|Max, photo @ Alan Lande
I never thought I would love a cat.
In my suburban enclave, dogs ruled. We had a series of small
yappers; they--and a slew of anti-feline stereotypes—surrounded me.
Cats were aloof, I was told. They didn’t bond with their
owners, didn’t love their humans the way dogs did. I had no reason to question
those prejudices, which were reinforced by the only cat I knew, an imperious
Siamese named Missy who deigned to live with my cousins.
I never imagined that I’d own a cat and certainly didn’t
envision falling in love with one.
Then came Max.
I actually had a few cats before Max, most notably a rambunctious
Tabby named Buddy, who I adopted from a southern Ohio farm when I was working
at my first bona fide radio gig in rural Yellow Springs. I lived on a street
full of cats, and they had a pecking order, something I discovered when I made
the mistake of purchasing a living catnip plant. I set it out on the porch,
only to discover the poor seedling surrounded by the cat gang, who took turns
ripping it to shreds. First, the big tom cat who lived next door had a go, then
Buddy, who, by the way, was female. Old Wynona, with her sway back and greasy
fur, had the final go at the denuded stem.
Buddy moved to Seattle with me when I got hired at KUOW in
1985 and she was around for another 10 years; always the life of the party.
|This is Jiji, photo @ Alan Lande
We adopted Max, and his Tabby littermate Jiji, in 2008, I
think. My son and I drove up to Everett to look at the litter of eight very
young kittens who’d been rescued from an abandoned building in Ellensburg. They were being fostered at one of our region’s stellar rescue shelters.
Almost as soon as I sat down on the floor of a small room in
the PetSmart outlet at the Everett Mall, Jiji climbed into my lap and started
to purr. She chose us, and 15 years later she’s still a sweet and fairly
Max was a different story. While I stroked Jiji, who was
nestled in for the long run, her brother teetered on a narrow shelf that circled
the room, then picked out careful steps like the Simone Biles of cats. Max’s
black fur, white boots and whiskers were enchanting, but my son was
particularly enticed by this kitty’s white and black facial markings that
looked a little like Hitler’s mustache.
|Cat on a warm carpet plinth. photo @ Alan Lande
We brought the kittens home a few weeks later, and settled
them into our spare bathroom, the warmest room in the house.
Jiji was fearless and smart; she learned how to climb over the
wooden barricade we’d set up, figured out how to maneuver through the makeshift
cat door onto the back deck, and managed to climb the scratching post Alan built
for them, eager to reach the carpeted platform that sat atop the post.
Max, on the other hand, while curious as cats are, was not
the brightest bulb.
He wedged himself under the house; we called for him,
puzzled by the faint meowing coming from who knew where. Rescue required
slithering through the dirt and cobwebs while trying to maintain a bit of
|Why, do you need this shelf for anything?
photo @ Alan Lande
One morning as I lounged in bed reading, with Jiji ensconced
on my lap, we both heard Max yelling outside the bedroom window, feet firmly
planted on the narrow veranda that wraps around the back of the house. He’d
figured out how to use the cat door, but couldn’t quite manage to get back
inside. I could almost see Jiji roll her eyes and she leapt off my lap and ran
outside to get her brother.
I used to call Max my dog-cat because he lavished attention
on us in the ways people expect from dogs: waiting attentively at the front
door when he heard my car pull up, or sitting outside the bedroom door each
morning, alert for my alarm. In the summertime, he’d perch on a railing outside
the bedroom window, crowing like a feline rooster to let me know it was time
for his breakfast. Occasionally I’d see him leap up onto a gray wooden
structure in our front yard; he’d mince around its perimeter very daintily,
reminiscent of the day we met him at PetSmart.
The older Max got, the more affectionate he became,
especially when it was cold outside. He’d get up on the bed, all 17 pounds of
him, drape his big paws over my thighs, and lay his head down on them, purring
contentedly. I didn’t dare move lest I disrupt his beauty sleep.
|What can I say? I loved him
These stories and many more have been bubbling up since we
laid Max to rest last week.
Max was diagnosed with a swift-growing and painful jaw tumor
just over two months ago. It was a horrible end for such a proud and feisty boy.
He grew more needy, spending hours curled up next to me, or sitting beside me
while I worked.
His death leaves an immense hole; we are truly gutted, as
the British would say. Jiji searches the house for him, crying while I try to
console her. I sit on my bed, knitting in hand, but no cat purrs at my side.
Sometimes tears just well up as I picture him leaping up, giving me a little
cat chirp of greeting. Sometimes I really do understand that Britishism,
gutted, because it’s like part of my insides are gone. But not my heart. I know
it’s still there because it’s still aching for his presence.