Other Cool Things

The Cat Who Gave a Gift.

I am writing a book titled Many Meows, about my life with a lot of felines over the decades.

What follows is an excerpt. CAVEAT: It is a bittersweet story.


The intruder came to my attention while I was washing the dishes.  One early morning while scrubbing some blackened pot I heard a faint noise, looked up, and stared into a pair of eyes.  On the windowsill outside a cat was staring back, and a most grungy specimen at that.  He was a pale gray long-hair with darker gray spotting and, disturbingly, a glance revealed that he wasn’t well.  Perhaps he was just very, very old; he had that kind of look.

Feeling quite sensible I ignored him.

The next morning he was back. In precisely the same spot.

Feeling quite sensible I ignored him.

The next morning he was back. In precisely the same spot.

Feeling quite sensible I ignored him.

This went on for weeks.  Whereby I felt ever less sensible.  As well, I was worn down by this ritual (but a bit impressed).  This was a cat which would not be ignored so I finally deigned to proffer the occasional miserly pat when I was outside.  Still, I refused to give him any food or water for fear that he might start hanging around even more and, as he clearly wasn’t well, I feared that he would give my other cats some infectious disease.

While the intruder had broken me a little I nonetheless declined to offer any proof of said victory.  He was greeted with no smile, no compliments, and instead met with a shower of insults.

“You grungy thing.  Have you no pride?  I’ve never seen a more pitiful cat.  You do your species shame.”

Because I could never affect a properly fearsome tone, I think he saw right through me.  Or he was a masochist.  Or it’s possible that he didn’t understand what I was saying.

One morning I was astonished to find my kitchen window vacant of baleful stare.  He was gone!  Curiously, this thought didn’t elate me; instead, I felt a little bereft.  Obviously, I had grown rather fond of the ritual, or the damn cat.  Maybe both?

Of course, the pitiful thing had likely died.  This awareness, to my surprise, increased my bereft feeling.  And this evidenced a disconnect between intellect (which wanted the cat gone) and emotion (which, horrors, liked the cat).  Disconnect is a malady I often suffer from.

A short while later, when I opened the back door to toss some trash out, there he was.  It was also raining and he was soaking wet.

The thought too stupid to get out of the rain went through my head.

Then another thought bobbed to the surface.  Too sick to get out of the rain.

Oh. Oh! OH! And so, for the first time, I picked the sodden creature up and almost immediately discovered that something was very horribly wrong.  His tail seemed mangled and with protruding bones (I felt faint) but gentle prodding revealed a many-spiked twig entangled in the cat’s long tail fur.  I then noticed that he was shivering quite badly.

With absolutely no forewarning, and in a quick rush, my heart threw open its protective gates, let the drawbridge down over the Moat of Rationality, and ushered the cat into the inner Court of Love & Comfort with trumpets a-blazing.

Damn cat.


With great gentleness the offending, evil twig was disengaged (the tail was fine) and the cat washed with equal gentleness.  Now, cats are famous for their intense dislike of fur/water combos but this cat seemed relieved.  As if used to daily spa treatments, he collapsed into my hands and seemed meditative under the streams of warm water, bubbles, and hand massaging.  It was as if he understood that he was, indeed, a disgrace to his species, and this soaking would remove a blemish to dignity and honor.

I’m pleased to announce it did just that.  After drying off and a brushing, he was transformed.  The matted, dirty fur now stood proud and the bony body disappeared under long tuffs of fur.  Through the magic alchemy of soap and water, two tones of gray had become bright white with shiny black spots.

A bed was made in front of the wall heater and the cat snuggled in.  His eyes were brilliant with pleasure.

My friend Christina then arrived, and she dropped her jaw over the now resplendent cat, and announced that his name was Maynard.

“How do you know his name?

“He just told me.”

Maynard had found a home.  I noted that he waited to be properly dressed before introducing himself.


A visit with the vet confirmed suspicions.  Maynard had feline AIDS.  I was told that, as long as he never bit my cats or shared their food and water, they were likely safe.

This news wasn’t as bad as it sounds for Maynard had shown tremendous respect for my cats and always maintained a certain distance from them.  It was as if he knew about his condition.  As well, my cats – to my amazement – never showed the slightest interest in having territory battles with Maynard.  Did they all sense his condition, too, and, as such, develop an instant truce?


From day one Maynard revealed himself as ritualistic.  In time he proved himself a ritual aficionado

Each morning I would feed him.  After, he went to the back door.  It was understood that I would let him out.  He would walk quickly across the yard and to the fence door.  It was understood that I would follow and let him out.  With a flick of his tail he said goodbye and ventured out on his neighborhood rounds.

Around lunchtime, he would appear at the front yard gate, skooch under it, and venture over to the water bowl.

My cats enjoyed the safety of a fenced yard, but one, Kittums, had long before made it clear that she fully expected her own fenced yard. So it was. It was her yard however which Maynard wanted to spend his afternoons in. At first, I wondered how the aggressively territorial Kittums would react.  But like all my other cats, she, too, warily made way for Maynard.  Instantly.  I gave him credit, too.  It was evident that he adored Kittums from their first meeting and from then on he spent every afternoon with her.

Careful observation revealed patterns.  Wherever Kittums was, Maynard would be about six feet away.  If Kittums moved, he followed, but always maintaining the same six-foot boundary.

One day I was watching.  Kittums was seemingly sleeping.  She “woke” then turned toward Maynard, gazed quickly, turned away, got up, walked a dozen feet, sat down, gazed quickly at Maynard, and then away.  There seemed to be no reason for any of this.  Then Maynard got up, walked about a dozen feet, and sat down.  A moment passed before Kittums turned, registered the repositioned Maynard and, just before turning back, I swear that she, well, smiled.

I blinked a few times, unsure of what I had just seen.  Then Kittums, as if testing this newly discovered power, repeated the whole exercise.  Dutifully, Maynard played his part to perfection.  Again, Kittums turned to confirm that Maynard was on his mark and, just as she turned away, there was what looked, very much, like a smile.

The minx.

When Christina arrived I asked that she watch.  A while later Kittums and Maynard performed brilliantly.

“Wow.  Did I just see a cat smile?”

I knew it wasn’t just me.


After his afternoon siesta in the front yard, Maynard would skooch back under the front gate and disappear. As the sun began its departure over the horizon, and with perfect, unerring timing, Maynard would scamper up atop the back fence where he dutifully waited – it was understood – until I lifted him off the fence post and gently dropped him in the yard.  He would then amble to the back door and be let in for dinner.  His favored bed?  The bathroom counter.  I have no idea why.

So began life with Maynard. He immediately gained weight and lost that skeletal look of terminal illness.  Upon meeting him one would never suspect his condition.

Christina commented how much Maynard adored me and I did notice that he seemed unduly animated in my presence and my presence only.  Now, Christina is no slouch when it comes to the adoration of animals, and while Maynard was highly pleasant and respectful to her, he was different around me.

Even others commented.  “That cat loves you.”

Why?  I loved him but I loved all my cats and all animals.  I treated him very well, yes, but so do I treat all my cats and all animals.  Of course, I had given refuge to Maynard and God only knows how miserable his life was previous to lucking out in Ross Land.  In such a situation, I, too, would be over-the-top in love with my savior.

Of course, it’s possible that I’m just unduly lovable.


Life without Maynard soon seemed unthinkable.  His many rituals added specific texture and dimension to the day and these rituals offered about the only consistency to my normally wildly inconsistent days.  One day I might do research.  Or write.  Be a carpenter.  Paint.  Or sleep.  But Maynard’s patterns could be timed and were daily evident.  Only a roaring downpour would alter them and he would remain on the covered back porch looking deflated.  His joy at being able to resume The Rituals was so great that I responded in kind.  His joy became my joy.

So, too, with Kittums.  As noted, I believe Maynard adored her.  In time I suspect that Kittums – long a solitary cat, my many attempts to rectify this notwithstanding – grew quite fond of her respectful escort, a kind of Secret Service cat.  When he appeared in the early afternoon to drink from his water bowl (Kittums had her own), she seemed observably happier.  She certainly slept less.  I would watch their amusing ballet and Maynard maintained the same six feet from Kittums that he had initiated from day one.


Maynard’s initial bloom of health never wavered and spring changed to summer to fall to winter when, just before Christmas, he got a cold.  Normally, I wouldn’t be too concerned but one had to be careful with Maynard.  In a few days several other peculiar maladies afflicted him and I rushed him to the vet.

“Oh, this cat had AIDS,” she said at a glance and added that there was little they could do for him.  “He could rally though.”  Or not.

She offered to put him to sleep.  I was horrified.  He just had a cold didn’t he?  I ignored the other bizarre symptoms.

Maynard and I went home.  A few days later – when he declined with grim speed – I asked if he wanted to be put to sleep.

Now, don’t ask me how I know the following, I just do.  Maynard clearly replied that he wanted to be left alone.  He wanted to experience this.

And Maynard, by his behavior the past year, had offered ample evidence that his wishes deserved respect.

The days turned into weeks and each day revealed an ever-diminishing Maynard.  I had never witnessed a living creature literally shrink before my very eyes and every few days I asked Maynard if he wanted help in bringing an end to his discomfort.  Contrary to his diminished body his mind seemed clear.

No was the answer.

After two weeks from the day he caught his cold, and many days after I thought he couldn’t possible live another day, I returned home in mid-afternoon.  Maynard was on his towel in front of the heater. I laid down. And knew.

This was it.  He was leaving.  Now.

I was unsure what to do.  Was it better to be respectful of his last moments and leave?  Or did he need a gentle word or two?  Did I need anything?

I was flat on the floor next to him but didn’t touch him.  I asked if I could stay.  His tail wagged.  Barely but it wagged.  I told him how much I loved him and what a great honor and joy it had been to have him in my life. His tail wagged.  Barely but it wagged.

A few moments passed in silence.  Then I told him that I would miss him.

His tail didn’t move.  Not even a little.


Maynard and I laid next to each other for a while. I didn’t cry for I felt great joy in the opportunity that had been presented to me.  A sick, abandoned creature had found its way to me and I was able to help.  It’s a simple word, help, but it’s hard to help right.  The comfort and love and refuge I gave Maynard was something he needed, something I could provide, and he glowed from the beginning and kept glowing until just two weeks before his passing.

We had but a year together but what did brevity matter? The sadness I now felt was hugely outweighed by the countless hours of joy Maynard had brought me. He had enhanced my life. Kittums, too.

About an hour after Maynard had passed I had a repeating vision which lasted till evening.  Maynard – wildly healthy and silken – was racing through fields and leaping after birds and butterflies and grasshoppers.  He raced and raced, like a lion in its prime.

His joy filled my heart and his pleasure diminished my grief.

It was so like Maynard to leave a parting gift.

8 Responses to The Cat Who Gave a Gift.

  1. I think Irving Townsend said it best: “We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own, live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we would still live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan.”

    Both my wonderful cat Chelsea, and our beautiful bull terrier Xander, gave and gave. I can only hope that I gave as much in return. We can never know how much we are loved by our pets – only how much we ourselves love them.

  2. That is such a beautiful and bittersweet story. I have rescued abused, neglected and injured animals (domestic and wild) all my life. And reading about your wonderful Maynard made me smile and broke my heart at the same time. I’m so glad to hear that you made his last year one of love and comfort and comanionship. Doing these small acts of kindness, swell the heart and make life worth living in my humble opinion. I truly am enjoying all the treasures I am discovering in your blog. Many thanks!!

  3. ~A cat named Doggie. I had adopted an elderly, and beautiful cat, when he needed a new home. His name, which I did not change, was “Doggie.” As it turned out, he became my most comforting and devoted companion during repeated occurences of cancer. He could read my mind. Once when I was not sleeping with him, he began meowing for me in the other room. For some reason I pictured myself stroking his fur to soothe him….. and he immediately stopped meowing. When he became ill in November, at 20yrs old he may well have been ready to go. I was not ready to say goodbye. I finally took him to be put to sleep….. 02-09-2009, Im glad it was a date so easy to remember. Not long afterwards, I thought I saw him out of the corner of my eye laying on top of my bed. And not long after that I had a dream of him, somewhat similar to your own. In my dream I was standing on a huge expanse of lush green grass. He squirmed in my arms so I put him down on the ground. He sped away amasingly fast across the grass and over a gently rolling hill. I knew he did so with great joy..

Leave a Response

Your email address will NEVER be made public or shared, and you may use a screen name if you wish.