Apologies in advance for the more subdued than usual nature of the following column, but it is — or is going to be — what it is — or will be.
As of this writing, I’ve been on staff with the Claremore Daily Progress for right at 17 years, having started here at the dawn of the new millennium, which sounds kind of ancient when I put it that way, so I’ll just say, on the earliest available work day in 2001, I was here.
Almost immediately after starting to work here, I became the “animal guy.” Former sports editor, Jim Perry, used to refer to me as the “Progress’s PETA representative,” and I have, unfailingly, made sure that our “Adopt a Pet” photos are in every week.
About halfway through my first year on staff, our family adopted a kitten — our first in a couple of years, at that point — not adopted from the shelter, but a stray which my wife’s cousin kept for a short time before asking us if we would be interested in taking.
The kitten, probably about four months old at the time, was a small Russian Blue mix, which doesn’t mean he’s actually blue, or Russian for that matter, but a breed which is predominantly gray-furred, and I still remember my reaction when she brought him to our house.
“Gray? Seriously? He’s gray.”
“Don’t you want to bring him home?”
“I don’t know. Not yet.”
Needless to say, he probably wasn’t one I would have picked from the shelter, had he been an option.
Nevertheless, we took him in and in a short time, he clawed his way into our hearts. I still have the scars to prove it.
Initially, he was ...I’ll say very high-spirited, inclined to pounce and chomp and “foot foot,” or at least that’s what we called it -- you know, when a cat grabs, say your hand and does this weird bicycle kick thing with it’s hind legs? Anyway, we would always call it the “foot foot.”
He was, in fact, so spirited, that I initially considered several unflattering names for him — Spitfire, Fiesty, Frisky Kitty, Fang Chow, Feral Freddy, Wolverine, Dr. Claw, Killer, and even Psycho.
But we eventually decided on Bonkers (since that’s how he acted most of the time, mostly, when he was awake).
Eventually, our little gray spitfire outgrew his rebellious stage and settled into a more mature, dignified adulthood, but one not without his own idiosyncrasies.
His likes and dislikes, his mannerisms, odd vocalizations, habits, and behaviors were unique, and certainly different from any cats I or my wife had had growing up, as adults, or after we got married.
He was fascinated with water for one thing.
Any time we would take a bath or shower, he’d yowl to be let into the bathroom and perch on the side of the tub, even if it meant sometimes, but not often, he’d slip and give himself a quick bath.
Usually, he’d watch through the shower curtain in fascination while we showered, and not take his eyes off the tub of water, the whole time it was draining. Even when we weren’t in the shower, any time we’d go into the restroom, within moments of closing the door, you could hear little footfalls getting closer and closer, and then, just outside the door ...
For whatever reason, he most liked our company when we were in the restroom. He was always around when we were in the dining or living room, but anytime we went into the restroom, he made sure whatever business we had, we weren’t doing it alone.
Over the years, we bought him numerous cat beds, none of which he ever slept in more than once. Instead, he would nap anywhere else around the house — near the fireplace, on our beds, on clothes fresh out of the dryer, in fact, if we didn’t fold and put clean clothes away as soon as we pulled them out of the dryer, if we turned our back on them, he would make himself a little “nest” right in the middle of them.
“For real, cat?”
And tight, enclosed spaces. Any time we would leave a gift bag unguarded, he would climb in and hide. If there was ever an empty box in the room, it wasn’t empty for long, as he would make a home in it. I’d like to think, in his mind, he was camping out.
Something else, he wasn’t much for milk, like most cats (and which you’re actually not supposed to give to them) but instead, he weirdly liked cheese. A lot. Loved it.
Any time we were in the kitchen, he’d watch us like a hawk, staying close to us, sometimes meowing impatiently, waiting for us to concede and get him a small piece of cheese, which would immediately start him meow/purring like the star of some viral “nom nom nom” cat video.
It wasn’t uncommon for him to “stalk” me when I was at the dinner table, waiting not impatiently for me to tear off a piece of food — usually something with cheese on it — and put it down for him to gobble up.
“You’re going to spoil that cat,” my wife would say.
“Maybe,” I’d say, “but not yet.”
Admittedly, there were things he didn’t like. For example, he wasn’t too fond of being made to “dance,” with me propping him up, holding his front paws out like hands. He’d tolerate it, but he clearly didn’t care for it. I don’t think I’d ever seen a cat roll his eyes before.
But really, he was a good cat — even showing up in the paper from time to time, when I would need art for any number of my various “pet” stories — a kitten trying to climb out of a jack-o-lantern for an early Halloween pet safety story, curiously overlooking the presents under our Christmas tree for a few of my holiday pet safety stories, even turning up on a few of the Progress’s pet calendars over the years.
As the years wore on, Bonkers was, for all intents and purposes, like a member of the family, always giving us something to smile about, laugh at, or shake our heads at, often, at the same time.
We lost our other cat, a polydactyl named Biscuits, two years ago, after which, Bonkers’ seemed to start acting more his age.
He was still spry, jumping onto and into things he shouldn’t have, but he would get confused, wandering into the hallway or the bathroom and meowing like he was lost. Maybe he wasn’t confused or lost at all. Maybe he was looking for his buddy, Biscuits.
A few days ago, our now 16+ year old spitfire wasn’t acting like himself, spending most of the day, sleeping.
On Friday, I bought home a small box from work, which he — being Bonkers — promptly hopped in and curled up in. Every so often, I’d pat his head and he’d respond with one of his weird vocalizations, “Mrrrrr?” almost like he was saying, “Hmmm?”
And on Saturday, Veteran’s Day, — a day as gray outside as Bonkers’ fur — I went to pet him and he didn’t respond. He was gone.
Here’s the thing:
When we welcome a pet into our lives, whether by adoption or just opening the proverbial door to a stray, we assume that we’re the ones who are helping them, who are taking care of them. We give them food and shelter. We assume we’re here for them.
But as time goes by, little by little, they’re actually the ones who are here for us, and for nearly the past two decades, Bonkers T. Cat was here for me, for my wife, for my kids, and for anyone who happened to visit our home. He was a goofy little thing, funny, playful, and always loyal.
He didn’t often come and sit on my lap, but when I’d pick him up, he would purr fiercely and when I would go to put him down, he would try to “hold” on to me more tightly, as if to say, “Not yet.”
Even in the past couple of years of his life, knowing he was probably going to be leaving us soon, we took extra good care of him, wanting him to maybe stick around with us for just a little while longer. Not ready to say goodbye.
But goodbyes are as much a part of life — human and animal — as hellos, and we had to say our goodbyes to our little friend. He’ll be buried next to Biscuits, and I think he would have liked that. I think they both would have liked that.
I know time will heal the hurt, and I’m looking forward to the day when we can remember him or think of something goofy that he did to make us laugh, and be happy instead of sad. One day, but not yet. Not yet.