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17 February 2010

The Little General

Did you know that a cat could become a legend? I had no idea what I was getting into when I visited the county animal shelter one afternoon, 13 years ago. I was looking for a second cat - one that had enough spunk to get my other cat up and moving more and of course to give her a buddy. It was love at first chase. Inside the cage sat a tiny, beautiful all white kitten with big bright blue eyes. He looked up at me and gave me a tiny little meow. I wanted to hold him so they opened the cage door and reached in to pick him up, but he had other ideas. He shot out of the cage and ran out of the cat room and down the hall of the shelter. What ensued was a wild chase after that tiny streak of white dashing in and out of offices and around corners so fast he looked like a flash of lightening. We finally caught him. Out of breath and laughing, I held him in my arms. He looked up at me confidently, almost like it was a test that I had to pass. Well, he was a ball of energy alright and I was willing to take the chance with him. I paid the fee, signed the papers and took him home.

Life changed drastically after that. Oh boy did he love his food. He would eat and eat until his belly became bloated at which point he would sit on his butt with his two feet and lick his extended belly. He looked like he had a big ole beer belly and after much teasing about this fact, I named him Boozie, which he liked. His honory personality was ever transforming. During nail clipping and bathing, he'd growl and hiss at me but I didn't let up as I had grown accustomed to his attitude. Some things just had to be done! Plus, he never bit me or scratched me. He just liked to threaten to do so.

When Boozie was just under a year old, I met my future husband. We soon moved in together, much to Boozie's dismay. According to Boozie, he was the man of the house and he wasn't going to give up that post easily. One afternoon after I had left for work, Boozie cornered my husband in the hallway, arching his back, hissing and advancing slowing towards him in a classical animal planet male showdown for dominance. My husband, initially frightened, realized that he must gain the upper hand so he changed his stance to be dominant and advanced quickly toward Boozie, shooing him out of the way. Boozie backed off eventually.  Somehow, the two of them came to an unspoken agreement to share the spotlight. After the initiation rights were over, we became a true family. We spent hours on the floor throwing hair ties for the cats to chase and throwing nerf footballs that Boozie would literally intercept in the air. He and his sister would go on wild rampages through the apartment, leaving plants knocked over and destruction in their paths.

During Boozie's first 7 years we moved a lot. We were renters who ran the gamut of roommates gone bad, landlords divorcing and taking over our living space, homes with no insulation, and a landlord who passed away - All of which kept us moving almost yearly. It was during our first move from an apartment to a house that Boozie, the inside only cat, got his first taste of the outside and other cats in the 'hood. Immediately he became territorial and by that I mean he started spraying in the house. Of course this meant he had to be an outside cat now because no amount of explaining, reasoning with him or reprimands, he just wasn't going to change his naughty ways. With worried hearts, we let him and his sister outside one early summer afternoon. Figuring he would be scared and sniff for a while, we settled in to prepare to giggle and watch him explore the wild outdoors. Well, his sister did just that but Boozie had other plans. Having never jumped more than 3 feet his whole life, he gracefully jumped 6 feet onto our neighbors fence, smoothly strutted across the 1/2 inch boards, jumped into the neighbors yard. Shocked and horrified that he would lose his way home, we tried desperately to get him to come back to our yard. We shook cat food and tried to conjole him back to us. Looking at us for just a moment with defiant eyes, he turned around the corner and disappeared. Trusting that he had some instinctual genes in him, we waited like worried parents until he finally returned home hours later, just before the sun set. So that was how it was going to be. Boozie let us know that he was just fine being outside, in fact, we believe he actually preferred it.

Soon Boozie was roaming the neighborhood, strutting his stuff in his now lean yet muscular frame, his bright white fur coat sticking out like a sore thumb. Neighbors marveled at him, doing his 'rounds' each day. Enchanted by the little general, as he was now called, they would come up to him yearning to pet this magnificent and confident creature. However, as they reached their hand down to pet him, Boozie would pull of the most amazing set of karate chops with his front paws all the while hissing and barring his teeth - making the neighbors run for their lives.

Life was not going to be easy for him or us though. Boozie 's instinctual side had it's bad parts too. His need to claim territory and be the king cat, cost him many fights, horrific wounds, and cost us many many trips to the vet to drain abscesses. There was a pattern to his madness though. We would move to a new rental house and the vet bills would increase as he worked his way up the chain, eventually claiming the coveted top cat spot, fighting like a gladiator until the death (or at least we hoped not). Once he was king of the neighborhood, life was usually peaceful as he made his daily rounds, running squirrels off his land, eating hoards of baby birds fallen from their nests in the spring and squaring off with any dogs, cats or humans encroaching on his terrain. I even learned how to set up a surgical unit on our dining room table to drain the abscesses and clean out his fighting wounds, saving us hundreds of dollars in vet bills.

He seemed to be consistently healing from a fight wound or from allergic reactions to fleas or his food. Always trying out new diets with him, he was the subject of many experiments to get his fur to grow back in. We never did find a perfect cure. Raw food, organic food, changes in protein, mixtures of both, never worked. But he sure did like the variety! IN the mornings we would hear him and his sister outside our bedroom window crying for their breakfast.

As an outdoor cat, Boozie never stopped spraying. He sprayed the front doors and porch chairs of the houses on his land, the wheels and car doors of any car that parked nearby and climbed into home grocer trucks and any open car windows to sniff around and also to spray. We had to warn friends and neighbors to keep their windows rolled up and to check their garages before they closed them down for the night, just in case he was in there checking things out.

Probably the best thing about Boozie and his bad ass self was that deep down he had the goopiest heart. In the evenings, we would bring him in the house for 'supervised visits', meaning that he was not allowed to leave his fuzzy blanket on the couch because if he did, he would immediately turn his butt towards something and spray it. On his blanky he would show us his soft side, purring, kneading and slobbering all over his blanket as we petted and cooed at him. He did not allow many people to see his soft side as he had to keep up appearances in order to maintain his kingdom he fought so hard for.

In Boozie's 5th year, his sister came down with a mysterious illness. Sensing perhaps before we did that she was soon to join the spirit world, he insisted on being inside with her. Reluctantly we acquiesced and brought him in. Urgently he walked over to the couch where she lay and sat down gently beside her. Knowing that if he got up he would spray, we all slept on the hide-a-bed, me with one eye open to catch his rebellious spraying act. However, not once did he move, not even to stretch or change positions. He never left her side the entire night. When the morning sun awoke us, we lay dazed watching this tough cat comfort his only friend. We let them finish their goodbyes and later that day his sister left this world behind. Then a day later, we moved... again, but this time, with only one cat.

Tradition has it that cats have nine lives, Boozie was an exception. When we moved this time, it was farther into the country, on a cul-de-sac surrounded by elderly doug firs and small mountainous hills that eventually led down to the river. We would hear stories from our neighbors about Boozie's wanderings. He was spotted down by the river which meant that he had to traverse at least a mile from our house, down through thickets of forests to even come close to the rocky beach. Nights were filled with the sounds of coyotes howling in the distance and every now and then the sound of some small creature of prey. Worried as I was, Boozie filled me with a sense that there was really nothing to fret about. He was going to be around for a long time. But he was lonely and missing his sister. Ever more needy, we allowed him into the house for extra sessions of love on the couch. Then one day we arrived home to find him hanging out in the front yard with a bunny. My heart skipped a beat as I felt for this bunny who was sure to lose his life in seconds flat. Boozie never tolerated anything on his property, much less had he ever seen a bunny before. However, my fears were soon unfounded as he and the bunny began to chase eachother around a big cedar. Soon this unlikely pair were best of friends, sneaking up on eachother then gallivanting through the yard after one another. They became inseperable and before we knew it, Boozie was back to his old self, making a name for himself while patrolling his grounds.

When the bunny disappeared it was no doubt to a coyote and Boozie was lonely once again. We knew we needed to get him a buddy but our hearts weren't completely mended from the recent loss of his sister. But life has a way of making decisions for us. Less than a month later we brought him home an 8 week old sister who was taking no shit and wasn't afraid of this grumpy ole Boozie. After the initial awkward of first impressions and introductions, the two of them bonded and once again, life was normal.

The one thing that Boozie never had was a permanent place of residence. We constantly promised him that we would buy a house someday and that he wouldn't have to claiming new territory time and time again. Finally our dream came true. We bought a house early one summer. As we drove the cats over to our new and final abode, Boozie sensed immediately that he was going to live out the rest of his life here. No more moving. With a practiced and skilled quickness, he gained the upper hand on our new neighborhood. One by one, the large population of feral cats disappeared. Boozie was king and life was good. Over the next 3 years Boozie ruled with a firm hand. After a while, he didn't fight anymore for he was supreme ruler over his land. INstead he would spend his time sunning on the porch and teaching his sister how to catch birds.

One evening as we were sitting outside enjoying a late summer evening, Boozie approached us. Something about his manner was different. I couldn't place it though. He lay down on a pile of blankets next to us, purring and fell asleep. He did this for the next couple of nights. Very unusual for him as his MO was standoffish and preferred to be alone. Then we noticed he wasn't eating. We couldn't even coax him to try wet canned food - stuff he'd normally cry like a little kitten for. So we brought him inside - we couldn't risk the peasants catching wind that the king was taken ill, his guard down. Soon we found out he had a tumor in his stomach and that he wasn't going to be around much longer. For a week, we cared for him. We made him a comfortable bed in our spare bedroom and visited him frequently. We told him stories about his youth, let him know what a great cat he was and showed our appreciation for his years of guardianship. Word got out that Boozie was sick. Family, friends and neighbors came over to say their goodbyes. When and how did Boozie make all these friends? We had no idea how much he had touched the hearts of those who knew him, the real Boozie, underneath all that attitude. Finally, we heavy heart we let him go join his older sister in the spirit world. We laid his body to rest in his favorite fuzzy blanky next to the sage bush he always slept under so he could always stand guard yet remain hidden. The day he died, his sister immediately took over his role. Not as domineering as him, but she was still queen. Just after we buried him, she caught her first bird, right in front of us and ate every piece of it. That was our sign - he had done his job, passed on his kingdom, ensured of keeping his rule.

I don't think I have ever felt a loss cut so deep. For two days we stayed home and cried. I lit sage and asked the spirits to guide him safely on. I didn't ask him to stay because I know that he needed to go. As I put away his bed and cleaned up the spare bedroom, I noticed that even in his extreme weakness, he had still managed to spray once on the wall. His one last rebellious act. It made me smile. Time does tend to heal and old wounds do close, but it still hurts sometimes. Boozie lives on in our hearts and in all the hearts of those he touched. His stories have become oral tradition, legends embellished and passed on and told over and over. Sometimes I feel he is with me. Other times I have no doubt that he still guards our house and watches over his sister. Boozie was our little guardian. He worked his whole life as a cat to protect us. Never before have a felt such a connection with a cat. Thank you Boozie, you enriched our lives with your big heart, your secret sweetness and your fierce protectiveness.  We will always love you. 

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