His name was — well, that depends. I called him Cat Cat. Most others called him Ziggy. But at one time he was known as Midnight, and, at least in recent years, my sons usually referred to him as “Your Cat.”
He started looking pretty rough a couple of years ago, and I guess my sons held that against him. But they were mostly just visitors by the time Cat Cat arrived, already off to college or somewhere beyond, and I just chuckled at their unfriendly comments.
Cat Cat showed up at our house out of the blue, or so we thought, somewhere around eight years ago. A grandson started feeding him, and he never left.
He was smallish in size, completely black except for two tiny white spots on his underside, and that’s why the grandson named him Midnight. He was a good-looking cat at the time, agile, quick, and as friendly as they come. I suppose that’s why I assumed he was fairly young.
But one Sunday afternoon not long after I wrote a column about how much of a friend Cat Cat was to me, someone knocked on our door. It was a neighbor who once worked with us here at The Times-Gazette. She said her mother had read the column and thought Cat Cat might be her long-lost cat. She was holding Cat Cat at the time, calling him Ziggy, and it was obvious he liked the name and the neighbor.
She told me she had bottle-fed Ziggy when he was young, that he lived in her house for eight years, then three more years in her barn.
So I guess when he passed away last Saturday, he was somewhere around 19-plus years old.
I have never been much of an animal owner. Oh, I like to visit with them just fine. I just don’t like to look after them. But this cat was different. He took up residence in our garage, which is more like a man cave, and if I was in the garage, Cat Cat was there with me, as close to me as he could get. It was annoying at times — how he’d hop on my chest and nibble at my earlobes if I didn’t give him enough attention — but I liked it too. And usually, after I’d gently push away a dozen times or so, he’d settle onto an arm of a recliner that is my seat of choice in the garage (it was my late grandmother’s), and hang out perched right next to me.
Until I leaned back to relax or reached over to give him a little rub. Then the whole process started over again.
Cat Cat never met anyone he didn’t like. Except maybe our dog, who was just a puppy when Cat Cat came to live with us. The puppy was rambunctious and wanted the cat to play. But the cat would have none of it. He’d try to walk away, but when that didn’t work he always found a higher attack position. And if the dog got too close, the cat would slap-box him in the face with alternating paws about four times before the dog knew what the heck was going on.
Eventually, they learned to tolerate each other and even became somewhat friendly.
Ziggy (I alternate the names because I called him both) really only had two issues. When we pulled our vehicles into the driveway, he would walk directly toward the center of the front of the vehicle. I don’t how he kept from being run over, but he did. Then when we got out of the vehicle, he always wanted to walk as close as he could to someone, and let me tell you — on a dark night it is really hard to see a black cat at your feet, especially if you’re carrying stuff. I don’t know how many times his paws got stepped on, but it was a lot, and he sent me tumbling more times than I can remember.
For the first several years Ziggy stayed mostly outside. He slept in the garage and stayed there if it was cold or if someone else was in there. But for years he always relieved himself outside.
After a while though, as he spent more and more time in the garage, he needed a litter box. And he used it just fine from the first time we placed it on the floor.
The more time he spent in the garage, the more it became obvious he was aging. Still, he got around just fine, and until the day he died had no trouble leaping from the top of my pool table to the concrete garage floor. As the years passed, some of his hairs started turning gray, then his hair started matting. So this summer I gave him a haircut. He seemed to like it, but it didn’t help his already rough looks much.
The last two or three months he started having an issue. Never once did he urinate anywhere but outside or in the litter box. But things coming out the other end were another issue, and his only depository became my garage floor. It got to the point that if something did not change, we were going to have to put him down.
Last Friday I came home from shopping to find quite a mess in our garage. So it put him outside while I cleaned it up. He was making sounds, more throaty than usual, letting me know that he wanted in. When I went outside to clean some of the tools I used to clean up his mess, he got tangled in my feet and once again made me stumble. As a result, in a not completely friendly voice, I barked “Dang it, Cat.”
He instantly fled toward the back of our house.
I called for him several times, but he would not come in. I even put some cat food (and he would always eat) out on the sidewalk and called him again, but there was no response. I called him several more times that night, but he did not come in.
The next morning I asked if anyone had seen the cat. When my wife and grandson said they had not, I knew that was not good, so I went to look for him. I found him at the entrance of a dog house beside our back deck that he sometimes slept in when he stayed out roaming too long.
He was still soft and supple, but he was gone.
It was sad, for sure, and I felt bad about barking at him. But this is not supposed to be a sad tale.
Here’s what I think. I think Cat Cat knew he had made a mess, even though he could not help it. I think he knew he had upset me, did not want to upset me further, and decided it was time to take care of things on his own.
He was a good cat, the best I have ever known. For eight years he was a constant companion, and I am thankful for it. I know that when I’m in my garage, from time to time I’ll catch imaginary glimpses of him out of the corner of my eyes. And they will make me smile.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at 937-402-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.