Monday, June 25, 2007

Ninth life

It's hard to write about pets without being precious or too sentimental. It's even harder to lose a pet.
The amazingly old cat Spike was a part of our family for nearly 18 years, and then his body was apparently picked up by animal control last week. All we have are second-hand descriptions, but the details fit.

He was my buddy. Here are some of my memories:

When we brought Spike home from the pound, he was so small that he could fit in my hand. But even then, he didn't like to be held and stuck his skinny little matchstick legs straight out.

When he got a little older, Spike would always greet me when I came home from work. As soon as I opened the car door, he would jump inside. One evening, when it was already dark, I didn't see him and just closed the door. I woke up the next morning with a feeling of dread: Where was Spike, where had he been? I went out to the curb and looked up and down, fearing what I might find. Suddenly, I heard a scratching and a frantic little voice. I looked up and saw Spike pressed against the car window—all small paws and big mouth. He'd been locked inside all night. He didn't jump into the car after that.

Once we caught him swinging from the birdcage. It wasn't enough that he looked like the cartoon cat Sylvester. He had to be Sylvester. We moved the bird into a room with a door that we could close and latch.

We used to say that Spike was a cat who thought he was a dog. He would follow us around, and once he chewed Claire's homework.

When we moved to a new house, we were determined not to lose him. We planned to keep him inside for three days so that he would become acquainted with his new home. That plan lasted until 11:00 the first night. We finally let him into the backyard, and I followed him around with a flashlight. Then he disappeared. The next morning, we went outside to look for him. We called his name and heard crashing in the laurel, meowing and thrashing. It was at least five minutes before Spike emerged from the hedge. But he didn't get lost.

He was afraid of toys with bells in them.

As he grew older, he changed. He took to meowing loudly whenever he came in through the cat door.
"Hey, guys! I'm here! Where are you?!"
It could be 4:00 in the morning.
When he decided it was time for breakfast, he would meow even more loudly. After he was fed, he would meow loudly again, maybe holding out for seconds (it worked once). One morning, Claire and I were upstairs when we heard Spike protesting to Tom.
Tom said, "Spike, be quiet!" and then we heard "Mew."

This afternoon we gathered in the backyard, where Spike liked to sit in the garden, to share our stories. We each had our own times with him. Over the years, he became everyone's buddy.

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