On July 24, 1995, I was a 21-year-old college student, living in an apartment with a bunny. I had no plans for anyone else to join my little family,
after having my heart broken by my first cat, a beautiful stray who succumbed to feline leukemia just eight months after I adopted him. And then I started
getting the calls.
If you’re a cat person, you know what I mean. The “calls” come from friends and family who know you’re a cat person. These people are well aware that despite
what you may say to the contrary, you’ll never turn away a cat in need of a home. So they tell you about the “cutest cat you’ll ever see”, you feign disinterest
or claim a full house, and within 24 hours, you have a new cat.
First, there was a kitten wandering around an apartment complex. Next, the kitten was hiding under a stairwell, because the neighborhood kids were frightening him. Finally, the kitten was in immediate danger of being picked up by animal control; he was doomed unless I could just watch him for a night til a home could be found for him. That’s how it’s almost always presented to a cat person,but it almost never works out that way, once the kitten takes matters into its own little paws.
In the evening, I got a cardboard box.
That’s all I could feel at first. The kitten was so small that his weight didn’t even register in my hands. Then I saw him–first the tiny velvety triangles of his ears, then the silkiest fur on top of his head, then a tiny wet nose, whiskers and tail too long for such a small creature but all the more endearing for that very reason. “He’s all black with white socks on,” my friends told me.
“I won’t name him,” I responded, “Not until he’s been to the vet and had a test for feline leukemia. I can’t go through that again. I won’t get attached to him til I know the results of that test.” That resolve lasted less than twelve hours, and I was asleep for eight of them!
The kitten made himself at home immediately. Although he was curious about the bunny, he left him alone in favor of curling up for a long night’s sleep.
When I awoke the next morning, I came out to the kitchen where I was greeted with a lion purr! The purr was HUGE, compared to the tiny body it was coming from, loud and continuous, it shook every inch of his frame. And still he had no name.
A few minutes later, amidst midmorning sunshine through a patio door, I watched this miniature hunter stalk and pounce on a free-swinging handle that was part of an exercise machine. He put everything he had into “the chase”, and when he was done, he bounced up onto my shoulder to curl up for a quick nap.
And so he chose his name, by the way he bounced through life, Tigger.
My psycho bouncy “mean little boy” gradually grew into a mischievious “mouthy” teenager, and then . . . well, it depends who you asked. Vets, strangers, my family, let’s just be honest, pretty much everyone but me would call him an “angry young man.” As he aged, Tigger became “the king”, fifteen pounds of feline royalty. He certainly developed his view of the world, and let his feelings be known on a variety of subjects.
He didn’t like vets.
He didn’t like noise.
He didn’t like strangers. A stranger was anyone except me, my Mom, my brother, my grandparents, and one cousin.
Children, change, and wind made him nervous.
His tolerances and preferences were extremely specific, and about as flexible as . . . . bricks. Generally, his communications of displeasure centered around hissing, pouting, “protest songs” which others may have heard only as loud meowing, and the “artistic placement” of things that would have best been left in his sandbox. I heard a lot of, “How can you put up with that cat,” exclamations. But to me, he was a “sensitive misunderstood rebel”, and the “creative expressions” were a small price to pay for his constant companionship, unfailing devotion, and love. (He had a sweet side when he thought nobody was looking.) To his detractors, I could only say,
Tigger has never stood me up.
He’s never “been too busy.”
He’s never “not had time.”
He’s never stabbed me in the back.
He’s never hurt my feelings.
He’s always been truthful, and clear in his communication with me. He’s kept every secret I’ve ever told him.
Those qualifications placed him ahead of 99% of his critics, even if you factored in his propensity for making a litterbox of my couch, from time to time.
He brought me joy, humor, happiness, and most important, he reminded me, every day, in no uncertain terms, (often at 3 A.M.), that I was needed, and my
life had purpose, (even if it was just to fill the half-empty food dish).
Together, we welcomed (two-footed) nieces and nephews, we said goodbye to the bunny, we moved, we made it through the loss of my remaining vision. We grew
up together, but inevitably, we did not age at the same rate. It seemed unfair that while I had only reached middle age, and my physical fitness was peaking, he was in the twilight of his years, and he preferred to lounge in the sun rather than bounce through the world.
In the last year, his health declined. I knew that soon he would walk a different path than me, but we were granted some time to reminisce. On his last evening, I held his paw and stroked his glossy black fur, and willed his feline heart to understand all the gratitude and love in my human one.
Tigger crossed the Rainbow Bridge on March 5, 2010. It is never easy to lose a friend, human or animal. But I know that his life was long, and lived well, and I’m comforted by the knowledge that I made it possible for him to live like a king instead of a stray.
And with the spring, came a beautiful little girl cat, unexpected, and as different from Tigger as night was from the day. She’s white; he was black. She’s
got long silky fur; his was short and glossy. She whisper-purrs; he had a lion purr! Chanel is as dainty and well-mannered as Tigger was incorrigible.
She is as easy-to-please as he was demanding. She amazes me with her brilliance, sweetness, and overall friendliness on a daily basis. And this seems right,
because no cat will ever be Tigger, so Chanel doesn’t try. She makes her own place in my heart. She demands my love without replacing him. I imagine even
“the king” would approve of this kitty princess.
In Memory of Tigger, 3/24/95-3/5/10