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April 26, 2017

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The life of this cat was quite a story

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John Katsilometes

Near the end, Bonnie lording over the coffeemaker.

She used to gingerly step across my hands as I worked as if trying to type something herself. As the years passed and her fascination with my dancing fingers became one of our many rituals, I wondered, if she were to write a story, what would that story be?

She would probably begin with the day we picked up her and her brother from the Humane Society shelter in Redding, Calif. She was nestled back in a corner, fetal-like. Her daffy brother was clung to the bars of the cage, wailing for release from captivity. The hard sell worked, and we took them both so they would keep each other occupied when the house was not. They were no more than a month old. This was nearly 15 years ago, in October 1994, in another lifetime.

In this tale, she would write a chapter on the new house, which probably seemed as large as the whole outdoors to a kitten so small she curled up in the palm of my hand. She’d remember the party we once had, the weekend after we adopted her and her brother, before the names Bonnie and Clyde had even been decided. It was meant to be a routine weekend house party of drinks and noshes and rock ’n’ roll. Instead, for hours a dozen friends squatted on the living room floor, talking loudly and laughing as the two tireless kittens wrestled and jumped and scrambled across the carpet.

She’d remember, hauntingly, the day she was nearly crushed by a car, how she hardly whimpered as she crawled into the laundry room, her injuries and circumstance discovered only because her fur was dirty from asphalt and rubber, and her claws ground down from grabbing at the street. She might write that she should have been killed that day, at age 1, and how she was living on someone else’s time ever since.

She’d recall the grueling two-day road trip to Las Vegas, cooped up in the flatly white Pet Taxi she grew to loathe. She’d wonder what happened to Clyde that day in February eight years ago, when he simply vanished, never to be recovered. She’d talk of all the moves, from condos to a townhouse, a funky loft, a house, then another, all the changes in faces and surroundings. She’d tell of knowing when the times were great and not such. How she met me at the door the day I staggered home after losing a job, how she rested silently on my lap as the news of changes in life were learned, and how I’d stroke her head when learning of crisis in the family and when I had to embark on some new and foreign path.

She might write of her final night, of how in a final burst of adrenaline, she swatted at yet another new housemate -- a 3-month old kitten who merely wanted to play and race and frolic in the same way she had so long ago. The new kitten hopped onto the bed, which, aside from the keypad, was Bonnie’s sacrosanct territory. The old gal reared back and slapped the energetic kitty with a sweeping right paw, using such force that the little interloper toppled backward onto the floor. There was a final sprint through the house, utter chaos that harkened to the wild early days of Bonnie and Clyde.

The last chapter would be written in a cool, antiseptic treatment room in a veterinary clinic, the odor of rubbing alcohol faint in the air. The veterinarian, a wonderful man who reminds me quite a lot of my own veterinarian father, pries open her mouth and gazes inside. You look not at her, but him, remembering the look on Dad’s face as he examined sick animals. The eyebrows pinch and the lips purse, and you know, you just know, you aren’t taking your pet home. Not today, not again.

You remember, as you leave the clinic with your head spinning, of what Dad always said, that if you are a loving and responsible pet parent, you will have your heart broken. It is the wrenching reality, and there is nothing, no measure of preparation, to change that. So you thank the doctor and spend a long and quiet time with her, then leave the clinic carrying an empty Pet Taxi but a full heart.

This story, Bonnie’s story, ends that way, and for the moment, the hands sit still.

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