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22 July 2019

The life and death of a sweet cat. Whitey Ford died on Tuesday the 16th at about 17:55. He was 17 years old give or take a bit.[More:]

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A long time ago I was sitting in my living-room watching a movie with my wife. I heard some small noise at the open window behind me and turned to see a cat watching me. He was white and grey and he was massive. He had a large scar across his face from top left to lower right and a milky white right eye. He looked like some wraith cat sent from the beyond. He stayed, staring for several minutes. It kind of felt like he was here to foretell my death or something. It was the only time we ever saw him.

Maybe two months later we were walking along an alley just a block away. It had started to rain but we had planed for the possibility and had umbrellas. As we got near the end of the alley we saw a mother cat with three bedraggled wet kittens, each different from the next. Among the three was a grey and white one. I pointed it out: He looks just like that huge scary cat that came to the window.

Mom was rough and tired looking and the kittens were wet so I tried to gather the four of them up but I could not get closer than about 3 metres when mom led them off under a car. There was nothing else to do. We went home.

The following spring I was out for an after dark walk when I got that weird feeling of being followed. I kept looking but seeing nothing. About the third night of this I saw him. A very sleek all black cat. He was pacing me about 20 metres back going to cover from tree to shrub to hedge. I stopped and addressed him and when he would not come closer I went on.

Over the nights I talked to him, and he followed me, getting closer and closer. After a bit he started coming to meet as I went out each night and he would walk alongside me and talk to me non-stop. I called him Kitty and he started to sleep under our shrubs each day.

At that time another cat showed up. The white and grey cat had grown up and was now always with Kitty. He followed Kitty relentlessly but he would not let a human anywhere close to him. He was a true feral.

I took Kitty in to be neutered and he became a house cat. I could not get close to the other cat but he lived here outside the house. All day long he went from window to window following Kitty. At night he slept at the side of the house. He was not at all a night cat. He was very skinny but I fed him and he seemed to fill out a bit.

One morning I got up and took a shower. Kitty would always lay across the doorway just outside the door. When I got out of the shower Kitty was laying there as I expected but the white and grey cat was laying behind him with his arms around Kitty's neck. He was purring loudly but then he jumped up and ran off. What the hell was going on?

He had cut a L shaped hole in the screen of a bedroom window and let himself in to be with his Kitty. I cornered him and caged him until we could get him fixed.

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He was still thin then but his paws were huge like baseball gloves. Baseball gloves + the white = Whitey Ford. We didn't see much of him. He ran before we could enter a room but he tried to be near Kitty at every opportunity. He always purred when he was near Kitty. He had a grey tail and grey ears and a patch around his right eye. There was a grey heart on one side of his body and a grey carrot on the other.

They were an odd pair. Kitty very Siamese like with the high cheek bones and slinky delicate looking frame and wide range of vocalization. Kitty a very type A personality and lover of the dark. Whitey rapidly becoming a big, solid but silent creature. Whitey very laid back and having no intrest in anything but sleep after dark.

I added a second litter box expecting that they might each want their own but they decided one would be for pee and the other for poo.

Kitty loved to lay next to one of us on the bed or in between us if we were both there. He would climb up on top between us and as we moved he would slide down and become a pig in a blanket. Whenever he was on the bed and we were asleep Whitey would jump up and lay at the very bottom of the bed. He was to afraid to come closer but at least he was near his beloved Kitty. He would purr all night.

When we were home and awake it was more problematic. He wanted to be with Kitty but often Kitty was with us. For a long time whenever we watched TV Kitty would be with one of us and Whitey would sit in the dining room, under the table, protected by all the table and chair legs. At some point he made a move and started sitting in the living room with his back to us. That set up a pattern I have come to know is common with ferals. They will learn something quickly but it takes a very long time before they can overcome their instinctive behavior.

After a year or so we could stroke him while he and Kitty were on the bed but when Kitty was with one or both of us Whitey still purred down at the foot of the bed. After more time passed he would let us pet him on the couch. He would come and sit facing the couch and stare intently as he steeled his nerves. He would jump up on my left side and continue up onto the back of the couch and then cross over to my right side and then drop down and jump over my lap back to my left side. Only then would he lay down facing away from me and have me scratch him for some amount of time. When that time was up he would jump up and get off the couch and sit down and spend the equivalent amount of time cleaning everywhere I had touched him. Must remove hooman stink!

Things progressed like that. At some point we were all good in the living room and the bed room and the porch and the office. He never went in the bathroom and if we met in the kitchen or the basement he would hiss loudly. At some point I started to hiss back and he was baffled.

After cutting the screen to get in he never expressed any interest in going back outside. He had his Kitty and regular food and a sunny porch and that was enough of the world for him. He always seemed so content. Kitty would get tired of being licked and kneaded and flopped on - Get off me you giant freak! - but Whitey never seemed to mind. He would sometimes have holes in his ears where Kitty had swatted him but he never seemed upset by it. If Kitty got too rough the worst I ever saw Whitey do was to rise up like a fighting bear and then grab Kitty and flop over on him. With more than twice his weight pressing on him Kitty could not fight anymore.

They had gravity feeding towers with dry food they could eat at will but in the morning they got a can of food. We would put the food out on a plate I bought at a dollar store. They would eat only half each even if they ate at different times. In the dark winter months Whitey did not want to get out of bed yet. Kitty would eat his half and leave a neat line right down the centre of the plate. One side clean and the other with Whitey's food.

Whitey eventually learned to vocalize because he saw that Kitty got things by using mouth noises. So you make a noise and that gets you a scratching? Food? Hugs? Like any feral at first he just made little ah ah ah sounds. As the years passed he picked up a few more sounds but not a lot.

Through nail clippings and baths and ear cleanings, and needles and syringe feedings when he got very sick one time, Whitey never once fought me or scratched or bit. He was a gentle giant and when he learned to trust me he did so completely. He never liked his monthly bath but I always told him he needed it to keep away the recurring skin issues he used to get and he seemed to understand that it was needed and he was accepting of that.

After a number of years he would let us pick him up. He really liked me to carry him in the crook of my arm like a baby. He was fascinated by all the regular stuff seen from a new angle.

He rarely ever played. Kitty would play with toys until there was nothing left of them but Whitey was mostly not interested. However one day I was siting in the office and I heard a soft tunk sound from the living room. I kept hearing it every few seconds. I went and looked down the hall and saw Whitey sitting upright and his right paw going up in the air followed by that tunk sound. I couldn't see what it was but clearly he was flipping something up in the air and watching fall over and over again. I left him too it and he stayed at it for longer than I had ever seen him play with anything. When he left off and headed to the porch I went to find what it was he was fascinated with. It was a dime.

This cat with the big feet was flipping a dime up off the hardwood floor. I guess he was getting a claw under it. He was like that. A big guy who ran sounding like a herd of cats but was capable of jumping and moving with the most incredible grace and accuracy. He would come to the office and jump up on the arm of my chair and the first I would know about it was when he put a paw on my face and started to pet me.

He would stroke my face and the top of my head when I was at my desk or in bed. I guess he thought that since we did that to him it was expected that he do that to us.

He was so content with his lot in life and then the worst thing happened. Kitty got cancer and died. Sadly he died at the vets office and not at home. I wonder if it would have been better for Whitey if he could have seen Kitty die. All he knew is that Kitty left and never came back. He was so lost, wondering around making the most mournful sounds. He was never really the same after that. He seemed to have lost the most important thing.

With time the loss seemed to fade a bit and he became much more attached to us. If only one of us was home he never left our side except for his sun time. If we were both home he wanted us both in the same room. He wanted us all together. He took to sleeping belly pressed to my lag and his arms hugging tight. I would wake in the night sweating from his heat pressed into my calf. In the morning he would come up and lay with his back to my chest and his head under my chin and I would pull him in with my arm. In the beginning I would never have believed he would someday be so trusting.

Other times he would put a paw on me and make a repeated sound that meant he wanted me to come to the bed. I would follow him there and lay down and he would lay beside me and I would scratch him a bit but then he wanted me to stop. He wanted to nap and wanted me to nap too. I kept explaining that I can't sleep 20 hours a day but he never stopped trying to get me to.

He would drape himself over the top of my wife's sleeping head like a big fur hat. One night I saw him purring away and trying to push his head under her sleeping hand. That loss of Kitty never fully left and he seemed really afraid of losing us. Loss is hard to talk about when you share a language and impossible when you don't. Sometimes if we talked about Kitty, Whitey would perk up for a moment at the name, but his best friend never came back.

He got old and developed some kidney and other issues and he lost a couple teeth along the way. He really seemed to age this year. Slowing down even more than his usual sedate way and he spent a lot of time sleeping beside my chair rather than on the arm of it. He lost weight. He started wanting to eat my food. Even if it was something he would never eat like a salad he would stare at me and wave his paw in the air looking for a share. Rowr? It seemed he wanted to be part of everything. So for the last six months or so I would put a little of whatever I was eating on a small plate for him. Even if it was something he would never eat he was happy to stick his face in there and check it out.

One day he was sitting on the arm of my chair snoozing and he just fell off. He didnít seem hurt, just bewildered. Getting old sucks.

On Tuesday he came and laid on the office floor and something was gone. He seemed tired and he wanted to be close to me. I got a pillow for myself and got him Mr. Pencil. Years back I got some small stuffed toys from one of those arcade claw machines. I put them on the bed thinking Whitey might play with them but he used them as pillows. Mr. Pencil, a stuffed toy pencil, seemed to be the fave.

I lay on the floor with him much of the day. He dozed and occasionally looked at me and meowed. About 15:00 I went out for a short break and my feral Ginger showed up. It was odd. He never comes that early.

I stayed with Whitey and he dozed until he woke and gave me a large sad rouw sound. I put my arm around him and told him I would stay with him and that he could go see Kitty. I kept telling him that and stroking his ears and nose and along his lips. He was dozing again when there was a huge bang of thunder that shook the house and he opened his eyes and looked at me and gave another very loud rouw sound and started running. All four legs going rapidly for maybe fifteen seconds. I repeated what I'd been telling him. He stopped running and gave another loud sound and relaxed. I kept stroking along his lip and talking to him and his breathing got softer and softer over a couple minutes and then it was over.

I had often said he was like a favorite childhood stuffed toy come to life but that life has come to it's end. I really hope in those last moments he caught sight of Kitty and ran to be with him.

I am sad he and Ginger didn't get to live together for a bit. Last fall I started hearing Whitey talking out in the porch. I found that Ginger was sitting below the window and talking with Whitey. Ginger is the only cat other than Kitty that Whitey even bothered to notice. When the screen door was open they would stand with paws against the door and chat to each other for several minutes. I wonder what they were communicating to each other, these two non vocal creatures that only learned to vocalize because of me? I think Whitey and Ginger might of had some fun together. Type A must be everywhere guy and laid back follower.

R.I.P. big guy. I will remember you pulling yourself up a porch window with your front claws gripping a small strip of metal at the top so you could better see the birds on the tree just the other side of the glass. What did they think of that huge white mass of fur pressed against the glass? I will remember you much thinner, balanced on an impossibly slender branch of the same tree looking in through that same window at Kitty. I'll remember you sleeping under that tree and sitting there side by side with a huge possum for three consecutive nights. I'll remember waking up and seeing a big pink nose and two very round eyes right in front of mine and how you begin to purr the moment you see my eyes open. I'll remember how you slept with your face tucked under yourself when your nose was cold.

I'll remember how you slobbered over your little cat nip pillow and when Kitty was done with his you would slobber all over that one two. I'll remember Kitty running around to every window upstairs and down to keep an eye out for intruders. He would growl at the letter carrier and at birds, squirrels, other cats, dogs and their owners, and kids going down the street. Everything that was not us was to be repelled. Kept from his home. He would eventually drop like a sack of grain and sleep the sleep of the righteous and you would knead his belly for a long time then wrap your arms around his neck and put your big head over his. You did not sleep. You just lay holding Kitty and all was right in your world.

And you, so impossibly flat on the back of the couch just staring out the window lost without that all black cat. Sometimes your attention just got to be too much and Kitty wanted to sleep the day away alone.

The lining inside the basket was black and Kitty would make sure you were not in the room and then roll into a ball and sleep in the basket. It took me months to figure out where he went those times. He just blended in so well. You never did figure out that wicker basket trick.

After he died you spent a lot of time flat on the back of the couch and staring. I have no idea of what cats think about death or even the concept of death but I do know you felt loss deeply. Walking the house moaning and wailing like you did not know why you were here and he was not.

I know how you felt. There is Caspar and Ginger and Wen and Pan and Wilson and Ed Sheeren to care for but we miss you a lot.

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posted by arse_hat 22 July | 01:03
Oh hell, arsey. I am so sorry to hear about Whitey. What a moving tribute you have given him. Our pets are so dear to us.
posted by msali 24 July | 15:59
I am so, so sorry. I loved Whitey Ford too and I am in tears reading of his passing and I am so glad he found you and so grateful that you loved him so much. He deserved a good life and you gave him that. He has left his pawprints on your heart forever.
posted by Senyar 25 July | 16:12
Aw man, so sorry. I figured Whitey would outlive his namesake, but that sounds like a cat's life well-lived. It's never long enough.
posted by sysinfo v2.0 26 July | 21:46
That is a beautiful eulogy. Sincere condolences to you and your wife. Y'all are such good hooomans; you find ways to love and care for our fuzzy family and have so much compassion.

You made it safe for Whitey Ford to find his way to loving you by accepting him as he was.

Much love to you.


posted by mightshould 27 July | 13:34
After such a great catlife, Whitey may be ready to reincarnate as a major league baseball player.
posted by Obscure Reference 30 July | 11:12
Thank you all.

It is two weeks today and it's still weird how much of our lives at home involved Whitey. Yesterday I had some cereal and I grabbed a bowl and the little white bowl I would use to give Whitey a little share of what I was eating. It will take a while to get used to new ways.
posted by arse_hat 30 July | 13:42
You brought him to life for me. Thank you for sharing so much about this unique and special fellow who was such a good friend to you. I am so sorry. I am so glad he got to live with you. He deserved the peaceful goodbye. May all beings know such love.
posted by Miko 30 July | 20:43
Years and Years || Tanya Habjouqa is a photographer. A short video.