Burton on the Bay

Vol. 8, No. 42
Oct. 19-25, 2000
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Farewell, Fine-Furred Friend

He was an arrogant cat, My Lord,
Or ever he heard of Henry Ford.
He sat in the windows, east and west

"The Arrogant Cat": Vincent Starrett

Like all cats, he could be arrogant. His name was OJ, not My Lord, and he wanted nothing to do with a Ford - or any other vehicle for that matter because it meant a trip to the dreaded animal hospital where dogs barked, growled, whined or stared menacingly at him. Then there was the prodding and poking of periodic examinations, followed by the indignity of shots.

The windows, both east and west, were more to his liking, especially the one to the east overlooking the wooded cliff that drops down to Stoney Creek in North County. Whenever he could escape the Burton household, that's where he would head, but not for long.

OJ knew he had a good thing going at 178 Park Road. A few hours roaming the woods - maybe chewing grass on the lawn or sunning himself in the daffodil patch - were sufficient. He would then return to his haven under one of the junipers and wait for any door to open - when in a flash he would be in the kitchen checking out what might be left in the cat dish.

That accomplished, he would perch among the plants at the east bow window overlooking where he had fled for his brief respite from domesticity - and I often wondered whether it was to watch the rabbits, squirrels and birds on the lawn or to set an itinerary for his next temporary escape, so worrisome to Lois, who feared potential dangers from autos (though not once did we ever see him on the road) and hawks, stray dogs or cats of more ferocious nature.

I was more concerned about the squirrels, rabbits and birds in his escapades. But in the 16 years and a month - as he froze in attack position with puffed up tail swishing from side to side while watching the wildlife on the other side of the east window pane - never once did I see him actually chase, stalk or even show interest in any bird, bunny or squirrel once he had dashed by a Burton who neglected to make certain he wasn't around when opening a door. It was all in his mind, remnants of his carnivorous ancestry: a lion, tiger, catamount or some other cat-like creature in some far away place thousands of years ago.

His Last Escape

Now he has made his last escape. He is nestled in the daffodil patch where he liked to curl up, and where the earth is warmed by the early sun. Above him are a few flowers and a large flat stone upon which is painted in green: OJ, our cat, 1984-2000, and my crude rendition of his silhouette.

Somberly, Lois and I buried OJ last week. The complications of old age overcame him. He was well past a hundred in human years, but he retained his dignity to the very end. His kidneys gave out, said Dr. Bob Etter of Pasadena Animal Hospital; nothing more could he do. Even the five-minute intravenous dosings of water Lois and I administered for several weeks to lessen dehydration wouldn't help any more.

OJ seemed to understand as he obligingly sat, somewhat hunched, on the metal examining table when the final decision was made and the necessary papers signed. He had shown no signs of pain or discomfort, but his once robust, now frail body had worn out, and like us he knew it - and accepted it beyond our capacity to do likewise.

Yet it was a tough decision. Sixteen years of stewardship is a long time, and assuming the role of God in life and death deliberations is emotionally wrenching. But only we could make the decision: Spare impending pain and indignity via euthanasia, or allow unsympathetic, relentless nature to take its painful and dehumanizing course.

After our farewell - hands tenderly petting his head and back - OJ calmly submitted to the first of the two needles and almost instantly dozed off. The intravenous injection ensured sleep would be permanent and peaceful. And just like that, Lois' OJ - who was a bit slowed but certainly alert, active and giving of his diesel-like purring and nuzzling as recently as several weeks ago - was gone.

My white cat Frieda, 14, misses him as much as we do. She stays close to us. Instinctively she knows. Even if she remembers how inhospitable OJ was when we first took her home as a kitten and he was barely mature enough to claim territorial rights to the household (a tendency he maintained periodically until old age set in), she would rather have him back.

His presence to her was worth the monthly doses of Program she was forced to take to ward off flea reproduction prompted by OJ's outdoor sojourns (Frieda declines to venture beyond the door).

Maybe she realizes it was even-Steven: OJ had to accept the bran and mineral oil mixed into morning and evening meals prescribed for Frieda's chronic intestinal woes.

Nine Lives

OJ was a marmalade with thick orange fur streaked with white. He peaked at about 16 pounds before we put both cats on a diet prescribed by Dr. Etter. Tough love, but longer and healthier lives.

OJ used up one of his nine lives early. He was struck by a car and rescued by Bill and Jeanne Kane of Gettysburg, Penn., who already had enough cats. So, when we visited them shortly thereafter - with the eager assistance of son Joel and daughter Heather - they convinced us we should take him home. That journey almost didn't come about.

When we went to retrieve our new kitten from his 'holding pen' in the Kane's guest house before departure, he couldn't be found - though we heard meowing. We tracked the sounds to a wall. He had fallen (probably using his second of nine lives) from the loft in between a partition, and Bill was obliged to cut a hole though the wall of a newly remodeled abode to retrieve him.

Within a week after he arrived here, he dashed across the room and landed in a plate of spaghetti I was eating, sending it and the bright red sauce onto my new sports coat. Life number three squandered.

On his first Christmas Eve, we visited him at Pasadena Animal Hospital following emergency surgery after he devoured the tinsel from our Christmas tree. The fourth of nine lives spent.

A few months later, when we returned home late one night, he rushed outside as we opened the door, dashed up a tree, leaped from it to the roof of my adjacent office. The tearful pleading of the wife and kids obliged me to get a ladder, then navigate a large bubble skylight to retrieve him.

Frightened when I finally grabbed him, OJ showed his appreciation by clawing through my prized new and expensive maroon corduroy shirt worn for the first time. Life number five.

We have no clue where or when lives six, seven and eight were subtracted from his score, but the big number nine has taken from us permanently OJ, the cat who preferred packaged peanut butter and cheese crackers to table handouts of turkey and beef - but maybe not fresh sweet, buttered sweet corn - and who, when he could, would cajole me with his purring and nuzzling to snack on one or two of the peanuts set aside for the squirrels.

Pets have a unique way of becoming an integral part of a household: the longer they're around, the more integral.

"For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit," wrote Christopher Smart in reference to cats in his work Jubilate. To which I say, Amen.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly