Stripey: My Old Man and Old Friend
My relationship with Stripey was a very different one from Carrie. It grew from a different source, but was no less poignant. While Carrie bonded with me as a kitten, and so was completely attached from that point on, I didn’t meet Stripey until he was a full grown cat, probably around 3 years of age (or maybe even a little older). Our meeting led to a lifetime (for him) of friendship, a loving bond and strong, but one more as friends than as father-daughter as my bond with Carrie was.
When I first met him, it was a bright, sunny, and hot day in Claremont. I had just come home from my new job, and as I approached the house, I noticed a rather skinny and lanky cat stretched out upon the landing of the staircase leading to the upstairs apartment. I tried to approach and let him sniff me, which he did briefly before getting up and running to hide, as was his typical response upon seeing any strange human.
The next day something took me to the back yard (what little of it we had), and lo and behold, but who was lazily sunning himself all stretched out atop the roof of our bathroom, but that same lanky brown tabby from the day before. So I went over to him, and reached up to offer my fingertips for inspection and sniffing, which he elected to do. I guess him up on the roof and me on the ground made him feel safer. Well, soon enough he scooted to the edge and let me pet him. And for the next week or two, I’d see him more frequently, either on the stairs, or in back, and each day he’d either come up to me, or would let me approach for a petting (on some of these occasions, he was accompanied by his friend, who also later became ours, Grey).
After about a fortnight, just meeting outside started to not be enough for him, and, one day, I heard a scratching on the bathroom window. Going to check on what it was, I was almost surprised to see the brown tabby stretched from ground to window sill, with his paw scratching at the window. And so I opened it, and in he jumped. Which started the next phase of our relationship. He and Grey became regulars in our house. We left the bathroom window open for them, and as they started to spend more and more time in our apartment, we got a litter box, and food, and a water dish (one of the times petting him on the stairs, I’d seen his food and water dishes in front of the door of their former owners, and they were disgusting).
By the time we got Carrie, the boys were regulars in our house, but with the new kitten who was 100% ours, and whom I did not want to allow to be an outdoor cat, we switched from leaving the window open to letting the boys in through the front door when they asked to come inside. We named the boys as we did, Stripey and Grey, for their appearance because they weren’t ours, though they were our friends. I didn’t feel it was right for us to give them proper names, but as they spent so much time in our house, we needed something by which to refer to them, so descriptive names they got.
Stripey didn’t care for Carrie at first. She terrorized him, chasing him around the house, pouncing him whenever she could, wrestling with him and pinning him to the floor when he couldn’t get away. And away he always tried to get. Though an absolute sweetheart, Stripey was a complete scaredy-cat, and that really showed when he allowed a 2 pound kitten to completely dominate and terrify him.
Though that doesn’t mean he didn’t hunt. I remember one particular time, I heard some scrabbling at the front door. I went to open it, sure either Stripey or Grey was wanting in, and sure enough, there was Stripey. But he didn’t want in. He was playing with a mouse, and had cornered it in the frame of our door. It darted back out when I opened the door, he grabbed it fast so it wouldn’t get away, then put it back down to paw at it. That was his mistake though, because, faster than he expected, it shot away from him, and into the hubcap of the neighbor’s nearby car. And at that, his game with the mouse was over, for he couldn’t figure out how to get it out of the wheel.
By the time their owner abandoned them, both Stripey and Grey responded to the names we called them better than their original names. Their owner moved out of the apartment upstairs, and did not take them with him. We gave him first a week, then two, and yet Stripey and Grey remained around. So finally, I made the decision that he was not coming back, that they were now ours completely, and so they were no longer outdoor kitties.
When Stripey met new people, his scaredy-cat nature always showed. He would run away, apparently absolutely convinced they were going to eat him, and hid in the best spot he could find, usually under the bed. But, then, after some time of him remaining unconsumed, he’d come back out, looking to see that I, too, was proving to be not on the dinner menu, and so he’d come over to get my attention, and theirs, and demonstrate one of his more charming traits – he was an absolute love bug and attention whore. He LOVED everyone once he determined they wouldn’t eat him, and basked in their attention and pets. Really, there has never been so sweet a cat. And when he was at his happiest, his tongue would peek out from his mouth, and he'd sit their completely regal with the one exception of that little pink tongue sticking out.
He was a very smart boy. It was he who realized that the bathroom window led to our apartment, and thereby to me. It was he who also figured out the front door did the same thing. He learned quickly how to turn the doorknob (forcing us to resort to locking our front door at all times to prevent him from opening it). When he wanted something, he was capable of making it absolutely clear what it was without so much as a peep. His body language was very communicative, and I never had to ask and guess what he wanted. If he wanted food, he could silently get my attention and then point out the food bin in his way, and when he wanted fresh water, the same thing. As an outdoor cat, he had learned that his water sources were not reliable, and must be tested, so developed the habit of always testing it with his paw with a few splashes and a taste before he would drink, and retained that habit to the end of his days.
He absolutely loved sitting on my books and my laptop (until I started putting the latter where he couldn't do so). Whenever books were set down where he could get to them, he'd immediately perch upon them. Perhaps it was his feline intellect striving to absorb their wonders through osmosis.
As much as Carrie loved bags, Stripey loved boxes. Every box, he must enter, and lay claim to it as his private domain. And so proud of his boxes was he, that he’d sit in them, and stare up at me with this look like he was saying: “See, Daddy, see my box? It is mine, and it is a fabulous box.” He had, for a time, a box which had plastic windows on its size, that had been the box in which my very large red dragon model had come. He really liked laying inside that one. And here in Georgia, it was the medium sized postal boxes to which he liked to lay claim the most. He had one of those for a couple years.
He was a wet-faced cat. Being that he loved water in ways most cats don’t. In Claremont, I had used a squirt gun as a disciplinary device, but it proved to be ineffective with him, as he just liked being wet too much. He actually started to act up a bit just so he could get me to squirt him. I learned that trick quickly and changed my disciplinary measures with him. He also loved water out of a tap. It was his preferred way to drink water, and he’d just stick his head under the stream and drink the water that rolled off his face.
I’d always said that if any cat should ever be cloned, it should be Stripey. He was near perfect in his behavior - he never scratched anything up, he kept all his business in the litterbox, he was quiet, learned quickly when he did something wrong and never repeated the mistake, and, as I said, was an absolute love bug. Only Carrie spent more time near me, and, once she passed, he took her spot right next to me. When receiving affection, he loved getting his belly rubbed – another unusual trait for a cat. But, every time, as petting proceeded, he’d through himself on his back and expose his belly for the rubbing. With me, he’d even wrap his forelegs around my arm and pull my arm in for the belly rubs and a good hug. I always found that adorable. He also loved to hold paws, and sometimes he’d just lie next to me while I was on the computer, and he’d reach over and grab my arm and pull it over so he could hug it and cuddle it.
When Spartacus came into our lives in November, Stripey did his best to include him in the family, despite Stripey’s age. Sparty was a kitten, and exuberant and playful as kittens are, but Stripey just didn’t have it in him to be playful anymore (not that he ever really enjoyed horseplay to begin with, which he didn’t), so he’d just do his best to get away from Spartacus, usually retreating to his spot right next to me, where I’d be sure to protect him from this overly energetic ball of teeth and claws. But, despite his dislike of Sparty’s excitable nature, he still took to him as a little brother, and I’d oft find him grooming Spartacus, or letting the little guy lay on top of him.
And as good as he was, he didn’t complain when he fell ill. I could never tell. When we took him for his first vaccinations, the vet found he had a fever, though he was acting perfectly fine. And when his final illness struck, he did his best to act as if nothing was wrong. Until the stone started irritating his bladder, and he couldn’t stand to use the litterbox any more. But he looked at me apologetically, and try to get rid of his puddles.
I tried to nurse him back to health. I couldn’t afford the $500 that an ultrasound would have cost. And he really was a trooper. He kept himself hydrated the first couple of days. But then it started wearing on him and the blockage got worse. Once that happened, he stopped drinking, and started laying on his side more.
I did everything I could to keep him comfortable. I gave him sponge baths to keep his fur clean when he no longer could. I tried to cuddle him, tried to lay next to him (though I couldn’t do so when he was on the floor because of my broken shoulder and ribs from the accident in which I’d recently been). I keep a towel under him to help him stay dry and not soil himself.
The day he died, Memorial Day, I had thought that we had a victory in the morning. It was the first morning since the weekend began that he actually asked for food – in fact, he’d awakened me to do so. Excited, I opened up one of the cans of wet food I’d gotten for him, and he ate a small bit of that, mostly gravy. Exultant, I thought he was going to make it, and had even posted talking of such. But then, half way through the day, he vomited everything. And immediately had a stroke, making an “urk” noise. My heart broke at that moment, because he was basically gone from then on. One eye remained focused, the other, though, was completely dilated. He crawled from one spot of the room to another, trying to be comfortable, but his fight was completely gone. It was over.
He lasted another few hours, long enough for me to finally get exhausted and try to go to sleep myself, though I was convinced he wasn’t long for the world. I’d barely gotten my eyes closed, though, when I heard him gasping for air. I knew this was it.
I lept out of bed and ran over to him, gently picked him up and placed him in my lap. I tried to position him to make him as comfortable as possible, to make his breathing as easy as possible.
After a few gasps, he died in my arms, after 10 years of companionship.
It was 1:30 in the morning.
And the world lost one of the sweetest souls it’s ever seen.
I placed him in his favorite box to protect him. When I did so, Spartacus came over to see him in the box, and sniffed him, and I could tell he understood. He had said goodbye in his way.
Despite my broken bones, I buried him myself the next day, in my back yard, crying in the rain.
I love you, Stripey, and I’m sorry I couldn’t get you through it.
I miss you.