“Dogs have owners, cats have staff.” I spotted that proverb on the wall during one of our many visits to the vet for Scratchy’s multifarious afflictions. Although the author was anonymous, he clearly knew of what he spoke. A dog’s greatest joy is to be man’s best friend; a cat’s greatest annoyance is a slow-moving human at mealtime. A dog can wait; a cat cannot. (You thought they said “meow”; it’s “now!”) We are there, after all, to fulfill his every command, no matter how small or how often. It’s not for us to question why he sleeps all day and wants out at midnight.
As much as Squeaky slept — and he slept a lot — the hours he was awake were filled with demands to be fed, to be cuddled, to be let in, to be let out. And in, and out. A cat is always on the wrong side of the door. Yes, he has a pet flap, but he prefers a doorman. And that would be us, although I think we’re more like doormats. But we are his “staff”; that is why we’re here: to care for him (and the adopted dog he resents so much for infiltrating his kingdom), and we happily oblige his every whim.
The day starts with him squeaking for breakfast, since his bowl must be stowed away overnight and out of reach of Sylvester, who steals in under cover of dark to scarf up any morsel of food. So, consequently, by 8 a.m., Squeaky is in a state. He’s easily placated, however. He doesn’t require fancy feasts or scientific diets; a cup of chow suits him just fine (he appreciates an occasional Greenie or your leftover cereal milk just to break up the monotony). He is, however, finicky about how his food is served: he prefers it on the floor. If we offer it to him in a bowl, he’ll stare at it for a few minutes, then stick his face in the dish, extract a kernel, place it on his arm, then eat it out of his fur. We’ve yet to find source material in any scientific “cat”alogues of vet-ology to explain that one, but there you have it. Once he’s had his fill, he’s ready for his morning cuddle, so he’ll climb onto the couch (and I mean literally “climb”; since his leaping days are over, he looks like he’s scaling a mountain with pulleys and crampons) to settle into my lap while I’m working on the computer. Sometimes I’ll bring up the video of the two talking cats (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3U0udLH974&feature=related) and he’ll sit stock still, riveted to the screen, but mostly he just wants to be held and stroked.
After 15 minutes of allowing me this privilege, he’ll plop to the floor and either haul himself back upstairs to his parents’ bed or clamber up on a chair and sink back into a deep slumber. As he drifts off to sleep, he’ll often do a face plant, pressing his mug into the couch or bed. I suspect, because of his AIDS, he may have swollen lymph nodes in his neck, and lying on them is painful. It could be why he sometimes tries to bite me if I scratch behind his left ear; maybe I’ve strayed too close to a sore nodule.
Some time in the afternoon or early evening, we’ll hear a thump on the floor upstairs as he heaves his aged body off the bed. This is followed by a slow clomp, clomp, clomp down the stairs, like something out of a horror movie. He’s ready for lunch, which is essentially a rerun of breakfast. Then, fully fortified, he’d like to play with his fishing rod, a thin pole with a fuzzy ball hanging from a string. He’ll languidly bat it around for a few minutes, then he’s bored. He wants outside. His doormen snap to attention.
Apart from AIDS and a bit of arthritis, he still looks good; his fluffy orange coat still gleams, and his senses remain sharp. In fact, I’m convinced he has a touch of ESP. Every time I move his food dish (usually out of Scratchy’s reach, who’s no better than Sylvester in the scrounge department), it doesn’t matter where he is or what he’s doing, he could be sound asleep upstairs or somewhere outside, but the second I move his bowl, he’s there at my feet, demanding to know where it is. If we’re having cereal, we eat quickly. For an old guy with the speed of a sloth, he can smell milk from a mile away and will hustle his creaky bones inside before our first bite. He’ll then plant himself in front of us and squeak for however long it takes us to surrender and let him lick the bowl.
Despite his keen sense, he does have the occasional senior moment. He often walks into a room, stops and looks around as if to say, “What did I come in here for?” He’ll want to eat five minutes after eating, and then there’s that door . . . He tolerates Scratchy — barely. He’ll sometimes walk by, notice the dog curled up in his bed, and he’ll stop and fix him with a stare that seems to say, “You still here?”, before continuing on his way. Other times he’ll stop and sniff him, then step back, his nose twitching in disgust. For his part, the dog who charges after pit bulls is deathly afraid of the cat. He gives him a wide berth, and never looks directly at him. If Squeaky wants his bed in front of the fire, Scratchy surrenders it. If the cat lies down near him, he’ll get up and skulk away, eyeing him fearfully.
Time for Squeaky, like all aged creatures, slips by in a dream, one day pretty much like the one before. He’ll sometimes stand and stare out the window at the birds in the feeders. When I let him out, he makes no attempt to catch them, all too aware that his hunting days are over. Even the birds seem to know this, as they brazenly flit about his head, secure in the knowledge that this fuzzy coot has the agility of an elephant. I often wonder what he’s thinking as he gazes out at the world. Is he remembering the 18 seasons of spring he’s seen come and go, the trees he once climbed, the mice he once chased? Does he lament these things he will not do again? Does he contemplate the end? Who knows? Like Grizabella, he sits quietly, withered leaves collecting at his feet, all alone with the memory of his days in the sun. Or maybe he just wants back inside.