For twenty years, I really didn’t need an alarm clock, because Stormy knew when it was 5 a.m. This little mutt of a cat came into our lives when my son was a Cub Scout: “Good news, Mom, Tony says we can pick out our cat today.” I did not really remember asking Tony, another Cub Scout in the local pack, for a cat, but when a Cub Scout says your cat is ready, you show up with a shoe box and a can of tuna.We climbed the two flights to Tony’s apartment, found our way through the kitchen to his bunk bed, and out of a carton brimming with fluffy kittens, a little black, grey and white fur ball joined our family.
Despite his humble roots, Stormy was proud and was smart. He took charge immediately, showing up at 5 a.m. on my head for his can of food. Somehow, he never scratched my eyes out waking me up. He breathed on me, and when I was really tired, a tender brush of his face next to my cheek roused me. Over the years, when our work schedules changed, Stormy seemed to realize that the best bet for a prompt can of food would come from my husband, so he moved over a pillow and made his gentle request there.He was so reliable, Verizon could set their time by him.
We moved twice during his lifetime. He came to us when we lived in an old farmhouse with three acres, located in a smal town in western New Hampshire. When we had to move, he stayed with a friend who had a pack of animals; yet when we retrieved him to bring him to our little cape-styled home in a suburban neighborhood, he figured out that teens in cars should be avoided, along with large dogs and state highways. Always an outside cat, somehow he knew his address and never came back from his morning walk after we left for work. He ate his breakfast, went to the door to go for a walk and when it was time for us to leave, he was at the back door, ready to have the house to himself for the day.
This went on for twenty years!
Long after my Cub Scout had a Master’s degree, a wife and a passport stamped for many countries, Stormy made his daily rounds. We moved again, this time back to a small town with both hazards: 28 acres of woods behind us and a state route in the front. Neither tractor trailers or fisher cats were a threat to Stormy. He made his rounds, and showed up for family meals to sit with us when we watched a movie or read the paper.
It should have been no surprise to me, then, that when he slowed down last weekend, he would keep his routine. But it did surprise me that on the day he breathed his last, he tried so very hard to keep his appointments. Here it was, 2009, a full 20 years after his 1989 debut into our lives, that he began to slow, really, really slow down. He rose slowly, walked slowly, mused over his dish with just a few licks and slept more than ever. He preferred milk over fish and drank water in abundance. He squinted at a passing mouse, as if the chase held no interest for him. And he began to pee on the dining room carpet. That was not good.
Yet what do you do for an old friend, one who has curled up in your lap on winter nights like a warm muff? You clean the carpet, lay out plastic and move the litter box. You know his time is short and he has been so faithful for so many years, it seems a matter of respect.
On Saturday, September 12, Stormy did not wake us up. But when my husband rose and came to the head of the stairs, Stormy lay at the bottom. He didn’t want to disturb him, so let Storm lay there for me to investigate. But when I got up, he had mysteriously staggered to his litter box, where he was sleeping. I picked him up and put him back on his blanket. I held his paw for a while; it became strangely cool as he went to sleep for the last time, as his little chest slowed its expansion and contraction.
What amazed me is that up to the hour of his death, at the same times that he had always done, he tried to carry out his routine. I hope he knows we would have understood if he had just decided to stay in bed that day.
I never thought I’d find myself writing a tribute to my cat, something I promised myself I would never do. But there is something warm and comforting about an animal that seemed to think he was taking care of me that demands a eulogy when he passes away. Having a close relationship with an animal is a relationship I recommend to everyone. A heartfelt bond without words brings a special peace.
I still wake up at 5. I glance at the sliding door and think I see a little cat upright on his haunches demanding an open door.