My wife and I take care of a few feral cats that live in our neighborhood. They move quietly and gracefully into and out of our backyard and remind me of lithe shadows. We feed and water them, and when it got summertime hot back in early June, we constructed a crude but effective cat “shelter” which gave the felines a chance to get out of the sun.
We know all these animals very well. We’ve named them, smiled and laughed at them, discussed their various personalities, and even fallen head over heels for a few, but have only managed to touch two or three. Most are wild as lynxes.
About three months ago, two young females, sisters to one another, simultaneously gave birth to their first litter of kittens. Out of both litters, only one survived, and he was raised in our backyard, both sisters sharing mothering duties. We were honored that they trusted us so much that they moved him out of whatever hiding spot he was born in and under a flowering crepe myrtle right next to our backdoor. This gave us the opportunity to watch the little ginger-haired boy grow from days-old kitten to rowdy youngster.
We started holding him early on, and he became our inside-outside kitty cat pet. We brought him into our home for hours at a time, and when he wanted out—clever rascal that he was—he’d go to the door and give his little high-pitched meow which was his way of politely asking to go outside. It took us a couple of weeks of trial and error, but we finally decided to call him Spunky because the name was so true to his nature.
A few days ago, on a Friday, Spunky disappeared. We went and looked for him as did his two mothers. Late Friday evening, way after dark, we noticed both moms sort of crouched down by our back fence. We carried a small ladder outside, climbed it, peered over our neighbor’s privacy fence and into their backyard, but there wasn’t enough illumination to make out anything.
The next morning, my wife got up very early and dragged the ladder back outside while I lounged in bed. She then came back inside and said, in a voice that frightened me, “I think I found Spunky. I hope not though.”
Sure enough, we found our little kitty, dead, in the neighbor’s yard. He had been killed by their large, white, brutish dog.
I made arrangements with our neighbor to retrieve his body. I then carried him home, dug a hole in the perfect spot, and buried him. It was a very hard chore to complete. I had picked him up many times when he was alive; it was quite a different experience to carry his lifeless body. All the way home, I spoke to him even though I knew he couldn’t hear me—and that he’d never hear me again.
My wife was away during the burial, but when she got home, I was just finishing this important duty. She then began to cry, and I fought back the tears as my heart felt so very heavy. We both stood next to his grave and told him how sorry we were and how much we missed him. Azza, my wife, went to our garden, cut a few beautiful blossoms, and decorated his grave.
Spunky was a little thing. He was beginning to wander around even though his experience in the world was very limited, too limited for his own good. His trip into our neighbor’s yard was a horrible mistake that cost him his life.
Our little boy had a short but happy time on this earth. He scarfed down food, played, ran wild, climbed trees, and seemed to be incredibly alive. He lived like all kitty cats should—as if each day might be his last. Then, quite abruptly, he was gone.
It seems to me that people and cats have a lot in common. Those that make it to old age can thank both luck and the fact that they learned, early on, an important lesson: That taking risks, though exciting, can be terribly costly if things don’t go perfectly well. Life boils down to finding how to strike that perfect balance between pushing the envelope and being foolish or fatally naive.
Now, when I look at the older cats in our “cat family,” I know that they all have one thing in common—they learned, when they were just little things themselves, which backyards to go into and which ones to avoid.
Though the work involved in burying Spunky was hard—sweat poured down my face and its salt stung my eyes as I dug—this duty (and “duty” is the right word) gave me one last chance to demonstrate how much he meant to me. There is no greater way to show love than to be there to and through THE VERY END.
Please love each other and those small creatures who need us and make our lives joyful. Thanks for reading my story.