In the summer of 1992 it was beginning to dawn on me that Sebastian, my white
panther shaped cat of 15 years, was slowing down.
It hadn't actually occured to me that this might happen before he was, say,
20. I had grown up with a cat who lived 26 years, traveled the world with us
during my childhood, and then ushered in and supervised a whole next
generation of family members. I expected no less of Sebastian.
I'm not sure what incident it was in 1992 that finally pierced my wall of
denial, but I had to admit, after a while, that Sebastian was getting tired.
Maybe it was the extra long nap he took after attacking the neighbor's dog
who had mistakenly wandered into our yard. Maybe it was realizing that he
really couldn't see us clearly when we walked into a room and that greeting
him by name might not be a bad idea. Maybe it was when I realized that I
needed to wake him up to let him know I was about to run the vacuum cleaner
near him so he wouldn't be startled when I turned it on. Maybe it was all of
this, and more.
Still, denial can be a strong ally when one doesn't want to face the truth.
It was my husband who finally reached me with the words, "Do you suppose
Sebastian might like to have a little playmate?" A playmate for Sebastian?
How ludicrous. Sebastian thinks he's human and hates other animals,
was my thought.
But I felt the love behind the sentiment. It was not so much for Sebastian
that he proposed bringing in a new cat. It was for me. A bridge cat, as it
were, to ease what would surely be a devasting loss as Sebastian continued to
All right, I said. But Sebastian is to have final say.
And over the course of the next few months I brought home potential
All cat owners tend to anthropomorphize their felines, putting words in the
cat's mouth, insisting they know what the cat is thinking, assigning human
feelings to the cat. And owners of old cats have this honed to a fine
science. When you own a cat for so many years, they come to know you, and
you them with a degree of exactness that belies the fact that verbal
communication is not a two way street.
So when I brought home the first trial kitten and Sebastian gave me a
whithering look I knew what he was thinking: "If you leave this little
creature here, I will have it for lunch." Said kitten was immediately
dispatched back from whence it came.
Trial kittens Two and Three brought reactions that, while different,
indicated to me that we hadn't quite found the right one.
Offers of kittens came from all over. One offer came from a neighbor
down the street. MamaKitty had given birth to her first litter and the
little furballs were of viewing age and nearly ready for adoption. On our
nightly walks around the neighborhood, my husband and I would stop and watch
them frolic in the front yard, five hearty gorgeous kittens and one whom it
would be kind to only say was deformed.
This last little kitten appeared to be a freak. While it's head was of
normal size, its body was tiny, misshapen, and its tail no bigger than my
little finger. The first time I saw it I truly wondered if it would live.
But there it was scampering across the yard with its littermates, small
enough to dodge under the bellies of the others.
As the summer progressed our nightly walks continued, and one by one, the
kittens up the street found homes. One night we would pass four playing in
the yard under the watchful eye of MamaKitty. Then there would be three. And
always there was the pitiful misshapen little one, somehow managing to keep
up with the rest.
Eventually the five healthy ones were placed in homes, and the little one was
left to entertain himself. He seemed to be waiting for us in his driveway at
night as we made our rounds. He'd greet us and walk with us, carefully
keeping to the gutter, for precisely 3 driveways; then he'd turn around and
go home. On our way back he would follow us precisely 3 driveways, then stop
and turn around.
By and by a few things occured to me. Not only had this little guy survived,
but he was growing into a normal looking kitten. And not just a normal
looking kitten, but a good looking kitten with a sparkle in his eyes and a
prance in his step and a friendly attitude. There was a nearly audible
click. "Let's take him home to Sebastian. He might be the one," I said.
I went home ahead of my husband to let Sebastian out in the yard. All of our
meetings had been arranged this way, in the front yard with Sebastian clearly
the master of all he surveyed. It never took Sebastian long to make a
decision and the neighbor down the street knew that if it was a no-go, the
kitten would be back within the hour. Never knowing just what Sebastian
could understand of human language, I always gave him the benefit of the
doubt. "We're bringing you another kitten to look at," I said. "It's up to
Again, it didn't take long. The inspection by Sebastian, which the kitten
submitted to without a flinch, was over within two minutes. Satisfied that
this kitten met whatever mysterious criteria he went by, Sebastian sat back
and appeared to say, "He'll do." I wasn't quite sure that this was what I
was seeing. Was it only resignation on Sebastian's part? Was it a real
acceptance of the kitten? Only time would tell.
In short order, with a clean bill of health from the vet, the kitten became a
member of the family and was named Maxwell. To say that he blended in as if
he'd always been there isn't much of a stretch. There was the additional
food bowl, the additional litter box, the additional weight on our feet as we
slept at night. But the working arrangement of cat personalities is what
will always stand out in my mind. It wasn't long before I knew that
Sebastian had chosen well.
Maxwell was a superb companion. Though he was still at that manic kitten
stage and would kill toys with a typical baby feline ferocity, his rolling
and tussling with Sebastian was controlled. Often I would walk into the room
to discover the two of them tumbling and rolling. There would be no sound as
they did this, no cries of distress, just two cats in harmonious
choreographed play. And when Sebastian had had enough, the play stopped.
Did Maxwell instinctively understand that Sebastian didn't always feeling
like playing? Or did Sebastian somehow communicate that to Max? I only know
that it worked.
I think too that Sebastian actually enjoyed his stint as Papa. He would
sprawl on the floor in front of the fireplace with an amused expression,
watching Maxwell's antics. Now and then he would be enticed to play and,
with an experienced paw, would snatch a toy out from under a trusting
Maxwell, bat it down the hall, and return to his fireplace pose seemingly
satisfied that he could still hunt with the best of 'em. Or he would allow a
baby Maxwell to curl up next to him for a nap and would wash his ears while
Sebastian had nine more months, made better I think, by the inclusion of
Maxwell into the household. But the end came too soon, as it always does.
The final decline was swift. After two years of a special diet because of
failing kidneys, supplemented with goodies from the table, Sebastian could
no longer be enticed to eat cut up chicken, his all time favorite treat. He
no longer enjoyed favorite pasttimes such as surveying his domain from the
railing on the front porch. He prefered dark rooms rather than being where
the action was.
The decision was not an easy one. It never is. I cried for two days at theprospect, while the vet tried procedure after procedure to revive the failing
kidneys, reverse the dehydration. "All I'm doing is buying him a little
time," said the vet. "What you're not doing," I found myself saying, "is
buying him any quality of life." And it was true. I found myself asking
Sebastian if he wanted to continue when I already knew the answer. So I did
what pet owners do when they love their old animals an inordinate amount. I
let him go.
But still there was Max.
Young as he was I imagined that he was going through his own form of
grieving, with a limited capacity to understand why his buddy wasn't there.
It was then that he developed the habit of seeking me out at odd times,
coming to make sure I was still there, asking for a scratch on the head or
maybe some lap time. And in giving extra attention to him to help him through
his loss, he helped me through mine.
Now at three years of age, Max has turned out to be a fine, fine
Slightly phobic about things like ringing doorbells, he will take up his post
on the 5th step until the coast is clear. He guards the house from the
perches in windows at the front and back of the house, and has long since
learned that the squirrels who visit the feeder in the back yard are not the
enemy. He has a growing sense of humor and almost seems to smile when he
knows he's done something comical. He insists on lap time when it's least
convenient, and slowly turns to jello with body parts hanging at odd angles
when allowed to sleep in secure comfort on Mom's lap. Computer time is his
favorite, and when it suits him, he's been known to snake out a paw and press
a key. Any key. He makes me laugh, this fat boy with the dainty feet.
|Maxwell truly has my heart. He's the one who makes me stop and smell the
figurative roses, because life's too short to do otherwise. And he's the one
who, through his sweet nature, his happy personality and willingness to bond
with me, has allowed me to continue the thread, the deep relationship that
can form between a human and a cat.
Our general playfulness in this house has given rise to alternate names for
Maxwell . He answers alternately to Maximum One, Snack, Fat Boy and BC.
And when people ask what the BC stands for I say without explanation, Bridge