Shadow was the best cat ever, but before I can explain why, you need context.
I grew up in a somewhat rural area where you had to duck between barbed wire and dodge the horse poop to get a couple houses over to visit a friend. My best friend had chickens and a barn where there lived a wild cat called Pooty. We didn’t see him much, but Janice was somehow attached to him. Or perhaps he was make-believe, I don’t know, we were about that age when we’d go looking in the woods for leprechauns after a rain.
The hills we lived in were full of wild cats that moved around like gypsies.
Barry came one year, depositing a litter of kittens and turning out not to be a male, and leaving before we could have “him” fixed. Which wasn’t something people worried much about way back then.
Orange Minou appeared soon after with a mangled ear and bent tail. He was a tough one, spent a few years with us, allowing me to eventually befriend him, but if he was startled, claws came out targeting the nearest warm body, which was me. Still, he had long orange and white fur, and his purring put both of us into a blissful state. He was such a joy to be around, so accepting and content on my lap, giving just the faintest of impressions of the life he had in the Before. The life which he decided to head back into after his respite with us.
The summer that my brother went to Hawaii with close family friends, and I went to my cousin’s in France, our younger sister got a white cat. White Minou ended up moving through the woods to the neighbor’s so I never really got to know her, but understand she wasn’t terribly friendly.
In my 3rd year of college, I fell in love with a litter of kittens a friend was trying to get rid of, but restricted myself to adopting a single one, a grey and white fluffy fellow who got himself shipped to California to live with my parents after his defiant escape from my apartment, through the landlord’s legs who had come to ask about rumors that I was keeping a pet, which naturally were not allowed. Dark Tagnon moved away before I graduated, so we never became close.
Tribble, a tortoise, came into our lives after I got married, and our son was an infant. She rumbled and rumbled all over, reminding us of the troublesome critters of Star Trek lore. After a few years, her fur fell out, that luscious, previously-thick orange/black/grey/white fur that I loved to run my hands through up until she bit me. The vet said that she had become allergic, suddenly, to her food, and had to be fed some special diet. The new food wasn’t any better, but fortunately we moved to Colorado soon after, At where the fur interestingly came back with a vengeance. A month before we moved into a new town, she decided it was time to go a-wandering. Flyers put up around the neighborhood didn’t bring her back to us, and neighbors never saw her again. Where do cats go when they take off?
As a consolation, Ron gave me Edelweiss, a lovely calico with the required long fur. She was a sweetie for about 2 minutes, then made it clear she couldn’t stand you. But I loved her those 2 minutes, with all my heart, and sometimes I was rewarded by her jumping onto my lap, usually while I was working. Her paws would innocently, presumably, wander onto the keyboard. She got old, and all pets eventually do, she headed to the Great Beyond.
Our daughter acquired a white kitten she, for no apparent reason, named “Snowball”. That one did fine for a while. She was in indoor cat, which worked out well in our rural area where the deer and coyotes roamed. In those days, one didn’t think to get an indoor cat fixed. It wasn’t like she ever had “friends” over, right? But a few years down the road, after she spent 2 weeks howling at us as we tried to leave the house without her, she managed to get out and returned with 3 kittens. Well, 4 if you count Sunfire.
Sunfire was the cat we gave our son when Snowball moved in, and when Sunfire discovered there was warm milk being served, he made his way to the front of the line, blind kittens flying left and right.
But then a miracle occurred.
At work one day, a friend said they were moving to Texas, and that she had to find a home for the sweet kitty living in their barn since leaving a bad situation in a foster home. He was teeny tiny when she found him in her barn fighting off raccoons, and despite her husband’s objections she began feeding him. He grew into a strong, mellow adult, and she teared up telling me that her husband went to the barn with his gun to dispose of the cat because there was no way he’d survive without kibble after they moved.
We didn’t need another cat, but my friend assured me that this one was Special.
She smuggled him into work after I agreed to adopt him, figuring that he could live in the woods if he didn’t fit into our pet-filled home. A big muscular cat with tremendous feet and wide shoulders, a wide face from chewing raw animals, long black fur, he curled up under my desk and there were no shenanigans when Security wandered by, trying to figure out why someone had brought in a pet carrier and kitty litter tray. If you think nobody is monitoring the security cams at work…
From Day 1 he was a keeper! When he refused to be anywhere other than beside me, we changed his name from “Henry” to “Shadow”, and although a little spooked at first, he quickly convinced us that he was the essential part, if not focal point, of this family. He loved to lie on his back on our laps to have his tummy rubbed. We’d massage his feet, causing his big green eyes to slowly close and he’d purr and purr for hours if you didn’t have to get up. Heck, he’d wake up in a patch of sunlight and start purring, just grateful for his raccoon-free home. At the vet he’d rumble so hard that the stethoscope was ineffective. When I began working from home, he was overjoyed and leapt to my lap first thing every morning, where he’d stay all day. Gardening season was fun for him because he’d zip past me and climb every tree, then come back to sit by my side as we planted pansies. He’d rub against my arm, plop down and purr.
Still an avid hunter, he’d shower us with mouse faces. We never saw the mouse bodies, but whiskers and snout often awaited us outside the kitchen door. And when we prepared dinner, he’d sit patiently at our feet until he received a piece of chicken. Even now, sometimes Ron will be preparing some chicken and whisper “[CHICKEN]”, which is how we always envisioned Shadow asking – in a whisper, but emphatically.
Shadow loved being with us on the couch in the evenings while we watched TV, when our laps would not move for a couple of hours and he could have both of us in one place. And I’d rub his belly, his feet, and our day’s stress vanished.
We can ignore the time he manhandled a rabbit through the cat door and chased it around the white carpeting in the great room, because by the time I shut off my computer for the day and walked downstairs, only the lower half of the rabbit remained below the grand piano, guarded by a fat cat.
This cat was completely devoted to us, never left our side for very long, and when out hunting he came back quickly and clean.
As he aged, his effort in walking became pronounced, surely fallen arches I proclaimed. I’d rub his feet and he’d purr, and faithfully he’d still follow me around the house, not hunting as often, and then finally not hunting at all. He slept most of the time, with great effort following the sun around the carpet, waiting patiently for a piece of chicken at dinner time.
And then one night, not just at dusk, but really at night, he insisted on going out. So out of character by then! I knew something was up. His time had come, I could feel it. He knew it. I hesitated. I believe in the circle of life, the ability animals have to know their place in nature, and I watched him staring back at me, begging to go outside. He could hardly walk. All his needs were met inside the house anymore, with litter boxes on every floor so he could minimize going up and down stairs. On cold nights when I drank warm milk at bedtime, I used the big mug that he could put his gigantic head in to lap the last few drops.
And yet he felt the need to go outside, knowing full well the viciousness of the raccoons, coyotes, foxes.
I already missed him as I opened the door, giving in to his great need, that if not tonight, would be another night, as Snowball had proven years before.
Shadow was a cat who lived his life with dignity, with strength and courage. He blessed all of us with his love and faithfulness. And when it was his time to go, he chose the circumstances, facing his destiny without wavering.
Years have gone by. From time to time we think about getting another cat, hoping we could somehow find another Shadow, a cat of a higher standard, who left a huge hole in my heart and that refuses to heal.