It’s that time again. We’re about to lose another cat, and as always it’s heartbreaking.

Snowflake in happier times

Snowflake and Boober, 2002

Snowflake (aka “Woidat”) was a stray on the campus at Kodak in Richardson where Vicki was working. She was in pretty bad condition, and terrified of people.

Vicki told me that she was going to try to catch the stray. I was annoyed. It wasn’t up to us to rescue every stray animal in the city. But she caught her and brought her home, intending to clean her up and give her away, but when I saw her I couldn’t let her go. She was bedraggled and scared, but she was such a pretty cat and so clearly gentle that we decided she had to stay.

That was 1994, and even then she wasn’t a kitten. She was probably somewhere between two and four. So she has to be at least nineteen now.

She must have been abused before we got her, and over a period of time. For years she’s snap if you tried to touch her belly. You could pick her up, but only if you were very careful. Her gentle nature didn’t extend to threats. She’d bite and scratch viciously if you tried to stroke her stomach, or if she felt cornered by the vet. She’d yowl loudly in warning first, and she’d yowl if she was nervous, even if she was purring and enjoying the attention otherwise.

Back then we still had Mokey, Boober’s mother, and Mokey and Pepper, our first cat, had a constant turf war going on. Snowflake put a stop to that, and ruled the roost for a while.

When we moved to McKinney, in 1995, she went crazy in the empty rooms and long hallway with hardwood floors. For days she’d run around the house, building up speed and sliding to a stop.

She and Pepper always made a show of hating each other, but Snowflake withdrew slightly after Pepper died. She and Boober got along reasonably well, and she tolerated Elliot’s cat Smokey most of the time. But Boober has gone, and Smokey is with Elliot, and she’s too old to manage change. She hated Lavender and Parsley from their arrival as kittens – with good reason, because they each terrorized her. For the last couple of years she hasn’t moved from the dining room, and we keep the other two cats out of there.

I’ve known since she claimed the dining room that she wouldn’t be with us much longer. When Boober grew old, I always knew that I’d be miserable when he died. With Snowflake I didn’t think it would be so bad, for two reasons. Partly that she has pretty much cut herself off from us for the last couple of years, so we haven’t been close to her, and partly that I’ve always felt that however long she was with us, it was so much better than what she had been through that I could only be happy for her.

But I guess that was pretty stupid thinking. When a cat has been with you seventeen years, even if she has become an irascible old cow, she’s still part of the family. When we returned from England three weeks ago, I was worried about what Lavender and Parsley would have gotten up to, but it was Woidat’s condition that upset me. Over the three weeks she’d aged, and her eyes had become sunken.

A few weeks before we left, Vicki had Snowflake’s fur shaved, because she hadn’t been able to look after herself and it had become very matted. When we returned, it felt clammy, and she was quiet, for the first time in seventeen years.

She did improve a little, she yowled occasionally if there was someone around, but today Simon told me that she seemed to have stopped eating. I know what that means, having been through it a few times now. We could maybe find something to get her appetite back temporarily, but it would only buy a few days. Her kidneys are probably not functioning, and the best thing we can do for her is to take her to the vet one final time.

I don’t know if I can.

Many years ago, when the web was in its infancy – I think this was in the days of Windows 3.1 and Trumpet Winsock – I stumbled upon a poem by Gavin Ewart. It upset me so much that I printed it out, because I knew I’d want to read it again, but didn’t want to bookmark it. It wasn’t something I wanted to encounter by accident.

Back then Pepper would have been middle-aged. Even though I knew she had a few years left the poem reminded me that I’d be devastated when we did lose her. Now that time has come around again, and it’s time to acknowledge that our Woidat has seen her share of living summers, and far more than anyone would have forseen for the bedraggled, abused young cat Vicki brought home seventeen years ago.

Gavin Ewart

I want him to have another living summer,
to lie in the sun and enjoy the douceur de vivre –
because the sun, like golden rum in a rummer,
is what makes an idle cat un tout petit peu ivre –

I want him to lie stretched out, contented,
revelling in the heat, his fur all dry and warm,
an Old Age Pensioner, retired, resented
by no one, and happinesses in a beelike swarm

to settle on him – postponed for another season
that last fated hateful journey to the vet
from which there is no return (and age the reason),
which must soon come – as I cannot forget.