So I am a cat person. I don’t dislike all dogs, and I don’t like all cats – to be honest I don’t understand the whole must like one or the other – but were I forced to choose between the two animals, it would be an easy choice.
I would be a good example that whether you prefer cats to dogs depends on environment – because growing up we always had cats. My wife on the other hand would be an example that cat lovers are born not made. She never had cats growing up and yet all her life she was determined as soon as she left home that she would get a cat of her own.
When she left university and got her first job she proceeded to get a cat, who very quickly died. She got another one. It followed her one day when she was on a walk, got scared by a car and ran off never to be seen again. She got another one. And yes the time was brief but well… brief.
A few of us who knew her used to joke that she was getting a reputation at the RSPCA cattery as the evil cat lady whom all the kittens were scared she’d pick them. She finally got a good one – a cat she called Hamlet who decided to stick around.
When we moved from South Australia to Cairns we left Hamlet with her parents. Thinking back now I’m not sure why we did. Most likely it was because we were driving up there and the cost of sending a cat by plane back then was pretty prohibitive.
So for our first Christmas together I bought her a cat – this was 1995. We bought her from the Young Animal Protection Society, and she was shivering with fright as we brought her home wrapped in a towel in a cardboard box. Yesterday as we brought her home from the vet wrapped in a rug and resting on my wife’s lap she was moving no more.
Our dear friend of fifteen years was gone and so much joy has left with her.
When we entered the area where all the cats were kept we made the sensible decision to let the cat choose us (or more correctly, choose my wife). There she was this little, truly pathetic thing. She was in a cage with two ginger cats who were obviously picking on her, for she was surely the runt not only of the litter but all litters. She had ears that were far too big for her head; eyes that seemed to have been created by some Disney animator.
She held on to my wife like her life depended upon it. We discovered her age and sex and put her down and went looking at some other cats. And though they were nice I knew my wife, and I knew there was no way we were walking out of that place without having picked the most desperately little and in need of care cat there was.
We named her Scamper, because she did.
She was it must be said, a hunter. From a very early age she delighted in bringing home her trophies – though why she thought we’d be impressed by her dragging along a huge palm frond I am not sure. Let it be said – very few leaves were safe in our backyard.
She also liked to sit in our backyard and make bird noises. I’m not sure which birds she thought would be tricked into thinking that a bird that looked suspiciously like a cat was calling to it and might be worth flying down for a chat, but nonetheless she persisted.
She was a peculiar cat. Very early on we knew we were lucky. Unlike other cats she didn’t have an ounce of that feline snootiness. She didn’t like being held – but she loved being petted, and she loved to sit on your lap and keep you company. She had an affinity for picking out the laps of people who until that point had professed to not liking cats.
She also liked being wherever we were. We lived in a townhouse and if we were upstairs she would be there. If we went downstairs she would follow. This also seemed to mean that she had an uncanny knack of knowing precisely when I had started reading a newspaper, and thus she would jump on the table and sit right in the middle of the page looking at me sweetly.
At night – because I was working shift work and would often be awake at night she would find a spot halfway between where I was and our bedroom until I went to bed whereupon she would jump up on the bed, find my wife’s pillow and sleep there.
The sleeping on the pillow was nice when she was a little kitten. When she was and roughly the size of the pillow it was less enchanting (at least for my wife – Scamper never bothered with mine).
She also had an odd way of sleeping. It was through lacking an older cat to show her how to do it she looked at me on the couch and thought that that is how it must be done, and so she slept on her back. It was not a habit she broke out of even as she aged, which often led to “Is there something wrong with your cat” questions from visitors.
Of course there was nothing wrong with Scamper, just as there is never anything wrong with a loved pet.
We were massively biased, but to us we had the perfect pet – a cat who wanted to be part of the family, not just there for us to serve (as some cats seem to think is their role).
Scamper’s only annoying habit was her utter hatred of any closed doors inside the house. A closed laundry door would soon be discovered, so too a bedroom. The scratch at the door would continue until one of us (usually me) was getting out of bed and opening the door for her. Often this would result in her looking in the room and not bothering to enter. She didn't want to go in, she just wanted to be able to should she so desire.
This habit wasn't too annoying, though it did get a bit trying when you were sitting on the toilet and she wanted to know what was going on inside.
In time she developed this hatred onto the closed outside door – meaning I would be forever getting up, letting her outside, only for one minute later to be letting her back in, only to let her out, then in, then out…
Of course I could have put my foot down and not, but Scamper had long discovered that I was unable to watch TV or write while she was scratching at the door, and thus she would win.
And now of course we can close the doors and there is no scratching. It is too early though to do so. It feels wrong, almost disrespectful.
We thought Scamper would be with us for many years to come – we knew she was old, but she hadn’t seemed to change. Oh yes in the last two or three months she did seem to be losing some weight, but nothing that seemed too out of the ordinary for an old cat.
And then last week she stopped eating. I thought it might be just one of her moods where she was sick of the brand of food we were giving her. But then on the weekend my parents came to visit and usually this would lead to Scamper feasting due to my mother’s incessant desire to feed her as often as possible. Scamper went through the motions of wanting the food, but when it came to the eating part she didn't do it.
We also noticed that she was breathing hard – her stomach sucking in with each breath.
My wife and I feared the worst and so booked an appointment for Monday morning at the vet. We hoped maybe she had an infection that some antibiotics would cure. After all this was Scamper and only a week earlier we had been talking about how good she seemed to be – how she still jumped up on our bed, how she would be at the kitchen on the dot of 5pm wanting to be fed.
But we realised that she wasn't doing that anymore – in fact she wasn't even really walking around. We would pick her up and put her on my daughter’s bed and she would not do her usual trick of walking around and finding the most inconvenient spot to settle down. Instead she just lay where we put her. This was not Scamp.
I was not however ready to hear kidney failure, and heart condition. That she was not pumping enough oxygen from her heart, and so she was breathing as deeply as she could in the vain hope to get more oxygen. That her kidneys were no longer working. That she was in pain.
I wanted to ignore the truth, but as I looked at her I knew it was all true. It was as though she had fought off these things and then last week had run out of strength.
That night my wife and I knew what decision we had to make.
My eldest daughter was calm – she understood that Scamper was old and sick. But then when Scamper was on her bed, she realised that this would be the last time Scamper would be there and then the tears came and stayed.
That night when my wife and I went to bed, we picked up Scamp, put her on our bed and said our goodbyes to her. But she didn’t want to go on my wife’s pillow. She just lay there gasping with each breath.
We both hoped that when we woke she would be at rest – denying us the act of doing what we knew was the only right thing we could do. But when we woke, Scamper was still there, awake breathing hard. We’re pretty sure she was unable to sleep, because she couldn’t relax enough to let her breathing be calm.
And so after once again saying our goodbyes we took her to the vet for the last time.
We knew we were doing the right thing, but geez we hated ourselves.
When we brought her home, we put her in her rug in a basket and we had one last look at her, and we knew immediately we had done the only thing we could have, because there she was looking as relaxed as she ever had.
My wife and I will always miss her. We knew we were lucky, and I am worried about getting another cat, because I think I’ll always compare it to Scamp, and it’ll come up short. I am glad my daughter knew Scamp – but I know she’ll forget her, as we forget most things of our youth. In time she’ll remember more the photos of Scamper than Scamper.
But for me I still wait to hear the scratching at the door and know I won’t. But regardless our bedroom door will stay slightly ajar just in case.
Maybe due to Scamper’s death or perhaps due to listening to the utter drivel and intellectual barrenness of Karl Bitar and Brian Loughnane addresses at the Naitonal Press Club in the past two days, but I feel a bit burnt out on politics.
I also have realised that next week I’ll be out due to work or family reasons every night, so won’t be able to post on Question Time. So I’m taking a bit of a break on politics posts till the last sitting week – usually an interesting 5 days.