Ernest Hemingway said this about cats: “A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”
Louis Camuti, the first vet in the US to devote his entire practice to treating cats, said this: “There is something about the presence of a cat…that seems to take the bite out of being alone.”
Martine, a very dear friend of my mom’s, believes that a home without a cat is not a home. I know a lot of people who’ll agree with her, including my sister Katy, who is one cat away from being a certifiable Crazy Cat Lady.* I made the fairly recent and somewhat depressing discovery that I am a little allergic to cats, though I’m hopeful that one day I can have a cat who spends a lot of time outdoors. But for the time being, I’m catless, and probably poorer of soul because of it.
*To be fair, if she ever does cross the line, she will be an excellent Crazy Cat Lady. Exemplary, even.
My family has always had pets. Denali, a Siberian Husky, was my first dog, and Nigel my first cat – named after Nigel Strangeways, the detective in a series of mysteries by British author Nicholas Blake. I remember Nigel’s passing very clearly – we took him to the vet, each spent a few moments holding him and crying, before saying a last goodbye. Not too long before, our dog Josie had been hit and ultimately killed by a car near our house, and so we were petless and sorely missed the company of animals in the house.
Later, we got two new cats – Bog and Fen. Finding Bog was easy; she was the cutest and fuzziest of a litter being given away by a family in Vallejo, and choosing her was uncontroversial to say the least. It was harder to find Fen, but when I spotted him shivering in the back of a cage at the noisy and frightening San Francisco SPCA, it was clear he was going to come home with us. I’m not sure how we all settled upon Bog & Fen as names, but they ended up fitting perfectly. I do remember “Black & Decker” being an early reject; we decided early on we wanted their names to be related in some way. It’s probably for the best we didn’t call them Black & Decker.
Last week, a kindly vet came up to my parents’ house and put to sleep our old, tired, and gentle little Bog. Bog managed to get cuter as she got older, sort of a “Kitty Benjamin Button” for cuteness instead of age, and was adorable right to the end, rubbing her cheeks on my hands to demand a scratch, and purring forcefully. She died last Monday night, at the age of 16. Here she is about a year ago:
She developed arthritis in her joints and hobbled around the house and yard, and was never hard to find outdoors – she pretty much had her three or four spots where she’d lie in the sun, or when it was cold, in the little house my dad had made for her. When she was lying down, she would cross and uncross her paws in front of her, looking for relief. Some fluid injected under her skin helped a lot and she regained a fair amount of her mobility, but in the end a weak heart, a growth in her ear, and a good long life spent largely outdoors became too much.
She was buried next to Fen, who died not long ago, her best friend, her brother. As is a tradition in our family when a pet passes away, we will be putting a plant in the garden to honor Bog, to remember her by and so that we can be reminded of her during a nice day outdoors. Hers will be right next to Fen’s.
When Katy and I lived at home, our family often joked that Bog was her cat and that Fen was mine. Even though we both loved each cat equally, there was a certain truth to the joke – Bog spent a lot of time in Katy’s room and Fen spent much of his time with me. When I went off to college, my mom reported that he’d meow outside my room, waiting, confused, and lonely. Bog kept going into Katy’s room long after it had been converted to a guest bedroom.
When we brought Bog home, she looked like this:
She was tiny. She was probably the cutest thing I’d ever seen at that age, and I’m not sure I’ve seen a cuter cat in the 16 years since, with apologies to Katy’s adorable cats Gus & Ida (both given three-letter names in honor of Fen & Bog). She was so small when we brought her home that Katy and I used to play hide-and-seek with her, which meant one of us would hide her somewhere – on the bookshelf, in a shoe, in a drawer – and the other would have to find her. I recall her being a surprisingly good sport about it, even though it likely wasn’t her idea of fun and games. She might remember it differently.
For the majority of her life, she was impossible to pick up when she was outside, and very difficult to pick up inside unless she was asleep. She was very fast, wiry, and devious. She’d run into the fireplace when she got frightened – or just felt like it – and hid on some unreachable ledge, later running out to track ashes around the house. She has a mind-boggling amount of fur and shed everywhere, amassing impressive dreadlocks that eventually led to a complete shearing several times in her elder years.
Fen was very different. Long and lean, never all that hard to pick up, when he was sleepy it was easy to grab him by his paws and wear him as a scarf, demonstrated here by my mom:
Fen was a huge scaredy-cat. He was scared of people and loud noises, and had an endearing habit of scurrying under the covers of my bed when we had company over, forming a shivering little heap at the foot of the bed. But after he’d spent a little time with a new person, he lost all his fear and accepted them into his life. He rubbed his face against anything and everything – furniture, guitars, legs, hands. Strangely, despite his aversion to noises, Fen had no problem with my guitar playing – he would even rub his face against it, and attack the strings when he saw them moving – and Bog, generally pretty unflappable, would recoil at the mere sight of the instrument.
We used to have signs on our gate outdoors reading Chat Lunatique and Chat Gentil, meaning, respectively, “moody cat” and “nice cat,” though of course most people understood the former as meaning “lunatic cat,” which also applied. When Fen passed away, my mom removed not the Chat Gentil but rather the other one; Bog, who’d in fact always been nice, was no longer moody nor was she a lunatic – she was, quite simply, a very nice cat, and it was a little way of honoring them both. The lunatic cat sign was given to our friends Katy and Lyal, owner of a truly bonkers young cat named Banshee:
Fen and Bog were great cats. People tend to divide themselves into Cat People & Dog People, but I’ve always been both – they’re so different that they take on different roles and fulfill different needs. Dogs are loyal, friendly, dependent, and generally happy. Cats are loners, confident, moody, hilarious, and perhaps above all else, they’re good company. Because they don’t need to be actively hanging out with you to be good company – just seeing your cat, even knowing he or she is around, is always a comfort. I know the house will feel just a little bit empty without Bog, just as it did without Fen; they lived in their entire lives there and are forever a part of our home.
Fen and Bog will both be sorely missed. They led long, active, wonderful lives, with plenty of space to roam around, a loving family, and many visitors who came to love them as well. It’s always hard to lose a pet, because they’re part of the family, because they’re a friend, and because they fill a space much larger than their little bodies. Bog and Fen were adorable on their own, but even better together – we would put out two baskets for them to sleep in, but generally, one would crawl into the other and they would sleep together, side by side, waking up periodically to groom each other and see if it was time to eat yet.
May they rest in peace.