There are three empty food bowls on the draining board. One held biscuit, one water and the third, the most abused, wet cat food. It has been four weeks since we last saw our cat, ‘Bill the Cat’ and our hopes of him finding his way home are fading fast.
Over the years he has earned many nicknames and cleverly learnt to ignore them all in exactly the same way unless food was being offered. Names like BTC, William Thekat Esq, The Ginger Avenger and ‘That Bloody Animal!’ to name but a few. His disappearance and presumed death was not wholly unexpected. He was 19 years old, a good venerable age for an outdoor cat. His health was slowly fading, he was losing his teeth, may have had thyroid and kidney issues, arthritis or other joint problems, his hearing was going and he had quickly advancing dementia.
We had already had a difficult conversation with our vet when he got his booster jabs earlier this year. His dementia had caused him to begin defecating around the house in odd places. He wasn’t incontinent, he was deliberately finding spots to go, ignoring the cat flap or litter box. Washing piles, my desk, the back of the sofa. We had gone into the vets with the view he may not leave with us. The vet, a nice young man, examined him and advised us he was not in any great pain or discomfort. He had had the look of a man who’d had a bad week, and his eyes said ‘please don’t make me put your cat to sleep today.’ And we agreed, we could try and limit the opportunity for him to make a mess, as long as he wasn’t living in pain. We’d give Bill one last summer in the garden, nose up bum in a flower pot, his favourite snoozing spot.
Not long after that he disappeared for four days. We found him in a neighbouring garden and brought him home. He looked awful, but with some tender loving care, food, brushes and washes he bounced back again. Put a little weight back on, seemed brighter. We got back into a routine, he’d turn up at dinner time to skulk under the table and try to climb into my lap to pinch food off the table. He’d sometimes still charge into the lounge of an evening and take a flying leap into my lap for a cuddle, headbutting me until I gave him a fuss.
But then one day he didn’t come back, or the next day. A few weeks ago there were two very hot days. I suspect his poor system may not have been able to cope with the heat and he curled up somewhere asleep, got dehydrated and stroked out. Peacefully, in the sun. I really hope that’s what happened. He is micro-chipped but we have had no word and we have had no luck looking around for him. It’s often repeated that a cat will sense his time has come and go off to die. I don’t know if that’s really true or not. I don’t know if I hope that’s true or not.
Bill the Cat was one of a pair we got after one of my sister’s cats had kittens. Bill was ginger and Opus was grey. Bill and Opus were both named after characters from the wonderful comic strip ‘Bloom County’ by the talented Berkeley Breathed. Opus was a darling penguin with issues over his beak size and yearning to find his long lost mother. Bill the Cat was an Anti-Garfield character of limited cuteness who had various adventures as a left wing radical, a born again preacher and even had a brain swap with Donald Trump. (Might explain a lot these days.) Bill the Cat even ran for President under the slogan ‘A desperate choice for desperate times!’ (Back in the 80’s that was funny, now it just seems prescient.)
Our Bill was dumb, friendly, and a good hunter. Opus was quiet, shy and clever. For years we thought Opus was the hunter until we realised Bill would catch a mouse and Opus would mug him when he got home to claim the kill. We once had a little ball toy, hung off a door handle on elastic. Bill attacked it for ten minutes, batting it, pulling, trying to catch it. Opus sat and coolly watched. Finally Bill grew bored and gave up. Opus walked up to the door, stood up on his hind legs, reached out a claw, hooked the toy and pulled it down in one smooth movement. For a moment he looked at it, looked at me, then released it to snap back with almost disgusted disdain and walked off. I once spent a month in hospital undergoing Chemotherapy and lost a lot of weight, muscle and hair. I pulled up in the car and saw Bill asleep in the grass. He woke with a start and ran a few steps in fright, not recognising me. But then he heard my voice, turned and walked back, tail up, miaowing in an admonishing ‘where the bloody hell have you been food guy’ way. I was so weak I almost couldn’t lift him up, but during those weeks at home they were my best cuddles buddies.
They grew up in the town centre of Market Harborough and pigeons would frequently feature in ours lives. Often in the small hours. Oh, and the time they got into a packet of catnip…..
Opus disappeared one day in 2001. I suspect he found another house to dominate where he didn’t have to share food with his dumb brother. At least that’s what I choose to believe. Bill the Cat came with us to Cambridgeshire, after an hilarious journey on the train. We had sedated him but it turns out he was a noisy drunk and spent the journey, in his cage, on his back, fighting invisible birdies on the roof of his cat carrier. A second dose we gave him in a train toilet failed to shut him up. And it turned out, once we got to our new home, that he had managed to hide that one in his cheek where it had slowly been topping him up. He came out the cage, looked around, spat out the pill and walked sideways into a wall.
I never thought I was a cat person. I’d always have said I was a doggie guy. The whole obedience, tall wagging, playing fetch, being excited to see you thing sounded great. But that didn’t last long. Once we had bonded with Bill and Opus, it was a firm bond. Opus would go to almost no one for fusses; he was shy, so when he climbed into your lap it felt a lovely honour. Bill was a bit of a tart and would go to anyone for a fuss. In his last years though he has been content to sleep in the back garden, getting up occasionally for a scratch and to tease next doors dog by sitting on the fence just out of reach. His only demands an occasional cuddle, regular food and a handy towel if he got caught in the rain. (He’d stand by you miaowing until he was dried off. Bill the Cat did not do discomfort.) Occasionally, when I had a bout of insomnia I’d creep down in the middle of the night and lie on the sofa. He loved that, he’d jump up and lie in the crook of my arm, and we’d spend the night cuddled up watching News24. (Those East Asian Market Report guys really know how to kick it!)
There is no great point to this piece. I just wanted to tell you about my cat, who I loved dearly. The house seems so much quieter and emptier now. The vacuum cleaner has moved to the spot where his bowls stood. His litter tray is empty and clean. We’ll take his remaining food to donate to a cat shelter.
But I’ve not closed the cat flap yet. Not yet.
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