Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Tribute to Fabian and Other Cats We've Known

Fabian, dozing on a sunny porch, cozy under his owner's chair.

My friend Lisa, whom I've known since kindergarten, just said goodbye to her cat Fabian, a gentleman cat of approximately twenty years. A few months before he left this mortal coil, she wrote this tribute to her friend:

Fabian blunders through the house. He has been with us since we lived in Petaluma, California, wandering in, a young stud. My husband Peter says Fabian first emerged from behind the ivy while he was mowing the lawn. Then he jumped Peter’s leg. Finally, he walked through the back door one fine summer afternoon, never to return to whatever car he lived under.

The merger was rocky. His predecessor, Shadow (Miss), was perfectly behaved. Fabian was not. He was a standout punk. Part Siamese, he had the personality of Papelbon
(Robin's note: for the uninitiated, this refers to a rough-and-tumble American baseball player.) and grew into adulthood without a care in the world until we turned him into an indoor cat. This insult to his freedom, caused by the ultimate cat fight and a huge vet bill, sent us all over the edge. Peter’s temper was taxed to the extreme, and mine wasn’t far behind. We argued over whether to send him to the mountaintops west of town. In the end, we had him altered and trained him to walk on a leash.

All for the best, we can say now, more than fifteen years later, when, in my sleep, I hear Fabian growl for a midnight supper. The intervening years have been brisk: two moves, one in 1993, the other in 2006, gave him a taste for travel in the car. His vistas in Concord, California included the backyard, well-populated with squirrels and sparrows, an occasional opossum, and neighborhood cats. Once, the miserable pitbull next door broke through the fence, looking bewildered and lost in our foreign land. Fabian saw it all.

Now he doesn’t see anything. The years, however mild, have taken their toll. But for almost two decades his sight was sharpened by the prospect of chickenless drumsticks in the garbage and scraps left in the sink. Fabian’s appetite was relentless. He occasionally teetered on the brink of fat. We were forced to control his instinct to gorge, taking up food, feeding him only twice daily, not heeding his plaintive Siamese cries.

As he grew older, his appetite diminished, but not by much. He still eats plates full of food, but over a course of time extending beyond ten seconds. Now his appetite serves his continued survival in the wake of blindness, kidney failure, and, most recently, an abscessed tooth.

Despite his decline, Fabian remains all Fabian.

Lisa Arnold, October 2008.

And, he remained her friend til the end.

Cats make good friends for busy people as I learned when I sheltered two cats named Abby and Fluff for twenty years. One winter, I decided to drive across the United States, from Washington D.C. to San Francisco and to take my cats with me on the ride.

That's me at the Onio state line in a picture I took myself using the timer on my camera and setting the camera on my car.

America is a big country and we drove thousands of miles together, those cats and me, and it certainly was a lively trip. I put each of them in a cat box, a traveling contraption that kept them from getting under my feet while I drove. Abby the younger cat, spent the entire trip gnawing on one small airhole in her box, working to make it large enough so she could make her escape. Fluff took another route of protest: each day she waited until we had been driving for about an hour until she broke that cardinal rule of life: she shat where she lived. The scent filled the car until I stopped, cleaned her box, and popped her back in. Then she would sleep while Abby gnawed.

Another state line: I think this is West Virginia.

Somewhere, just outside of Sacramento, California, Abby made her break. Squeezing through the enlarged hole she jumped onto my shoulders and then into the space around my feet. I was driving an Audi with standard transmission so it was important not to get my clutch foot and my gas pedal foot entangled with cat. I stopped several times to shove Abby back in her box, but she didn't stay in there very long. With just 90 miles to go until I reached Los Altos, California, I managed to keep from having an accident, but only just barely.

The notorious Abby and her escape route. She did not agree that the box was "just like home!"

When I got to my parents' house I took that one picture of Abby in her box and then let both cats out. For some reason they both jumped onto the gate near my parents' back door and from there up onto the roof of their house, something I had never seen either of them do before.

Don't fence me in, I think they were saying. Along with Lisa's Fabian they marched to their own drummers. We fed them, but we never really owned them at all.

"Hey Abby, let's check out the roof of this ranch-style house."

My Dad and my cat Fluff, early morning, Los Altos, California, after Fluff finally came down from the roof.

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Lena said...

I vaguely remember those two. That is a funny story about how Abby escaped. Cat's are so funny and have their own personality, which makes them great. Good blog.

Devon C. said...

Very interesting about Abby escaping. I remember the cats and still half expect to see them when I visit you. Wasn't this the year that my dad and I drove the car from Los Altos to Colorado?