Cassady has been my friend for a very long time. When I decided to join some friends in off-campus housing for my senior year of college, the first thing on my to-do list was to get a cat. I had spent 3 long years of dorm life missing my cats and, for me, one of the main reasons to live off-campus was the addition of a feline companion. I had a cat who lived at my parents’ house already, but Fred, who worried a lot, was a bit emotionally fragile and everyone agreed that moving him into a new location, especially one as chaotic as college housing, would be extremely difficult on him. So, the summer before my senior year, I started looking through the classified ads for cats. Yes, the newspaper classifieds; this was a long time ago.
I found the ad for a stray 6-month-old tortoiseshell cat that needed a home. I had no idea what a tortoiseshell cat was at the time, and I honestly don’t remember why I responded to this ad in particular. But I called and went to look at the cat, with my mom as my back-up support to help me say “no” if it wasn’t a good fit; we had an agreed upon signal that I was supposed to say if I thought this wasn’t the right cat, and she was going to be the one to extricate us if need be.
But, all of those preparations proved unnecessary. Once I saw the skinny, mottled kitten with the funny striped nose, I was hooked.
(A quick side note: this was within a week or so of driving to New York with some friends to attend a conference on the Beat Generation. Cassady was named for Neal Cassady – legendary hipster, friend of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and model for Dean Moriarty in On the Road. Awesome as he is, she was not named for David Cassidy.)Cassady was a bit of a sad case when I got her; she didn’t know how to play. It took a few days of tempting her with a toy mouse on a string, but eventually her instincts took over and she decided chasing the mouse was kind of fun. Her very first toy mice were these striped numbers that remained her favorites. I swear she preferred these mice to any others I ever found, and could tell them apart from similar non-striped mice. I stopped being able to find them in the stores several years ago, but her well-loved toys, long since stripped of most of their fabric and continually mended to keep the stuffing in, continued in constant rotation at our house. Cassady very quickly became an affectionate and loving companion, one with a lot of spunk and attitude. We made it through my senior year of college together, and, when it came time to figure out my next steps, she was a definitive factor. When I was interviewing for theatre internships, it was very important to me that I be allowed to bring her with me wherever I moved. I actually turned down one offer because I would be required to live in intern housing and no pets were allowed.
When I moved to California to start my internship at Berkeley Rep, I drove from Illinois with my dad and my cat. The first hour of the drive was awful, with Cassady yowling at the top of her lungs from the kennel in the back seat. Out of desperation, my dad and I decided to let her out of the kennel to sit on the lap of the person in the passenger seat. We started by keeping her on the harness and leash so we could be sure and maintain some control and not have her skitter under the foot pedals. But it quickly became clear that, once she wasn’t contained in the tiny box, she was an excellent traveling companion. She settled down between the car door and the person in the seat and slept most of the way to California. My dad recently shared some of his favorite memories of Cassady from that trip:
the smiles on people’s faces when they passed us and saw Cassady looking at them from the driver’s window; playing in the country’s biggest sand box during lunch in Oasis, NV; sitting at your window in Albany,…
I didn’t know anyone when I got to California and she was truly my only friend. As I drove around on weekends getting to know the area, I took her with me, including excursions to the regional parks. Once I was telling a friend about these years and she summed it up quite nicely: Cassady was my sidekick.As I got settled into my 3 part-time jobs and started to meet people, I was home less and decided she needed a friend. I was wrong in interpreting her needs, but the damage was done when I adopted Ezra. It turns out Cassady was quite content as an only cat and would have preferred to remain sole ruler of the domain. Sadly, this was not to be her lot in life.
As the years passed, more cats entered the picture, a few of them other torties, but she was always the queen, gazing imperiously down at those who disturbed her by their very presence. She was spirited, in that typically tortie way, but also extremely dignified and observant of the world. She seemed to have an old soul.
From toe infections, to skin allergies, to her broken tail, Cassady was annoyed through the years by several relatively minor ailments. She was never thrilled by my ministrations, but she always humored me and tolerated my handling stoically. The same could not be said of her patience with the vet, as indicated by the big “CAUTION” warning label on her chart. Not that I’d ever want someone to get hurt, but this actually amused me because it was a symbol of everything Cassady was: strong-willed, a bit ornery, slightly bitchy, but always quite clear about what she wanted and who she would allow to mess with her. So, kind of like looking in a mirror.As she entered her geriatric years, Cassady became increasingly and demonstratively affectionate, often seeking Steve and me out, becoming much quicker with a purr, and quite demanding of her snuggle time. She and Steve grew particularly close, aided in part by Steve’s willingness to share his dinner with her. Cassady had Steve wrapped around her paw and would spend hours using him as her personal lounge chair.
Her nightly “hunting” excursions continued and we would hear her triumphant yowl late in the night as she called out around the striped mousie in her mouth to announce her conquest. She would drop these kills in the bedroom and we would re-seed her hunting grounds every day, tossing the mice back out around the house.
In the last couple of years, I think she began to lose her hearing; to compensate for what she could no longer hear, her yowls became ear-shattering and ever-more demanding. When she would see birds outside the window, what used to be a soft, excited chatter, became a loud “mrapp!” that would send the birds scattering, and that Steve interpreted as her shouting “Get off my lawn!”We grew up together. From age 20 to 38, she was a constant in my life; but, in the unfair way that the world works, Cassady became an old lady well before me. Diagnosed with chronic renal failure in the summer of 2011, Steve and I have tried to do our best for her, cutting out long trips away, giving her subcutaneous fluids every other day, and generally trying to make her life as happy as possible for as long as possible. Over this last summer, the nightly hunting ceased and the naps grew longer as her kidneys slowly failed us.
So, here we are. After almost 19 years together, I have had to say good-bye. It is one of our most difficult and important responsibilities, providing a peaceful passing for our companion animals.
It is a sad day, because such days always are. In my head I know that Cassady had a long life, and it was full of snuggles, food, purring, contentment, and love. I am grateful to her for sharing my company for so long, and I will celebrate that once my head and heart sync back up with each other in the days to come.
Here’s to Cassady, my first tortie and long one of my best friends. We love you and you will be missed.