Life with our little Zen masters—Bandit and Desmond

I have lived with several Zen masters—all of them cats.
—Eckhart Tolle

In 1999, a few months after Shonnie and I were married, I got a mid-day call from her at her office at the Mission Hospital marketing department in Asheville, North Carolina. I was putting the finishing touches on a client’s marketing plan at our home office in a little four-plex nestled in the woods just off Merrimon Avenue.

I answered the phone and Shonnie excitedly said, “Merrell brought in two abandoned kittens this morning, and they need a home. Can we keep them?”

“We’ve got three cats already,” I replied. “I really don’t think we need any more.”

“Please? They’re so adorable. Won’t you just come look at them?” Shonnie asked.

“Well, I guess we could consider one,” I said.  “Just let me get to a stopping point, and I’ll drop by.”

Bandit & Desmond in 2000

Bandit & Desmond in 2000

A half hour later I drove the four or so miles to the squat one-story building that housed Mission’s marketing offices. Upon entering I exchanged pleasantries with a couple of Shonnie’s fellow staff members and walked into Shonnie’s office. There on her desk were two very furry little kittens—both male, one black and white, one tabby—alternately grooming one another, wrestling and playing chase.

I took in the scene on the desk, smiled at Shonnie’s entreating and hopeful visage and said, “Well, if we’re going to take one, we’ll have to take both.” Shonnie beamed with excitement, and it was settled. We were now a five-cat family.

Though our three older cats—Chocolate (11), Kaali (5) and Attabi (4)—weren’t quite sure what to make of the two little fur balls and all the new masculine energy, the kittens settled in pretty quickly. Over the next few days we tried out various names, but settled on Bandit for the black and white because of his mask-like markings and Desmond for the tabby kitten in honor of Archbishop Desmond Tutu (though I never related this to “Arch” in my occasional email exchanges with him). Based on their large, tufted paws, their big bones and muscles (Desmond weighed 18 pounds in his prime, Bandit 11) and their long multi-layered fur, vets suggested that our boys had Maine Coon blood, a breed known for enjoying interactions with humans and being sociable, devoted, playful and at ease with children and other pets. Bandit and Desmond lived up to all of these characterizations and more.

We’d installed a cat door at the rear of our apartment along with a small tree trunk leading up to our raised back deck so our cats (as well as occasional raccoons) could climb up or down. Thus all of our cats could come and go as they pleased, and most of them spent significant amounts of time in the nearby woods, though all returned punctually at morning and evening mealtime.

Chocolate 1998

Chocolate in 1998

Chocolate, Attabi and Kaali had all claimed their place in the family bed—Chocolate starting on my chest then settling by my side, Kaali on the outer edge of Shonnie’s pillow and Attabi at our feet. So the kittens had to work their way into the lineup, Desmond settling beside my legs, Bandit at the head of the bed. And very early on Bandit would begin each morning by jumping onto the bed after his early morning sojourns and giving us kitty kisses—gentle licks on the lips with his rather rough feline tongue.

The kittens’ first Christmas was a riot. They played with the Christmas tree ornaments in their reach, damaging  a few before we moved the more delicate ones higher up the tree. They climbed the tree several times and nearly tipped it over. And they thought all the wrapped gifts were there just for them. As became our holiday custom, each cat had a little stocking filled with catnip, a toy and kitty treats. Thus began Bandit and Desmond’s love affair with catnip.

The cat whisperer
At least once a week, Shonnie, the family cat whisperer, took all five of the cats on a walk around the block at our home. Occasionally I accompanied the entourage and marveled at the consistency with which they stuck with Shonnie during these expeditions. Even after one of them wandered into the woods in search of prey or they were spooked by a dog, they always came back to the fold and the walk continued.

Attabi in 1998

Attabi in 1998

In 2000, we bought a townhouse a few miles closer to downtown Asheville. It was perfect for us and for our feline family members. There was a large grassy area nearby, a fenced back patio and beyond that, a natural wooded area. During renovations, we had our contractor add a kitty door that opened onto the patio, build steps to the top of the six-foot wooden fence that enclosed the patio and erect a couple of seats atop the fence where the cats could lay around, keep watch and soak up the sun. We also planted catnip in the patio garden area where the cats, especially Bandit and Desmond, would regularly lick and rub on the plants and enjoy their catnip high. In addition, indoors we installed comfy kitty seats at the front and rear upstairs windows.

We all settled in, very happy with our new surroundings and the fact that we were walking and biking distance from the downtown YMCA, Greenlife Grocery, Jubilee! Community Church and our favorite downtown restaurants. Desmond, always very protective of his/our turf, marked his outdoor territory by spraying extensively and rubbing his face on various parts of the structures. Through Laurel Davis, our vet and animal communicator, we discovered that Desmond wanted a greater role in our family. So we asked him to be the guardian of our domain, to keep a lookout and let us know when a stranger—human, feline or other—approached. Desmond took his job very seriously, leading to some tussles with next-door-neighbor Jane’s adopted feral cats and various other neighborhood felines, confrontations almost always won by Des.

Kaali in 1999

Kaali in 1999

Bandit heads for parts formerly known
Since Bandit typically went hunting around dawn each day, we weren’t too surprised when he didn’t show up to bestow kitty kisses one morning. When he missed breakfast, however, we became a bit concerned. As the day wore on and still no Bandit, concern turned to worry. We walked around the neighborhood calling his name and shaking the kitty treat bag, but Bandit was nowhere to be found. Finally it occurred to me that Bandit might have gone back to his old stomping grounds, our former abode a couple of miles north. Shonnie didn’t think he’d travel that far, but we hopped in the car and drove to Lookout Drive. After 15 or 20 minutes of calling his name, making our “come here” sound and shaking the kitty treat bag, Bandit emerged from the woods, making a much longer, lower guttural sound than his usual intonation. It took some serious convincing, but he finally came to us and allowed us to pick him up and place him in the car for the drive home.

Bandit continued making these nocturnal journeys every two to three weeks, returning home on his own only once. Each time we’d drive over, pick him up and drive back. Concerned for his safety (He had to cross one busy street, though Shonnie thought he probably crossed it via an underground culvert.), we finally spoke with an animal communicator who told us that Bandit enjoyed being in the forest where he grew up and that he was visiting a white cat whose company he took pleasure in. The animal communicator suggested telling Bandit clearly and simply what we wanted from him.

So every night for over a year, I explicitly told Bandit, “I want you to stay around here tonight, Bandit, and I want our kitty kisses in the morning.” Bandit heard my request and thereafter restricted his roaming to locales closer to home and awakened us each morning with his loving and distinctive kitty kisses. Incidentally, we later discovered that indeed there was a white cat in our old neighborhood that Bandit had been hanging out with.

Bandit, and Desmond to a lesser extent, retained more of their natural feline instincts than our other cats. Perhaps it was because they were abandoned in the woods for a while. Who knows? But Bandit could have lived on his own in the wild and survived just fine, given his hunting abilities. Bandit showed great skill and patience in stalking and catching his prey—mice, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, moles, snakes, frogs, an occasional bird and rats. During one two-month period, Bandit caught and killed five large rats. He ate the mammals, except for the moles and rats, leaving nothing behind but entrails and tails. Out of respect for Bandit’s natural tendencies, we had an agreement with him: He could bring his prey inside as long as they were dead and devour them on the fireplace hearth. One night a couple of friends were dining with us for the first time. Just as we were sitting down to eat, in bursts Bandit with a freshly-caught (and lifeless) squirrel in his mouth. As usual he began devouring it on the hearth, bones and all, while our guests stared on in disbelief. They’ve accepted no further dinner invitations since then.

Bandit

Bandit

This morning I woke up just before daylight. And, as usual, a few minutes later I heard the cat door open and my kitty, Bandit, enter the house. I don’t know whether I sense that he’s coming back from his early morning forays into the woods around our home or he senses I’ve awakened. Likely the latter. Nonetheless as he’s done for years now, Bandit leaps onto the bed and licks me on the lips, his morning greeting—a sign of affection as well as his request for his first meal of the day. Unless he was successful in his hunt for mice, rats, squirrels or other prey, that is.

—From an October 16, 2006 blog post

When mealtime arrived, Desmond was always the first cat at the food bowls, silent but nonverbally communicating his desire that we get the food distributed quickly. There was a distinct order in which the five cats ate—Desmond’s was the first bowl, then Bandit, next Attabi, finally Kaali and Chocolate.

From early on Bandit was a huge presence in my life. He had a very vocal meow when he wanted something. Through an animal communicator he let me know that he wanted me to watch less TV and to get up earlier to meditate, plus he served as a recurring wake-up call regarding how I intend to live my life.

Late last winter just before dusk I was splitting some firewood in the woods behind our home. I was just finishing my task when one of our cats, Bandit, wandered up, brushed against my leg and wrapped his tail around it as he passed by. In that moment I experienced a deep connection with Bandit, with the trees around me, with the sunset on the horizon. For some interlude (15 minutes? 15 seconds?) my mind was silent and time stood still. I knew that all was well and all would be well. Bandit and I were doing exactly what we were supposed to be doing—being a cat and being a human respectively and connecting with one another and our surroundings at a level deeper than words can express.

—From my May 1, 2004 Asheville Citizen-Times column

Rory comes . . . but not to stay
In 2002, a feral female cat and her two kittens came to visit in the woods behind our townhouse. Since the mama kitty had been turning out litter after litter for some while now, we decided to use a humane trap to capture her and her kittens. Once they were captured, we took mama kitty to the vet to get her checked out, get her shots and get her spayed. Since she would never succumb to being a house cat, we were very fortunate to cross paths with a man who took her in as one of his barn cats. She’d have food, water and shelter for the rest of her life.

Rory in 2004

Rory in 2004

We kept the two kittens, a male and a female, in a large metal dog kennel on our patio, providing them with a soft blanket to sleep on, along with water and food. The idea was to find someone to foster them until they could be adopted. But the female escaped by squeezing through the bars. Meanwhile Shonnie was out of town and the weather had turned chilly, so I brought the male kitten inside . . . eventually becoming so attached to him that, for a short while, we became a six cat family.

Rory, a tabby so named because of his red-orange coloring, was a high-spirited, loveable, playful addition to our family. Rory helped bring out Bandit’s playfulness again, and the two of them wrestled gently and played chase outdoors. Rory adapted to life with the human and feline family members pretty well, though he lived most of his life outdoors, coming in to eat and for shelter during inclement weather. He walked with his tail straight up and talked in a distinctive little chirp. As Rory got older and bigger, his play with Bandit tailed off. And after being with us for approximately two years, one day he just disappeared. We put up posters and looked for him for months. Finally we consulted animal communicators, one of whom said Rory had passed from his bodily form and had re-entered the world as another animal, perhaps as the baby possum who visited us twice, once making it as far as the upstairs bedroom.

Chocolate, my long-time feline companion, passes
On August 1, 2009, Chocolate passed away at the ripe old age of 21. I had lived with her every moment of those years, longer than anyone in my life. For five years during the 1990s, I lived with Chocolate in a little cottage in the hills outside Austin, and for days at a time she would be my only companion. Chocolate was loyal, she was fierce and she let me know what she wanted when she wanted it.

Chocolate

Chocolate

When we relocated to a small cottage in the hills outside Austin shortly thereafter, Chocolate began to more fully express her natural feline instincts. She roamed the woods, played in the streams and drank from the nearby lake. She chased squirrels, mice and other rodents, occasionally bringing back her prey as a gift to me. From time to time she’d stay out all night long and once or twice for several days at a time. But she always returned home, and we’d pick up our bedtime ritual where we’d left off.

Since I was earning my living as a writer and communicating with clients via email or phone most of the time, Chocolate and I would go days without seeing another living animal, except maybe some occasional birds or lizards. During these five years, I was experiencing my dark night of the soul, a challenging transition from who I thought I was to who I really am, and it would have been easy to fall into loneliness and despair but for my sweet, fuzzy Chocolate. In addition, it was during this time that I was without full-time human female companionship, reluctantly focusing on my relationship with myself rather than with the other. A date or weekend visit every now and then, yes, but no one present in my life that I could really count on, no one but Chocolate.

When I did have the rare overnight female guest, Chocolate refused to relinquish her usual place in the bed. She insisted on being there even when things got a little rambunctious . . . if you know what I mean. And while the women occasionally came and went, there was one constant in my life at this time: Chocolate at my side almost every night.

—From My Life with Chocolate, an August 4, 2009 blog post

It was difficult to watch this hardy old girl’s health decline upon reaching the age of 20. But decline it did, and we held her in our arms and wept as the injection that stopped her heart was given. You can read all about My Life with Chocolate by clicking here.

And then there were three . . .
Death did not take a holiday for our aging feline family members. At the age of 17 after a short illness, our sweet boy Attabi left the fold in 2010, a month before the birth our daughter Gracelyn. Below is a poem I wrote about an encounter with Attabi earlier that year.

My morning wakeup

Attabi

Attabi

Just as I sit down at my computer this morning
To tackle my ever-expanding list of things to do
My cat Attabi silently slips into my office with an entirely different agenda
As he hops on my desk and lies in front of my keyboard

Attabi balks as I try to shoo him away
And his persistent presence gives me pause
To remember that I’m not just here
To churn out disposable income
To amass more superfluous stuff
To boost my sagging sense of self-importance

For in the end, on this January morning what could be more important
Than gently applying the brakes to my overactive mind
And forgoing, for the moment at least, the demands with which I’m (self) encumbered
Taking the time to cuddle and caress this gentle-spirited boy
And delight in the unyielding bond between us

Gracelyn, our first furless child
On September 7, 2010, our daughter Gracelyn entered the world. Bandit, Desmond and Kaali took to her immediately and vice versa. One of Gracelyn’s first words was “caa” (cat). As Gracelyn’s language skills progressed, her names for the cats did likewise:

  • Kaa, Kaal, Kaali
  • Baa, Band, Ban-deet, Bandit
  • Des, Des-hum, Desmond

Whenever Gracelyn was outside, Bandit and Desmond were always close at hand, keeping watch and serving as protectors of the newest and most dependent family member.

Gracelyn and her favorite kitty Kaali

Gracelyn and her favorite kitty Kaali

Gracelyn, the toddler, declared Kaali her favorite cat, and Kaali showed incredible love and patience as Gracelyn picked her up, carried her around the house, covered her with blankets and sometimes attempted to dress her in doll clothes.

Kaali had been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism in 2012, and in 2013, her symptoms were becoming more apparent. She was constantly thirsty and, when stroked, her bony frame confirmed she’d lost a great deal of weight. In late July, her loss of appetite and general lethargy became so pronounced that we asked our vet Laurel Davis to visit our home prepared to euthanize Kaali. But when Laurel arrived and communicated with Kaali, the old girl indicated she wasn’t yet ready to go. A few days later Kaali’s health seemed to improve, and she was outwardly content and alert.

In the fall of 2013, we bought and moved into a house in the Montford neighborhood just north of downtown Asheville. While settling in, we made sure it was cat-friendly, with a cat door for easy entry in and out and comfy places for Bandit, Desmond and Kaali to relax on the screened back porch.

Desmond

Desmond

The kitties explored inside and out, Desmond faithfully marking his new turf, Bandit contentedly watching the birds and squirrels from the porch and Kaali sleeping in whatever sunny spots she could find. Gradually we all became accustomed to our new home.

At the beginning of 2014, after declaring I was done with politics, I accepted a job managing a Congressional campaign in North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District. I moved to Wilmington on the opposite end of the state to undertake what was to be a year-long endeavor, and we created a schedule so that Shonnie, Gracelyn and I would only be apart a week at a time. And while I enjoyed the work, I longed to be with Gracelyn and Shonnie as well as my furry family members.

Kaali passes back to spirit
As the year progressed, Kaali’s decline in health became more pronounced. One rainy day she wandered off and was nowhere to be found. However, as Gracelyn and Shonnie were returning home from a Kindermusik class, Shonnie intuitively took a detour to the street just north of our home. There Shonnie spotted Kaali wandering in front of a house, apparently confused, but dry. Shonnie picked Kaali up and handed her to Gracelyn, who hugged her and said, “I’m so glad you’re not dead, Kaali.”

A few weeks later Kaali was obviously on her way back to spirit. After a day of extra love from Shonnie and Gracelyn, Kaali settled down for what was to be her last night in her physical form. Though Kaali had slept on Shonnie’s pillow since her adoption, for the past month she’d been sleeping on a heating pad near her food and the litter box. And that’s where Kaali passed into spirit on her own on Valentine’s Day 2014. After Kaali’s cremation, we kept her ashes with those of Attabi and Chocolate in a special place atop the bookcase near the kitchen.

As fate would have it, just before the filing deadline my candidate decided not to run for Congress after all. With some sadness and a great deal of relief I headed back to the mountains for a joyful reunion with my two- and my remaining four-legged family members.

Max and Pearl join the clan
During April of 2014, we adopted two kittens from the Asheville Humane Society and named them Max and Pearl. After Kaali’s passing, Pearl became Gracelyn’s favorite kitty. Pearl is a girl after all, and she has Kaali’s gentle and forgiving nature. The two of them spend time together almost every day. By the way, the two new kittens also have Maine Coon blood running through their veins.

Gracelyn & Pearl

Gracelyn & Pearl

Bandit and Desmond had always been big cats, and given their Maine Coon blood, that was to be expected. But we were concerned when, at the age of 15, Desmond had dropped to 10 pounds, down from 18 pounds a few years earlier, and Bandit weighed seven pounds, down from 11 pounds at his prime. They still roamed, but not far, and Bandit no longer went on his hunting forays.

At his annual checkup in late 2014, Bandit was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, and we began giving him daily meds for this condition. In early January, 2015, tests showed that Bandit also suffered from toxoplasmosis. Despite high-powered antibiotics, we could see him getting weaker by the day until he only had only limited use of his right rear leg. My heart broke watching this once-highly-active feline, this noble animal, my partner in spirit gingerly limp around. He frequently slept on the kitchen rug near the heating vent, where Pearl occasionally snuggled with him. I built him a cozy little nest in the downstairs bath complete with fleece blanket on top of a heating pad, with water, food and the litter box nearby, where Max, atop the little green stool, sometimes watched over him.

The brothers entered the world together . . . and they depart together
At the end of 2014, we’d planned a family trip to Florida to visit Gracelyn’s Grandma Deb, but worried about Bandit’s health, we decided that I would stay behind to care for him. One night during this time I was sitting at my computer with Bandit in my lap, when I saw Desmond’s right front leg collapse beneath him. I sat Bandit on the chair, picked Desmond up and discovered that he could no longer use that leg. I called  Shonnie, and we decided to take him to Charlotte Street Animal Hospital at once. Dr. Rhyne suspected that a blood clot was blocking blood flow to Desmond’s leg. She said that it could clear up on its own, though this would need to happen within a couple of weeks. She said that Des had some heart issues and prescribed meds that would hopefully keep another clot from forming. I made Desmond a nest near Bandit’s.

Bandit & Desmond

Bandit & Desmond

Gracelyn and Shonnie returned home, happy to be in familiar territory but distressed at the condition of our kitty boys—Bandit without full use of his right rear leg and his brother Desmond without full use of his right front leg.

Over the next few days we fed the boys fresh chicken livers, canned tuna, and Greenies, their favorite kitty treats, along with occasional bits of cheese, yogurt and milk. We also made sure they had plenty of catnip nearby. And we carried each of them to lay for a while in the catnip patch near the front porch.

Though we hoped for a miracle, our hearts sank as Bandit continued to grow weaker and weaker over the  next few days, becoming blind and thus disoriented too. Then Desmond evidently suffered another blood clot, this one severely hampering use of his left front leg. I talked with our vet Laurel Davis on January 12, who reported that both Bandit and Desmond knew their time had come to return to the spirit world, that they were at peace with this, and they asked us not to worry about them. They’d loved their life with us and gratefully acknowledged us for treating them as true family members and honoring them as equals. We talked once more with Dr. Amber at Charlotte Street Animal Hospital who concurred that keeping Bandit and Desmond alive would be for us and not for them. With deep sadness we asked Laurel to visit us at home the next evening, January 13, to do what must be done.

We asked Gracelyn if she wanted to be present when Laurel gave Bandit and Desmond the injection that would end their physical presence in our lives. She said that she’d say goodbye to them but didn’t want to be there at their death. She petted the boys and went upstairs to play with our neighbor who’d come over to support us during this extraordinarily challenging process.

Shonnie described the subsequent events in a January 15, 2015 post on her blog:

This week, my husband and I had our two 15.5-year-old kitty brothers, Bandit and Desmond, euthanized. Both boys were lively, vibrant, and were more like children to us than merely animal companions. They had both quickly and unexpectedly become incurably ill and severely limited physically, and though we weren’t ready to say goodbye, we also knew that doing what we were to keep them alive was a selfish act rather than a loving one. We had a few wonderful days giving them extra love, pets, grooming, and favorite treats including tuna, chicken liver, and ice cream. Our vet came to our home which we had decorated as a sacred space — fire burning in the fireplace, an altar table adorned with bright flowers, angel sculptures, stone hearts, wooden kitty totems, and cards for each kitty made by our four-year-old daughter Gracelyn. Desmond and Bandit lay on our laps as we spoke lovingly to them and gently caressed their ailing bodies. Our vet gave them each Rescue Remedy and a sedative so they were sleeping when she did the final injection to stop their hearts. We held their bodies and cried tears of deep sorrow for the physical loss of these beloved kin. The next afternoon, our friend and celebrant, Barbara, came to do a burial ceremony with us. We buried the bodies of Bandit and Desmond and then interred the ashes of our other kitty family members, Chocolate, Attabi, and Kaali who had died during the five years prior. We are still in deep grief and missing Desmond and Bandit terribly, yet we feel grateful that we were able to co-create such a loving and honoring end for these boys who had so generously gifted us throughout their entire lives.

For days after their death we found ourselves unpredictably bursting into tears, sometimes during a visit to Bandit and Desmond’s grave or looking at it from the window, seeing the soft blanket where they spent their final days, reading condolences on Facebook, driving home to see our front porch unguarded, pulling into the driveway without the traditional welcoming committee. And one time while looking at my reflection in the Y locker room mirror after my weekly handball match. If this post were written longhand rather than typed, it would be stained with both our tears since Shonnie had a big hand in writing it.

May your bodies rest in peace and your spirits soar, my little Zen masters—Bandit, the warrior-lover, and Desmond, stalwart guardian of the turf. You’ll always remain in our hearts.

* * *

EPILOGUE

Our wishes for Bandit and Desmond

Release from all pain; peace and happiness; the ability to run and play as you did in your youth; the understanding that we will always hold you in our memories and our hearts; the knowledge that though we feel deep sorrow at this time, we will remember the joy, happiness and fulfillment each of you helped bring into our lives; your continued presence in spirit in our lives with occasional reminders for us that you’re still around.

* * *
How the cats got their names

Desmond (1999-2015) was named in honor of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Bandit (1999-2015) got his name because of his markings—the black mask around his eyes—and his spirit—he possessed the ability to steal your heart and he was something of a renegade who liked to do things his way.

Kaali (1994-2014) is part of her full name, Belle Kaali, which means beautiful (French) and black (Urdu, the Pakistani language).

Attabi (1995-2010) is Arabic for tabby.

Chocolate‘s (1988-2009) original name was Chocolate Drop because as a tiny kitten her coat looked like it was made of chocolate. “Drop” was eventually dropped.

Rory (2002-2004) or Ruaidrí is a Gaelic masculine given name that translates as “red-haired king.”

Aurora‘s (1994-1997) full name was Shahay Aurora; shahay is Chinese for black, aurora is for aurora borealis.

* * *
What we appreciated most about our feline family members

Bandit, the warrior-lover: The daily morning kisses, sleeping with us each night usually on Shonnie’s pillow, his hunting ability, the way he walked with a feline swagger, the way he talked to us, eating nuts and other human foods, his quickness and agility, the way he and Desmond stayed close by Gracelyn when she toddled around in the green grass, rolling around in dirt piles, the way he loved being scratched behind his ears, his willingness to travel long distances to get where he wanted to be, the manner in which he retained many of his natural feline instincts, loved being outdoors running free and enjoyed going on walks with us. Weeks before his departure, Bandit, via Laurel Davis, told us that the young cats, Pearl and Max, would serve the family well once he and Desmond were gone.

Desmond, the stalwart protector of the turf: Marking his territory by spraying and with face, quiet but fully present, sleeping on or close to Bruce’s legs each night, his loud and sonorous purring, his guardianship and protection of our home from human, feline or other intruders, his large size (18 #) and accompanying grace, being first in line at mealtime, the way he loved to have his chin scratched, laying belly up with his front legs leaning one way and his back legs another, the way he retained many of his natural feline instincts, loved being outdoors running free, going on walks with us, running fast with his tail straight up in the air.

Kaali, Gracelyn’s favorite cat as a baby and toddler: Sharing bread and butter with her and Chocolate at our evening meal each night, sleeping alongside Shonnie’s chest/shoulder or next to her head from very early on in her kittenhood, meowing to be let in at the upstairs window even when we were right below her sitting outside on the back patio, her tongue sticking out sometimes, drinking out of the bathroom sink faucets (about the only way she would drink in her later years) and also drinking from the neti pot as it rinsed out our noses, being patient and gentle when toddler Gracelyn carried her around.

Attabi, the gentle kitty boy: Laying on the railroad ties under the boxwood hedges at the condo, playing “bat the paw” with Chocolate when he was still a kitten (back in Texas), his being missing for three days when we first moved to Asheville then he just came walking up out of the woods like his absence had been no big deal.

Chocolate, the grand dame of the feline family members: The comfort and company she gave Bruce when he was alone in the world, head butting to get his attention, kneading, sleeping beside Bruce every night except at the very end of her physical existence, hunting and going off on adventures in the hills outside Austin, playing with Attabi when Shonnie and I first got together, hissing loudly when the younger cats got too close to her, getting into your lap when she wanted but quickly jumping out when placed there against her will.

Rory, the kitty who came but not to stay: His chirping and running around with his tail erect, hanging out with the groundhog behind our townhouse, playing with Bandit

* * *
Fondest Memories

Gracelyn: Covering Desmond with towels, playing with Kaali and carrying her around.

Shonnie: Kitty walks (being the pied piper). Being in the green grass with the boys. Bandit, Desmond and other cats playing on the fallen trees at townhouse, then running back home, Desmond tall with tail straight up, Bandit low and close to the ground, both very fast. Bandit coming home with a chicken breast he evidently snatched from a neighbor’s grill. Bandit trying to open the cat door to the inside rather than pushing it outward. Waking to the boys – Bandit kisses and Desmond being in bed. Bandit, and often Desmond too, being on the front porch, steps, parking place/driveway to greet us whenever we had been away from home (even just out for an hour or two). Bandit’s vocalness (it seems so quiet without him).

Bruce: Bandit’s morning kitty kisses, sweet but tongue was a bit rough. Chocolate insisting on sleeping beside me. Chocolate licking me, especially after a run or handball. Desmond sleeping on my legs. Desmond loving to chase the toy on a string attached to a stick. All going on kitty walks with us and sleeping with us. Taking all the cats at one time or another to the Blessing of the Animals at Jubilee! Community. Waking from a post-trail run nap to find all the cats sleeping with us. Bandit jumping high to grab toy mouse or any other thing we tossed. Bandit devouring the toy mice in just minutes. Rory’s chirps and walking around with his tail erect.

* * *
The rescue of the abandoned kittens (including Bandit and Desmond)
by Hamilton Gregory, January 16, 2015

My daughter June and I have cross-checked our memories, and here is the story: Merrell and I were walking up Webb Cove road toward the Parkway one afternoon. About half-way between our house and the Parkway, we came across abandoned kittens (no momma in sight) in the woods immediately adjacent to Webb Cove Road. (There were five kittens, according to June’s memory; I remembered there being more than five, but her memory is probably better than mine.)

It was not uncommon to find abandoned animals on or near the Parkway — Merrell and I speculated that people who wanted to get rid of pets dumped them there on the supposition that some kind tourist would find them and adopt them. I know, I know — it’s twisted logic (some of the animals would be rescued, yes, but others would risk starvation or being run over).

The kittens were very young but had been weaned. They probably had been abandoned only minutes or hours before we saw them because they were all together. We took them home and put them in an empty bathtub. When June arrived home, we said, “Go into the bathroom for the surprise of your life.” June was indeed surprised, and she was delighted. She kept one of the kittens and named him Dagon, and a color photo of him appeared in Cat World magazine. Dagon subsequently died of a heart murmur. One of the other kittens (name unknown) went to live on a farm in Madison County, had a long, happy life, and died only a few months ago.

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Max & Pearl--January 2015

Max & Pearl–January 2015

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  • Hamilton Gregory

    Nice tribute to the felines in your life. I am honored to have my recollections included.