than any of us. And a cat strong enough to snarf, socialize, leap six times her body height in the evening shouldn’t be weak enough to die twelve hours later. Maybe she pushed herself, maybe she knew she was under deadline and she had a list: spend quality time, say goodbye, ensure you won’t be disturbed by well-intentioned but pointless harassment and indignity. Finally, when there’s nothing else to do, come home to your favorite spot to die.

I don’t pretend to know how much abstraction these creatures are capable of. There’s no end of experts who’ll smugly assure you that “animals” cannot contemplate their own mortality, although none to my knowledge have ever explained  how they could possibly know that (and it’s been eight years since a different cadre of prominent neuroscientists opined that everything from parrots to octopi experience “near-human levels of consciousness”). All I can say is, it’s as if Minion knew something was coming, and chose to handle it her way. She controlled her narrative, as Caitlin put it. And if she was capable of such foresight, then the dissolution of that bright little soul is an even greater loss.

She took no shit from anyone. Even dying, she was defiant in her love of life. She handled her own death better than I probably will, when the time comes. She was the very incarnation of Michael Joseph’s observation: a cat’s friendship is not easily won, but is worth having. Now she’s gone away.

They always go away. You’d think I’d be used to that by now.

Drawing up plans.

I think at this point she was starting to learn to close windows as well as open them.

The BUG gets Shoulder Cat. I get Butt-in-Face.

The Senior and Junior Emissaries from Moo.

Diplomacy was especially difficult when dealing with prey species who would fucking end you if you crossed them.

In her element.

Tell me that isn’t a relationship based on mutual respect and affection. I dare you.

Dignity under the most challenging circumstances.

Some times dignity was tougher to pull off than at others.

Well? What are you waiting for?

Half’n’half. On her Exclusive h&h delivery platform. On demand.

The Meez and The Min.

Two of the most beloved mammals in my world.

Declining. Dying. Defiant.

 

[1] There always had to be sheets, or at clothing involved. She would never settle on naked skin. To this day I don’t know what  made her such a prude.

[2] Due to the Law of Alliteration, Meggles was also “of Moo”, necessitating a ranking of emmisariness.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Friday August 30 2019at 02:08 pm , filed under eulogy . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

28 Responses to “The Senior Emissary from Moo.”

  1. Aww, Peter, I’m so sorry. Plus, this is so resonant of similar experiences I’ve had and probably all thoughtful pet companions too: the ineffability of alien consciousness, as expressed by/through the mammals closest to us. Hugs and condolences.

  2. Sorry for your loss Peter. As always when a pet passes… the question if you’d known in advance what the pain and loss would be at the end, would you still have accepted it in exchange for all the laughs and joy the fluffball bought you during life. For me the answer has always been yes…

  3. Not the first time you made me weep.
    So sorry for your loss, but what a life she had! May many more cats find their way into your life.

  4. They do say they turn their butts to face people they trust, so there’s that.

    Always tough.

  5. That cat looks almost eerily similiar to the beloved late cat of my mother. True to form, our Emma was evil incarnate and fiercely intelligent, and we miss her very much even two years later. I am sorry for your loss, it never gets easier, does it?

  6. I’ve never liked the phrase “I’m sorry for your loss” but … well, I’m sorry for your loss. A very special cat, by the sound of it.

    It bears out what I’ve long suspected, though, which is that cats die as they live, choosing their own time to come and go. My partner’s cat, one of the most delightful cats it’s ever been my pleasure to know, fell sick while M. was away in Asia. The vet and I did what we could, but there’s no mistaking a terminal illness. She hung on for a few weeks until M. came home, they had a last day together, and then, having said her goodbyes, she quietly curled up and died.

    May we all have the ability to make such a graceful and timely exit when our time comes.

  7. I really choked up reading this

  8. Minion was a special being. Thank you for telling us about her.

  9. She sounds like she was a formidable kitty. You have my sympathies. I hope I’m even half as dignified on my way out, but that’s not really the human way, is it.

    They are such amazing creatures!

  10. Sounds like a good exit, at least. RIP, Minion.

  11. […] Peter Watts bids farewell to his noble companion cat, […]

  12. So sad. So sorry.

  13. My condolences on your loss of a furry family member. Minion was clearly a well-loved cat.

  14. Min was lucky to have you, but more importantly, you, her.
    This reminded me of one of my dear cat’s last moment.
    She meowed so loud, as if she was saying, “dont you dare forget me!”
    And, I never will.

  15. So moving. God.

  16. I’m so sorry dude, condolences

  17. Oh, what a cat. Sympathies.

  18. So sorry to hear it, Peter, but she sure sounded like a one-of-kind feline. You’re certainly right; you never get used to them going away; I’m crying now after reading this, both for your sake and thinking about the last one we lost…it’s always *so* hard. I may have to go out and hug one of the pups just for a bit. My condolences to you.

  19. Man, that sucks. We lost one of our cats to cancer a few years back and our other one was recently diagnosed with KD. No matter how much time you have left with them, it’s always too short.

  20. On a constructive note, this was the first time you’ve ever made me cry with something you’ve written for a reason other than existential despair. I’m sorry for the price you and your family paid in order to do it.

    You never do get used to it, though. I’ve raised dogs as companions my entire life, and after a particularly bad stretch last decade just haven’t had the heart to do it anymore. They do always go away.

    I’d never found the trope in fiction dealing with how much of a bummer it is to be immortal particularly convincing–that being young and beautiful and wealthy forever was somehow counterbalanced by how many other people you had to watch pass on. Thankfully, most people dont have to experience the reality of that kind of turnaround with their human friends. But after the last hole I dug for one of my furrier friends, I finally got it. There’s an inescapable arithmetic there.

    I hope that, given time, you can move some numbers around to make room for some new friends.

  21. Speaker for Cats.

    As always your memorials are amongst your best writings.

  22. I’m so sorry, Peter.

    The death of a pet is always a sad experience, no matter how many times one gets through it, one never gets “used” to it.

    I had to stop reading halfway through your story because I don’t want to weep at work. I’ll finish it later, to be sure.

    Pardon the off-topic, but what does BUG stand for? I assume is an acronym of some kind?

  23. SK: Pardon the off-topic, but what does BUG stand for? I assume is an acronym of some kind?

    “Beloved Unicorn Girl.”

    Long story.

  24. Puss:-( x

  25. Have you considered cryonics?

  26. I had a cat break for five years, but finally got two new fur snakes this spring. I don’t frequent this blog for a few months and this is what greets me: Your new friends can has death inevitably.

    My two previous got the vet scenario and I’ve always felt guilty about it. I tried to give them good last days at home, but the very end was still clinical.

    So I praise the life she chose to lead and I am glad she got a death most of us would probably envy. (While my all grey kitten tries to stop me from wasting attention on this morbid piece of plastic in front of me.)

    All the best.

  27. Ah cats. We had a cat, named “Snowpaw,” a classic tuxedo with white paws. She was always an indoor/outdoor cat, we had cat doors, she’d do whatever she wanted to. During the day, if I was working in the yard, she’d follow me along like a dog. One night I walked along the side of the road past our house looking for something, and I had this eerie feeling of being followed… 500 meters later I realized that Snowpaw was stalking me from the bushes…

    But one night I got up at 4 AM to catch a flight to a business meeting. The front driveway was lit up by the full moon, and there was Snowpaw, oblivious to me, hunting moths in the moonlight. How long had she been doing that? Who knows?

    She eventually died of cancer – at 14 years – still hard to take. But at least we don’t make our pets suffer as much as our human relatives.

  28. So sorry Peter. My cats’ deaths have been some of the most traumatic experiences of my life so I feel your pain. That being said thanks for the fantastic tribute to a wonderful unique and beautiful being.