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Before I begin this blog, I’d like to invite readers to check out the new photos on my website: heading, bio, and ending. I’ve decided to change the photos by season, which means changing them at the equinox and solstice. Please enjoy my spring photos until June 20. Thank you!

Old friend? What’s this about? I hear you thinking. Well, it’s a memoriam for a friend who had been in my life for almost 21 years, a third (more or less) of my own lifespan. When I picked him up to bring him home one day in the spring of 1999, he was curled up asleep in a box about a hand’s breath square, and didn’t wake up till he and his brother had arrived in my home.

He was my kitty, Bugsy, a Japanese bobtail tiger cat with a short hooked tail. Though he was a “mongrel” that I got for free through the good offices of my veterinarian, he somehow was of that strain. Very vocal, very sociable, very smart. At first he shared the house with his brother, a big-shouldered black-and-white cat named Nicky the Squid. Later two other kittens were rescued by me around the neighborhood, making a boys’ club of four in all. The others died one by one at around age 10-12, as male cats are wont to do, when their kidneys fail – but Bugsy went on and on.

As a tiny kitten his most noticeable trait was his voice. He would make himself heard, loud and clear, at every opportunity. “Hey – I’m going to the cat box now!” Later, as he grew into teenage cathood, he would go AWOL for days at a time. The first time this happened, I was frantic, but I soon learned that this was just the way he operated. With his sure-fire personality, I think he had cultivated at least one other household in the neighborhood that thought of him as their cat. He was fixed at about 6 months, in the usual way, but we used to joke that they must have missed one of his balls, because he was such an adventurer.

When the other cats ran and hid in another room at the approach of strangers, Bugs came right into the room and checked them out, offering his purring presence at every gathering, sitting next to each guest in turn, just being part of the action. Even postal delivery men and neighbors visiting on business would get the once-over, usually including a few friendly head rubs on the ankle. He often insisted on sleeping with overnight guests – he could be very persistent and had an incredibly strong will for such a small animal, meowing and scratching outside the room till he was let in. When there were no guests, especially in cold weather, he would sleep with my husband and me. He purred loudly enough to shake the bed in those days.

He used to come outside and meet me when I came back from somewhere, walking across the yard and calling to me as I got out of my car. He would wind around my legs asking for food any time I was in the kitchen, sometimes getting stepped on, as he was the same color as the dark wood floor.

Like any cat, he had his favorite places to hang out. Curled up in the laundry basket, draped over the back of my big office chair, stretched out in front of a heater in winter or on the cool wood floor in summer, making a nest in a patch of grass or enjoying a sun-warmed brick path. His territory was unimaginable, but I know he frequently crossed the bridge over the river in front of our house and explored the bamboo forest on the other side, where monkeys lived.

Some cats don’t like being patted. Bugs always loved it, though his brother Squid hardly ever got up on my lap and suffered caresses rather impatiently. Bugs was also very patient and gentle with the smallest children, and allowed himself to be carted around and manipulated in all kinds of ways by our grandchildren.

Toward the end of his life, Bugs started to slow down. His fur began to come out in clumps, as he groomed himself less and less, and I had to start brushing him. He could no longer crunch dry food, so graduated to little packets of jellied food, bonito flakes, and chopped up kamaboko (a kind of cheesy substance made of fish). He got eye infections once in a while, and probably suffered the aches and pains of the elderly. Later still, he went deaf and didn’t even notice when I had come into the room until I came right up to him. When I patted him as he sat in my lap (having helped him to climb up) I could feel every one of his little bones right under the skin. His purr faded to nothing, and his walk got wobbly. I couldn’t have him sleep with me any more because I was afraid he might get hurt, plus he was very restless and wanted to come and go several times a night, which disturbed my sleep. So I made a bed for him in another room with a heating pad.

On the night of March 12 I put him in his room, fed him his evening snack (he was eating 5-6 times a day at the end) and shut the door on him. (Another door was open in case he needed to go out at night.) I was thinking that when my husband came home from his business trip, I would ask him to help me take Bugs to the vet. His nails needed clipping and I wanted to ask the doctor about his eating habits. (The doctor had recently told us that if he were human, he would be 100 years old.)

But when I opened the door the next morning, he was gone.

I though he might just be on an early morning ramble, but the hours went by and he didn’t reappear.

It’s been a week since then. I guess he was tired of living, and in his usual strong-willed, dignified way, he decided enough was enough. His brother Squid had done the same thing, walked off when he got sick and just went away to die. I imagine Bugsy lying down under one of his favorite bushes and enjoying the rays of the early spring sun one last time. I still haven’t found him, and I think that is the way he would have wanted it – to disappear into thin air.

In the middle of the night of March 12, I distinctly heard Bugsy call out once. I thought he had somehow found his way into my room, and raised my head, listening for more meows. But there was only just the one. That, I think, was Bugsy’s last goodbye to me.

rThanks for all the good years, thanks for your generous and dignified friendship and for being universally loved. Thanks for everything, Bugsy. You will not be forgotten.

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