We are a one cat family. Yesterday evening at twenty past eight the short indignant tabby made brief scrabbling noises at the back of the study and quietly died. It was not a total surprise. She wouldn't eat her breakfast yesterday, or her cat treats, and was not tempted even when I opened a different flavoured tin. By the middle of the day her breathing became too visible, as she sat in one of her favourite places in the middle of the hall doorway. I stopped to stroke the top of her head each time I passed by, and she purred. Later on she became fidgety, wandering from room to room, and no longer responded to being tickled. She had the look of a cat that was not long for this world.
She was seventeen years old, the short indignant tabby, and had outlived her brother and the two Maine Coones that we got at the same time in the summer of 1999. We always said she would be the last cat standing out of that cohort. She was a good doer, never suffered from a septic bite in her life, partly because she was too sensible to get into fights or stick her feet down rat holes. In the past couple of years she appeared to become completely deaf, and there were a few accidents, but not so many that clearing them up ever became a big issue.
She disliked strangers, disliked sitting on laps, distrusted grass and the great outdoors. I never saw her catch a mouse or bird in her life. Inside the house she lived mainly in the hall, the kitchen and the study, rarely venturing upstairs. She liked sunbathing on the concrete on warm days. She liked us. On cold or wet days when I sat at the kitchen table she would lie at my feet, purring, Sometimes she would lie under my chair, and I would have to be very careful each time I got up not to tread on her or push the legs of the chair into her. Small, self-contained, fierce, loyal, she lived her life on her own terms.
It was a good exit. Cats are stoical animals and it is difficult to tell when they are in pain, but she was eating normally and going outside when she wanted the loo until the day before she died. She didn't have to undergo the stress of the cat basket and the car journey and the vet's waiting room with its strangers and dogs for that final appointment. We were around. Our Ginger, with whom she got on in a grudging sort of way, was around. She was here, and then she wasn't. It was still just light enough last night to bury her at the bottom of the garden next to the big anxious tabby, decently shrouded in a pillowcase. I miss her small, independent, trusting presence, lying in doorways and dark corridors and believing implicitly that neither of us would step on her.