Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Wild Thing, You Make My Heart Sing

Though it seems like yesterday, it was actually a little over ten years ago - a few weeks after we had adopted two ginger Toms from our local cat and dog home - that my husband shouted on me to come and see 'A Monster of a cat' sitting at our back door. He made deep sonorous miaows and asked if he could have something to eat. His inordinately, handsome face and impeccable manners - waiting patiently to be invited inside - were an instant hit with me. I mean, who could refuse such a gentleman? Certainly not I....it was love at first sight.
After making enquiries around the village we learned he had been brought, along with five other cats, to be re-homed at a local farm. But, Mr Monster Man, as we named him, was a very frightened cat and did not take to farm life with all its strange noises. In actual fact, it took six weeks before he determined to stay with us. He would appear three times daily asking to be fed, after which he would scarper, only to re-appear the next day.
However, after much coaxing and encouragement on my part, he gradually came to trust us all enough to stay overnight...and soon he had chosen a cosy corner of the couch to curl up in. As you can see, his undercarriage had colourful patterns of silver grey, fawn and black. But, handsome or not, so bad had his life been before he came to stay with us, that it took two years of gentleness and kindness before we heard him purr.
Coupled with loud noises, it was men he was frightened of the most. Every time my husband walked within five yards of him, he was out of the back door like a shot, or under a chair if the door was closed. So, we can only guess as to the kind of bad experiences of his previous life. But, his luck had changed for the better. Our boys were delighted he had joined the Barleycorn cats. Monster made an excellent mouser...and was partial to voles and shrews as well - leaving me presents of the entrails on the doorstep. All these qualities endeared him to us all, as we had been known to have infestations of mice in the loft before we acquired our helpful moggies.
Best of all, Monster liked to climb on things. Indoors, whenever I was in the kitchen cooking or baking, he would jump up on the work surface beside me and wait patiently, hoping I would crack open an egg for him. Outside, if we had a group of friends visiting the garden, he would lead the way, and, while we stopped to chat, he would pose on the nearest log. On many an occasion, he would climb right to the top of one of our very tall trees, in the way a child might show off their latest trick...and this was in spite of tipping the scales at 8.1 kilos at one point. He came to us weighing 7.8 kilos, and, mostly, stayed at that weight.
In Winter, Monster loved to be outside exploring the different smells in the garden. He would sniff the chill air and charge around, making tracks everywhere, and sliding this way and that, as he tried to turn corners too quickly. Sometimes, much to our amusement, he would skate boldly across the frozen ponds, as if to say, 'Didn't I tell you I could walk on water?'
We all found him a fascinating character and I enjoyed making sketches of him and painting his portrait too. Mostly, these were from photographs I had taken, as he was rarely still enough, except when he slept. He found the garden a paradise and never went outwith the perimeter. Everything he wanted and needed was right here within its confines. Monster got on well with Jaffa and Baby, the ginger Toms, as the garden and the barn were large enough to support them all.
Once Monstie learned to purr there was no stopping him. Since there were four of us, each night there was a free knee to climb upon and be petted. So loud were the purrs, we often said it was like having three motorbikes in the house. It felt like bliss having a choice of cat to cuddle and stroke, and, many a Winter's evening, I enjoyed the warmth of my furry rug over my knees.
In 2005, sadly, we lost Baby when he died of diabetes and kidney failure. That was a huge shock as he seemed the youngest of our trio, though we didn't know their actual ages. After our trip to China last year, we came home to find that Jaffa had not survived an operation to help him eat, as he also had diabetes. During the three weeks we had been on holiday, Monstie had been in the cattery on his own, as Jaffa had died at the vet's a few days after we had left. We came home to a frightened Monstie, who never left my side after that.
He became my shadow and followed me everywhere. I spoiled him as he was the last survivor of the original Barleycorn cats. On the days I worked at the computer he sat on a nearby chair or curled up on the spare bed underneath his portrait, where I could lean across and stroke him. Occasionally, he sat on the chair beside me and fell asleep on my lap as I typed.
I found him great company around the house. In the garden, too, he was my constant companion. If I went for a walk, he came too. If I forgot a tool in the barn, he came with me while I fetched it. If I sat down on a bench for a rest, he curled up beside me and sang his purrbox songs. Our days seemed to begin and end together.
Early each morning, he would call on me to come through and feed him, even though there was always a little food in his dish. If I was too slow, he would scratch the door and give a loud miaow. Often, on a cold, dark Winter's morning, he would eat a little and come through for a cuddle on top of the bed, where, if I was lucky, he would settle himself and I would get another little lie-in with a Monstie cuddle and a Monstie serenade in my ear.
In the warmer weather, early in the morning, we often have our tea or coffee on the sunniest part of the patio. Monstie loved to join us there, taking his place on the chair next to mine for a spot of sunbathing. He watched the bees and the butterflies, the birds and the stray cats, come and go, while he stayed by my side.
I often fancied he was, like me, preferring the poppies best in the garden, as he was often found sitting or lying down near them. As a result I have many photos of him surrounded by poppies. He would sniff them each year when they came into bloom and brush his whiskers against them or the fur on his forehead.
Over the past few months I noticed that Monstie was gradually slowing down. He was not as able to jump up onto our laps, certainly not the kitchen worktops as he used to. He was eating slightly less than his usual diet, though nothing to concern us.
Monstie's sleeping patterns changed too. Whereas he used to have several naps, as is common in cats, he became less active, preferring to stay indoors some days rather than follow me around the garden. When we were laying the ten tons of gravel recently, he mostly slept in a sunny spot on the patio.
It wasn't that he couldn't climb up any more. It was just that he did it less often. When he slept on my lap in the evenings I noticed that his breathing was laboured at times and he seemed to be in a deeper sleep than usual. He also liked to be lifted up onto my lap as opposed to jumping up of his own free will.
All these little signs painted a picture. I realised Monstie was getting old with less energy to climb, or wander around the garden all day. On hot days he often preferred to stay indoors where it was cooler. He also didn't come running for a piece of freshly cooked chicken, which had always been his favourite.
As long as he was eating well, even though it was less than he usually ate, and was doing most of the things he normally did in his daily routine, I didn't worry too much about him. I accepted that it was probably a matter of age taking its toll.
He was far from being an invalid, as you can see from the photograph, above, for that was only taken in March this year, when he was out prowling around the garden. But all the little signs were pointers to his overall condition.
On Friday evening of last week, he complained when I carried him through to his chair where he slept each night. It was a loud miaow, followed by a hiss - something he had never done all the time we had had him. I wondered if he was objecting to being moved from his comfy position on my lap or if I had touched a part of him, that, unbeknown to me, was sore.
As Monstie was due to have his yearly injections, I decided to take him to the vet the next morning. All the way there I was steeling myself in case it was a serious matter. I must be brave and think of Monstie's best interests, I kept telling myself. I explained all the recent changes in his behaviour to the vet, who listened patiently to all my concerns. After he had completed his examination, he was able to tell us that Monstie had a heart murmur and fluid in his lungs. He commented on how Monstie lay down, almost prostrate, in order to breathe more easily. We told him that had been happening more and more recently.
We asked the vet for his advice. He said Monstie reminded him of an old man who had to stop every few steps for a breath. He could give Monstie drugs to alleviate the problem of the fluid in his lungs but he would have to keep increasing the dosage each fortnight and that the drugs might affect other organs. In other words, there was no cure for Monstie, no betterment, and there was no guarantee that Monstie would survive the treatment. He also offered us an x-ray to determine whether or not Monstie had a tumour in his thyroid, as he strongly suspected there might be. Then there was the question of whether Monstie would survive an anaesthetic.
All the vet could offer us was experimentation, with no guarantees. He was nothing if not honest. I explained I didn't want Monstie to suffer any pain. I had Monstie's best interests at heart. I felt very brave at this point. When the vet asked me what I would like to do, I looked at my husband and said I'd like to look after Monstie till the vet felt it was no longer kind to keep him alive. I expected the vet to say that that was a good idea, and that we should bring him back when we felt that things were deteriorating and that life was becoming too difficult for Monstie. But, he didn't. What he actually said was, 'That time is today...right now, this very minute.' That was when my bravery left me..and the tears flowed steadily down my cheeks. It was all suddenly happening too fast. I was going to lose my beloved Monstie. While the vet went off to get what he needed, I hugged Monstie, while my husband stroked him. All the while, I whispered calmly in his ear.
Faithful Monstie, loyal Monstie; my trusty companion these ten long years while I worked in the garden; my shadow; my Wild Thing who had allowed me to tame him; my singer of purrbox songs; ever cheerful, in a state of constant bliss; my warm furry rug on cold Winter evenings... Monstie had also been the family's pet, beloved by our two sons and my husband whose lap he had sat upon every morning while he read his paper. They were the only men he was able to trust. I put one arm around Monstie while cradling his head in my hands, all the while continuing to speak to him in gentle tones. My heart was breaking. It is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life. But any other choice would have been selfish. The vet knew better than we did, just how ill Monstie was and we had to trust him.

Back home, I dug the first part of his grave, my husband the second part. We buried him at the side of the parterre, where I grow my herbs and strawberries as Monstie always liked the smells of the various mints. That night, it was only as I lay down and tried to sleep that I suddenly realised the herb bed is immediately through the wall from our bed, and that Monstie was, in fact, right behind me - appropriately enough - just as he had always been.
Next morning I walked around the garden early. And who was there, keeping watch over Monstie's grave? Why Taz, of course, his little companion since Jaffa had died. And what had opened up at the front door of the house? The first of the annual poppies...I smiled through my tears, and thought of Where The Wild Things Are.


Ravenous tongue,
Purrbox song.
Gobble, gobble
Munch, munch!
Can he digest
All that lunch?
Yes! He Can!
He's Mr Monster Man!
Looks tragic,
But he's magic!

The little video below, taken on Mid-Summer's Day, is in memory of Monstie, as he followed me around during filming.
Even the smallest feline is a masterpiece.
Leonardo da Vinci


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful looking cat - I am so sorry he has passed on but his spirit will always be in your garden. Our beloved 13yr old brindle boxer, Doris, died on 25th June in exactly the same circumstances, so I understand how heartbroken you all are. Your visit to the vet was a carbon copy of my experience last week. Doris was my shadow, as Monster was yours, and I keep expecting to see her at every turn. Your tribute is so beautifully written and photographed that even I, much more a dog than cat person, could feel every word. We were so lucky with our animal friends! I live in Ireland and often check in to look at your lovely garden, thank you for sharing it with us all. Geraldine

martin said...

How wonderful he was. A royal cat indeed. Hope you are both well. x

Miranda Bell said...

I've just sent you an email and decided to read on - am so sorry of your loss - my cat Hamish is not that dissimilar apart from the fact he's black and white but a true character - I can't imagine what I'll be like when one day I'll be in the same position - he sounded like he had a wonderful life - a real part of the family - at least you know you always did your best for him - a cat I'm sure that won't be forgotton!

Take care - Miranda

Sally said...

Your Monster looks just like my Zep (who we had to put down similarly a few years ago). For the longest time afterwards, I could "feel" Zep jumping into bed and curling up next to me. Then, one day a kitten (looking so much like Zep) showed up at our doorstep and adopted up. After that I never felt Zep again. I think CC was Zep reincarnated.

Do you know that when a grey cat adopts you, he brings good luck to your house?

kate smudges said...

Monstie will be missed! You have beautiful photographs of him - a lovely cat. I especially like him surrounded by poppies. A fitting memorial - the poppies!

Cheryl said...

My heart breaks...I have walked this path so many times, it never gets any easier to lose a dear pet. May your poppies bloom always and your beautiful friends stay in your heart.....

Katie said...

WG - Monster was a real handsome cat, and I'm so sorry to hear about his short life - It sounds like you had a wonderful one together. Our pets' only real flaw is that they don't live nearly as long as we do. My heart aches for you.

Green thumb said...

Monstie was such an adorable Cat. It must have been a huge loss. Dear W.G, I wish I could give you a hug; the post has left me thinking about the kind of emotions we all are capable of having.
Monstie must be missing you a lot on reading this narrative, in that other world...

Kathleen said...

The tears are running down my face reading this post Wildlife Gardener. It makes me so sad. He was truly a beautiful cat and you wrote such an eloquent accounting of his life. The way he came into yours and how the relationship evolved makes him that much more endearing. It must be comforting to know how wonderful his life was after he found you.

Yolanda Elizabet said...

Oh my dear, I am so sorry for your loss. And such a big loss it is. Our feline friends are such wonderful companions both inside the house and out in the garden that we never ever want to do without them.

This post is a fitting memorial for your dearly beloved Monstie, Monster Man. What a super boy he was, in every way, and how he enjoyed life at Barleycorn.

I am so glad he found you all and had such a blessed life with you. His start in life might not have been all that good but the rest more than made up for it. Loads of love was showered on sweet Monster Man by all of you and this lovely boy had found his kitty heaven with you on earth.

You took the right decision in letting him being put to sleep. There's no point in letting them suffer. A soft and gentle death is often the last present we can give our beloved pets. So well done, I truly know how hard it is.

I love it that he said hello to you by way of the poppies! And give sweet Taz a cuddle from me because Taz is such a good kitty keeping watch over Monster Man's grave.

Take care!

BJ said...

I have cried throughout your post as my heart aches for your loss. It brings back memories of our losing our beloved "Morris" & "Mittens", who passed away in the same year. Morris was as dear to us as Monster is to you. I am so sorry for your loss. But I'd like to think all of our kitties are in kitty heaven.

Hugs to you.

Q said...

Wonderful tribute for a wonderful cat.
I do understand. It hurts so bad because we love so deeply.
May poppies always bless you with the grand memories of a very fine cat.

Libbys Blog said...

Its funny how certain cats find us. We too had a very special man who adopted us, he to was big, full of life and such a character. Although our cat Chimarni, was a dreadful thief! But they live with us and then it seems they have been there forever, what was life without them. My man had to be put to sleep 2 years ago and although he has gone in body, I still see him around the house, sat in favourite places. I catch a glimpse of him telling me he's still here and not far away! You too will see Monstie, in time, sat in places, you will do a double take and wonder if it was him, and it will be, he's just letting you know he's still there.

The Garden Faerie said...

Wildie, What a beautiful tribute to Montie's life. I really understand about a cat being a companion. My James recently turned 15 and is also slowing down a bit. He is always by my side. I was once quite sick, in the bathroom every half hour all night, and he got off the bed, followed me, waited in the hall, and came back to bed with me... EVERY time. I've had to put a cat to sleep before and I know your pain. It's great the poppy bloomed the next day. I hope my James lives a long time yet, but I would also never let him suffer. I'd hope someone would do the same for me!
~ Monica

Sandy said...

Wow, as much as I loved reading every word, this is just so sad. I just acquired two kitties awhile ago so I'm particularly touched by your story.

Susan Sonnen said...

From his photos it is easy to see that he was a beauty. From your words we are able to see the beauty held in his heart.

A wildlife gardener said...

Thank you, Everyone, very much for all your heartfelt comments about the loss of my companion and my little shadow, Monstie.

Thank you, also, to those of you who have shared the loss of your own beloved pets.

I shall be visiting all of your blogs shortly, except for Geraldine, who does not have one..so I thank you, dear friend, for all that you shared.

I know it was for the best and that Monstie suffers no more...but I will miss his presence for a long time to come. Ten years + of unconditional love is not forgotten lightly :)

Sandy said...

I had tears while reading this. After attaining new kittens three months ago, I can imagine how hard this has been!!!

So sorry for all that he and you have been through.

farmingfriends said...

I am so sorry to hear about Monstie. You have so many fond memories which is a blessing.
I am reminded of the Isla Paschal Richardson poem which I hope helps alittle.
Grieve not, nor speak ofme with tears, but laugh and talk of me, as if I were beside you...
I loved you so-
'twas Heaven here with you.
Kind regards
Sara from farmingfriends

Nicky said...

Tears are streaming down my face as I feel so sad about your loss. Dread the day that one of my two beloved cats pass on. Such a touching story made so much more real with the photos. Peace.

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