Some of you already know Snootch.
The day we moved to Brattleboro we met Snootch. As we were unpacking our rental truck and putting boxes in the house, a very tiny yellow-orange kitten with a striped tail wandered up the driveway and began poking around. She was curious, said hello, and looked around a bit. She explored the house, looked in boxes, and tried to hop up on the bed.
Our first Vermont friend.
We thought she was lost, so put up a sign at the corner store saying we had found a lost kitty, who answered to… and we listed about 30 names. Lise, I believe, dubbed her “The Snootch,” which is what we called her.
Within a few days, we tracked down her “owner,” who was a kid who didn’t seem to have any interest in her at all. “Oh yeah, she’s ours. C’mon Alice.” And she took her home.
Over the next few years, Snootch was a regular visitor and stopped by every day. She had found a way to move in with families next door, and had a new name: Whiskers, or Whiskey, as one of the boys called her.
It was during this period that she worked to win me over. I was not a cat person. I told her so. I told her I wanted a cat that was smart, and would be a companion, like a dog. A cat who knew tricks, would go for walks, and so on. I doubted cats had it in them.
She’d get my attention and show me something, or challenge me to a chase or tussle. She’d sleep by my feet, or accompany me as I walked to get the mail. She’d do all sorts of “dog-like” things with me, and it wasn’t for food. She was just a daily friend who stopped by during the day and went home at night. We weren’t feeding her. Just friends.
Again and again and for 16 years, she continued to amaze me with new skills, interests, and activities. We became best friends. My little sister.
One Thanksgiving, with the help of some fresh snow and cat prints, we realized that the cat that was visiting us all day and being sent home at night was really just going out and sleeping under the porch. We inquired next door and found out that Snootch had moved out (citing personal differences with other cats) months ago.
The poor thing. She’d be there first thing in the morning at our door, spend the whole day, then we’d put her out to go home…. which was nowhere.
We conspired and decided to bring her in. It was against the landlord rules (and we had some funny days hiding her when the landlord came over suddenly), but she wanted to be here. There was nothing we could do about it. It wasn’t our decision.
It wasn’t long before the landlord sold to a new owner, and a joyful day it was when were were told Snootch had official permission to live here. We became a family, for real.
Each autumn I’d ask Snootch what she wanted to study while we were stuck inside for the winter, and she’d give me some sort of a sign of her current interest.
The first year, we majored in running around and chasing. Next year we practiced hunting skills. We practiced opening closed doors with a paw. One year we worked on communication skills. Another year she practice balancing on shoulders as we’d walk around.
By the end, Snootch could find us, get us to come to anywhere she wanted, look at something, say something, then we’d know, for example, to get down, let her on our shoulder and give her a lift to s specific shelf. Or whatever.
There were two key things I learned when we studied communication together. The first is that if you point, a cat will look at the end of your finger, but if you look at something, they will look at it, too. I could get Snootch to notice things by looking at them myself, and vice-versa.
The second breakthrough was to ask her directly what she wanted. My phrase for this, oft repeated, was “Show me…” and she would take me to whatever she wanted. Sometimes it was food. Sometimes to open a door. Sometimes she wanted me to stop work and play.
At the end of each day, she’d round me and Lise up like a border collie collects sheep. She’d make us stop doing whatever we were doing, and sit on the floor in a circle with her. We’d all review our days.
A few of Snootch’s adventures:
– She used to walk with us in the woods behind the house. We stroll up to the pond by Chestnut Hill and sit. She walked to the tower with us.
– She watched squirrels and learned to climb. She could shoot up a tree trunk, climb 20-30 feet, look around like a wild thing, then climb right back down. Once, some neighbors said they thought our cat was stuck in a tree. Before even checking, we said it wasn’t her. She never got stuck in trees. It wasn’t her.
– She cleared the yard of moles. Would wait by their holes patiently, then catch them. She’d toss them like a football and catch her own passes. A great pastime, until they were all gone.
– She used three dimensional space like no other. Looking around, there isn’t a space or spot in the house, other than perhaps the ceiling, that Snootch didn’t explore. I can see her on the floor, in the sun, on each chair, on our desks, on every shelf, in every cupboard, on every table, on the ironing board, in the windows, in each closet, on each bed, in every room, outside on logs, on fences, in trees, in bushes, in the driveway, and so on. She was everywhere, high and low, inside and out.
– She’d say “owww” to go out. She’d say “mrrrip” to say hi. She’d say “Yow!” to get our attention. Looking at a shelf and saying “mew” meant she wanted help getting up. She had a great purr. And when she caught a mouse, she’d hold it in her mouth and come yelling for us. It sounded something like “Ihavamouseinmymouf! Ihavamouseinmymouf!”
– Her best friend for a long time was Peedo, a big male cat that lived upstairs. She’d go up and ask to be let in to see him. He’d come down and ask to hang out with her. Peedo was so impressed with Snootch’s ability to hunt moles that he went out hunting one day. He was very proud of himself when he brought back a cooked piece of chicken he had hunted down.
– Snootch tolerated Birdie, another stray that Peedo rescued and brought in for food one cold autumn day. Birdie moved in with us, and there was much adjusting and jealously for Snootch to adapt to. One afternoon Peedo and Snootch sat on a railing, nose to nose for almost an hour. It seemed they were discussing the situation.
It took a while, but they became friends, and Snootch was genuinely distraught when Birdie walked off for a final time last year. She sat and looked for her to return for a few days. And then she started to go downhill a bit herself.
– She loved the yard and guarded it well, marking territory and fighting off intruders. Just this summer she defended me. A large neighbor cat was in our space, and I was telling him to go back to his yard. This usually works, but not this time. He hissed and swiped at me. Snootch saw this, leapt across the yard at him, knocked him into an old wagon, flipped him, and then chased him back to his yard. “Don’t mess with my Chris.”
– She had squirrelfiends. They’d come over and seem to talk with her every once in a while, maybe making deals about her allowing them to get some food. We saw one “conversation” almost nose to nose, and she stopped chasing them for a while after it. She’d also playful chase them from time to time, not to catch but to tag.
– She had a great internal clock. If she came and meowed in the afternoon for dinner, it WAS 3 pm. You could also ask her to wake you up at different times, and she’d do it on schedule, nudging you.
– She survived being hit by a car.
– There was the time she stepped on an open laptop, launched a browser, went to YouTube, found the trailer for the movie “2012,” and started it playing.
I used to tell her adjectives that described her when I’d sit and pet her. At first there were just a few. “You are cute and pretty.” As the years went on, the list grew, and she’d practically smile as I recited them to her.
You are cute, fancy, pretty, smart, curious, brave, fearless, strong, funny, loyal, talkative, communicative, friendly, soft, warm, small, wonderful, concerned, beautiful, fast, interesting, daring, a tiger, a lionness, a monkey, able to climb, run and jump, who works hard. And so on.
She did work hard. She’d watch over things while we slept or went to the store, and would only let her guard down when she saw we had resumed control. She did patrols of the yard. She kept track of guests coming and going. She seemed to like having a job and that we appreciated her work.
Every morning we’d start the day by finding each other. I’d pet her and say the same thing. “Good morning, Snootch. It is always good to see a Snootch in the morning. Every day we see each other, we’ll have a good day and good luck. Why is that? Because we are in love. Snootch loves Chris, Chris loves Snootch, and we both love Lise.” We’d rub heads and go about our business.
Each autumn I would tell her the leaves were changing to yellow and orange to look like her.
Last spring, just about the time she turned 16 (over 80 in human years, says the chart at the vet), she declined rapidly and we thought we were going to lose her. After being quite sad, all three of us decided it wasn’t yet time, and we all did a rather epic bit of work to revive her and have one more summer.
Her kidneys were failing, but they weren’t gone yet. We began hydrating her at home, changed diets to some really fabulous cat food (thank you Weruva), added water to her food, and started getting up in the middle of each night to help her.
She wasn’t the young kitten anymore, but she was still Snootch, and it worked for a while. She didn’t always have much energy, but would surprise us. She’d catch an occasional mouse. She herded three of the neighbor’s chickens back to their yard one afternoon. She’d ask to get up on a shoulder and be walked about.
Mid summer or so, we started sharing some meals. She never bothered us much at dinner before, but she started coming and asking for some so often that we adjusted the menu. We started cooking with the expectation she’d want some of whatever we were having, and she did. We’d make little side plates with rice, chicken, or spaghetti, or omlette, or groats.
Things weren’t great, but it seemed to be working. Maybe we’d be able to keep this ruse going so we could talk about our 20 year old cat someday.
She stopped eating just before Thanksgiving. Lise and I both hoped that the smell of the turkey might jumpstart her appetite, but when I offered her the first pieces of the finished bird, she only took a few tiny bites. She didn’t want any broth, either. She was done.
We decided to comfort her as best we could, then call first thing Monday to set a time with the vet.
Much of the weekend was spent sitting with her, petting her, and talking to her. We’d help her get up and get water, or find the litter box, and she’d walk a little bit to find her way back to her (most current) favorite sleeping spot on my animation chair.
It wasn’t easy for her. She lost control of the ability to pull her claws back in, so the carpet was causing her much trouble. She’d get stuck, then collapse. Increasingly, the trips for water were wearing her out. She was barely walking, and had to be carried a few times.
Late Sunday night I went to find her and she was not on her chair. I got concerned and started to walk around to find her. I expected to find her collapsed somewhere. I got to the kitchen and, damn, if she wasn’t in there in her classic hunting position, keeping an eye out in case a mouse wandered by. She could barely stand up, but was hunting. Amazing.
Never before had I cursed the rising sun as I did on Monday morning. Waking up, seeing that the day had come, and knowing that I would be calling the vet to schedule an appointment hit me hard. Please go back to being night.
Lise was already up with Snootch. She had found her caught in the carpet at 5 am, and had been up with her since.
My brain was helping me be a grownup and I made the call. Brain said it was the right thing to do, so she won’t suffer. My heart said it was a lie.
We wanted a vet to come to the house, and the earliest they could schedule it was Wednesday, mid-day. But Snootch wasn’t doing well. She gave up drinking, her odor had changed, she was uncomfortable and would cry a bit. It’s going to be a long couple of days.
I settled in with her for the duration, laying on the floor with her, petting her and telling her about how great she was. I read her some Dogen. I told her about her friends. I got down and put my head where we could be eye to eye. I did almost nothing but pet her gently all day so Lise could get work done, with Lise taking over so I could run a couple errands.
Wednesday seemed very far off, and late in the day we called the vet for another consultation. We didn’t think we could keep her comfortable that long. A new appointment was scheduled for early evening. 7 pm. Tonight. Now. Not 48 hours, but just four.
The final hour was surreal. The clock hit 6 pm, I knew our appointment was at 7 pm, and I looked down at Snootch knowing for certain that she’d be gone soon. We kept petting her and telling her how great she was. We spent more time looking into each other’s eyes.
6:15. Spoon will be over to help us out by driving us. We have to get ready in a few minutes. My baby.
I hate that clock.
6:30. I get ready, warm a blanket on the radiator, and pick her up. She’s barely there, but she’s still there. I take her on a tour of the house, showing her her spots, and we head out. I do the same outside, showing her yard to her. She takes a big sniff of fresh, cold air, and we get in the car.
I hate the night.
By 7:30 we’re home again, just me and Lise. It is not the same.
Tuesday. I woke up in tears, but I was again thankful for sun. I needed some rays of sunshine.