“Most people don't realize how important librarians are. I ran across a book recently which suggested that the peace and prosperity of a culture was solely related to how many librarians it contained. Possibly a slight overstatement. But a culture that doesn't value its librarians doesn't value ideas and without ideas, well, where are we?”
Neil Gaiman

Friday, November 11, 2011

Saying Goodbye To My 19-Year-Old Cat

 Dali & Me 

I find it funny when people ask if I am a “dog” person or a “cat” person.  I like both.  I like horses too.  And fish, and frogs, and lizards, and koala bears.  I held one once in Australia and it was so soft!  I’m not crazy about rodents or snakes.  The point is that, in general, I like animals and am a nurturing person.  I like having pets.  

I do have to admit that most of my pets have been cats purely because of the convenience.  My first pet cat as an adult was acquired while I was living in Japan.  My friend had three kittens, two of which were brothers left on a vet’s doorstep before their eyes were even open.  They had been bottle-fed and were about three months old.  She asked me if I wanted one of them and that is how Dali and I found each other.

Like many animals, Dali was not his initial name.  When I adopted him, his name was Ciao, but somehow the name just didn’t seem to fit.  I started making a list of possible names and tried calling him by them one by one.  The one he finally responded to in a positive manner was “Salvador Dali.”  Quirky artist, quirky owner, quirky cat.  Worked for me. 

Having been essentially raised by humans, my new little feline companion craved constant attention and was a surprisingly vocal little fellow.  I carried on long conversations with him in mostly Japanese so that I could practice.  He was “Dari-kun” and believe it or not would come to the word “oiide” (pronounced oh-ee-day).  Unfortunately, he was such a social little kitty that he seemed lonely without me when I was off teaching during the day.  I’d return from work and he would hear my heels clicking on the pavement outside my apartment.  His little head would peer from the sliding glass window, still open a bit due to the warm weather, and he would start chattering at me before I could make it up the stairs and into my apartment.  Since the official word on pets was “no pets” I decided I’d best find a solution to his loneliness.  

Robot pets being completely out of a teacher’s budget in the early 90’s, adopting a second kitten seemed my best bet.  We found Coco (Chanel) in a pet store begging to come home with us.  His adoptive sister was a beautiful mixed breed (thus making her a bargain) and completely different personality-wise, but she solved his loneliness problem and they never separated until she died of cancer a few years ago.  When she died, Dali began the same lonely talking that he used to do when I first adopted him.  He never adjusted to being a single cat without his Coco.

Dali as a kitten was adventurous and fun.  I had to cover my phone in Japan because he and Coco would play while I was at work.  For some reason, he was fascinated with my phone and I would come home to see that it had been “dialed.”  Big problem when some of your speed dials are international.  I was always afraid that one of my relatives in the States would have this mysterious message from my cat.  A large plastic bowl inverted over the phone solved that problem.  On the weekends, I used to put Dali on a kitty leash and bundle him into my backpack.  I loved riding my bike for long journeys down by the Sapporo River to this beautiful mountainside park, so I would take Dali along.  He enjoyed the rides and would often say “Ohaio” to passersby.  Such the charmer!  My little Japanese kitties made an excellent personal point to talk about with my students and they loved my stories about their antics.

When it was time for me to leave Japan, I flew back to Delaware to my parents’ home with my cats.  They lived with them while I travelled for a while.  I got letters from them and wrote letters to them.  When I returned to the States, I lived with my cats and parents before moving into an apartment of my own with them.  Dali & Coco certainly had a number of residences!  We moved back to my parents’ again before I bought a house in Wilmington where our feline family exploded.  Dali & Coco were joined by Pandora…and then Percival.   I think of all of the houses Dali & Coco lived in, they may have loved my Wilmington house best.  It was a 3 story Victorian with high ceilings and lots of sunny windows.  It was truly kitty heaven.  There were so many nooks, crooks, crannies, and hiding spots in that house.  

My house in Wilmington had a feral colony living in the backyard.  It seems that cats are attracted to bleeding hearts.  Multiple litters of kittens were born in my backyard, although I was unable to catch any save Percival and prior to moving from the house two more kittens, Buster & Cleopatra.  We did catch a few adults and take them to the Humane Society to be spayed and given shots before re-releasing.  Those with feline leukemia were euthanized so as not to spread the disease & give them a more humane death than feline leukemia.  We tried to find a home for Buster and Cleo, but it didn’t work out.  They came to live with us in Radnor.  Buster died in the first year, but Cleo is still alive today 12 years later.  My mom now has Pandora and someone else adopted Percival ultimately.

When Dali was 7, we moved to Radnor to our current carriage house.  At the time 4 indoor cats and 2 barn cats didn’t seem crazy, but it was just Kurt, Madeline and I.  Once Luke was born, the crazy set in and Percy went to live elsewhere.  Pandora soon moved on too.  Dali actually formed an interesting relationship with Cleo, our clever barn cat who is also very vocal.  She would often “converse” with him through the windows of my bedroom, the living room, or the kitchen, although they always kept a respectful distance.  Most everyone, aside from me, began calling Dali “Sal” once he moved to the States as a shortened form of Salvador.

The years continued to pass and Dali never lost his affectionate nature.  Every visitor to our household received a feline greeting, not matter their age.  When he met our friend Julio, who is Spanish, he exclaimed, “That cat, he has a moustache!”  A line forever stuck in my head…  The children adored him and he was tolerant of being picked up and groped by toddlers.  He even liked to play a game of hide and seek where he’d pretend to run off, but not make his hiding place too difficult nor resist being picked up when found. 


About 3 years ago I realized his liver and kidneys were beginning to fail, but there was little I could do for him.  I changed his diet to a premium cat food and tuna and surprisingly his health took a positive turn.  He still slowed down, but not as quickly as I thought he would.  I always used to laugh about his lack of courage, particularly in relation to Coco and Cleo who were amazing hunters.  About a year and a half ago, I woke up at about 3am to what was clearly the noise of a mouse chewing something in my bedroom.  Coco would have been on the job immediately trapping that vermin.  Dali chose a different path.  He hopped a little closer to me on the bed for protection and began talking to me.  I looked at him and said, “well, if you aren’t going to try and catch it, could you at least go wake up Daddy?’  And so he did.  Unfortunately, Kurt thought he was whining for food, so I still had to get up and tell him about the vermin situation. And when the trap went off, Dali again took the passive role of alerting and seeking protection with Mom.  No way he was going near vermin!

Last winter it was clear my sweet little feline friend was nearing the end of his long life.  We went to visit my vet, and the news was that he was going senile, becoming painfully arthritic, and dying of liver and kidney disease.  Luckily humans have a choice to end animals suffering.  I left with some painkillers and spent several months saying goodbye.  In September it became apparent that Dali was in more pain and I had a decision to make.  I decided that it was unfair to continue to let him get any worse.  So we spent the morning before I let him go cuddling together on my bed, the constant companions we’d become.  And then I said a very tearful goodbye.  It has taken me months to write about him.

There aren’t as many famous cat memoirs out there as dog memoirs.  The Art of Racing In the Rain, Marley & Me, and hundreds of other famous dogs have topped the bestseller lists and even made it to Hollywood, but there are a few notable books about our feline friends too.  I’ve compiled a list below for anyone seeking a memoir about kitties.

Cat Memoirs worth meowing about:

Waiting for My Cats to Die: A Memoir
By Stacy Horn

Sleeping with Cats: A Memoir
By Marge Piercy

Dewey's Nine Lives: The Legacy of the Small-Town Library Cat Who Inspired Millions
By Vicki Myron & Bret Witter

CAT COMPANIONS --- A Memoir of Loving and Learning
By Susan M. Seidman

Cats in the Belfry
By Doreen Tovey

The Cat & The Comedian
By Tyler Feneck

For the Love of a Cat: A Publisher's Story  
By David St John Thomas


Stacy Horn said...

I was googling myself (how embarrassing) and that's how I came to your post about Dali. Thank you for mentioning my book, but I'm posting to offer my condolences about losing Dali. I read the whole post and when you said three months had to pass before you could write it, well, I know how that feels. One of my cats has cancer and he's actually doing well right now, but I know what I have in front of me. It's the price of love as they say.

So I'm sorry for your loss. 19 years! It must almost feel like you've always had him. Which of course must make it harder. RIP, Dali.

M Shea said...

First of all my sympathies. I think I remember Coco, but not Dali. Strange. Iago has been dead for a couple years now. The neighborhood kids all thought we named him Niau-go, "meow-language". My parents took him home for us while we traveled from Japan to Korea-China-Germany-USA. Iago-kun was always a fighter and my only male supporter in a house full of women. He made the adjustment to moving to Germany. He died in true Klingon fashion. Wake up, roar as much as a cat can roar, and keel over. Kuro-neko-gatari owarimasu. I miss him still.