HB was our first adoption under the compromise agreement Steve and I had come to in our shared life. Steve likes Scottish Folds and I’m committed to rescue cats. When the time came for us to be looking for another Scottish Fold back in 2003, I set-up an alert on PetFinder for Scottish Folds needing adoption on the West Coast. It took a little time, but in April of that year, the right listing came across the InterWebz for an 8-month old Scottish Fold tortoiseshell for adoption in Bakersfield. Bakersfield isn’t exactly around the corner, but this was a match that had to be investigated, so we both took a Friday off of work and drove 5 hours (300 miles) to meet her. We stayed with the cat in a hotel that night to see how she would respond to us.
By morning, we had decided that she was an appropriately awesome little Scottish Fold, and a tortie to boot! Completing the adoption, we quickly turned the car north and drove the 5 hours back home to prepare for Easter dinner guests the next day.
We were a four-cat household at that point, with Ezra and Cassady, who I had brought into the relationship, and Elsa, who was mostly “my cat” and adopted just 3 months earlier. To the extent that there are “his” and “hers” cats in our household, and particularly as she filled the Scottish Fold gap, HB was mostly “Steve’s cat”. Steve quickly became HB’s favorite piece of furniture – the prone chest upon which she could lounge, and the seated leg she could straddle while raising her hind end in presentation.
HB was always a little quirky. In addition to taking on the traditional Scottish Fold poses like the Buddha sit, she was the cat who had no interest in tuna, but we couldn’t de-stem spinach without having her nose in the pile, pulling leaves out to eat throughout the whole process. Her approach to playing was practically serpentine in nature, as she threw her head from right to left and back again as she targeted her “prey”. She had a delicate, almost mincing walk, and she’d pad down the hallway without the slink factor you usually attribute to felines. She particularly hated having her claws trimmed and we got her a ThunderShirt hoping it would help. It did make her easier to handle, but she basically went catatonic, stretching her limbs out straight and falling on her side like a fainting goat. She tended to spend the night sleeping under the bed – maybe she felt the bed itself was too crowded – and she’d wait there until she heard Steve starting to rouse, then she’d emerge for their morning greeting ritual that had her rolling on the carpet as he pet her.
The years passed in our four-cat household, with sometimes fiery tortie dynamics playing out between Queen Cassady, and the Princesses Elsa and HB. HB definitely understood that Cassady was the queen, and she respectfully awaited her coronation, while pestering Elsa and becoming fast friends with Ezra.
HB’s ascension to the throne was bittersweet for her, I think, as it came just a few short months before Ezra passed away. She grieved for Ezra and, we thought, seemed a little lonely in what had gone from a four-cat pride to a solo enterprise over the course of 15 months. I took comfort in her presence in those months as we grieved together.
A few months later, and with a vacancy at the inn, that long-standing Scottish Fold alert I had reactivated pinged again, and we started a new pride that would, at one time, consist of HB, Missy, Fergus, and Jonas. Those relationships were not always entirely peaceful, or perhaps as comforting to HB as we’d hoped they’d be, but she continued to rule the kingdom, taking on a 16-pound Jonas with her 7-pound self and an assertive slap-slap-slap when he got too rambunctious.
After Missy passed away, we made a promise to HB that she would rule the house without having to deal with putting another cat into place in the hierarchy. We have held strong and kept that promise in spite of many temptations over the last 3 and a half years.
We used to let the old crew outside into the yard for sunbathing in a small pen and supervised exploration on nice weekends, and this special privilege remained extended to HB even as it was not granted to the new crew. The boys are much too timid to actually want it anyway, they just think they do because they know it’s something special that only HB gets.
HB used to be one of the more challenging cats to keep track of outside because she liked to wander a bit more than the others, and would quickly go from lounging in the sun to trotting down the sidewalk the second your attention was diverted. That roaming tendency has subsided over the last few years, replaced with a preference to roll in the dirt and find a quiet place to doze in sunbeam or on the sun-warmed sidewalk leading up to the house, content in the peace and quiet that came from knowing Jonas and Fergus weren’t about roll over her while wrestling each other.
HB and I grew closer over the last few years, and I was frequently deemed suitable as cat furniture, pushing my laptop aside so she could sit on my lap. This last summer, she and I spent some extremely quality Sunday afternoons sitting outside in the sun. This ritual was not just expected by her; it came to be demanded, with her padding up to the front door and loudly letting me know it was time to go out around 3:30 every Sunday afternoon.
More and more frequently, and more and more quickly upon getting outside, she would come up to me where I sat in a hammock chair, give me her assertive, raspy chain-smoker squawk, and accept my invitation to hop up and sit on my lap. Those were extremely peaceful afternoons, relaxing with my hand on her, giving her ear scritches, and soaking up the warm sunshine together.
HB was never a big eater, and generally preferred a few bites of kibble over canned food. Getting calories into her grew more important as she got older and lost her middle-age weight, and I found that, if I approached her just right as she lounged in her favorite basket, she would often eat much of her serving of canned food, as long as I held the plate steady and at just the right height. Steve and I joked that she was like Buckbeak, and I had to approach her with a bow and an appropriate level of respect. I am proud to say that I had a fair amount of success in getting HB to accept my approach.
Old cats turn into geriatric cats very suddenly, and she careened around that corner hard in the last few weeks. She had surgery to remove a Mast Cell Tumor from her cheek at the beginning of January, the last of the scab just coming off yesterday, the incision perfectly healed. As pleased as we were with how well she came through, we were equally concerned when the vet found a swelling in her belly during the surgery. Diagnostic tests initially indicated that it was not cancer, and it’s still possible that particular swelling wasn’t. But the wait-and-see approach to the swelling in her belly was rapidly halted when we noticed her stomach starting to distend outward from her sides, and a rapid weight gain of almost a pound in less than 2 weeks even as she wasn’t eating much differently than she had been. Further tests revealed a build-up of fluid in response to multiple cancerous nodules throughout her abdomen. Efforts to stop the influx of fluids were unsuccessful, and, as though a pebble that was holding back an avalanche had been removed, other problems were amplified and previously balanced systems started to fail.
It has been very rainy the last several weeks, but we had a break in the weather over the last week, so we have been taking HB out every chance we got to sit peacefully in the sun, and enjoy that special respite that was hers alone.
HB was the last holdover from that early household configuration, the bridge between generations. She was royalty in two prides, stretching across time, our own little Queen B. Assertive, fussy, dainty, delicate, canny, and a bit of a bruiser all at the same time. Fergus has been a bit less patient than HB was in awaiting his coronation, and he will undoubtedly become the reigning monarch in the pride configurations yet to come. Although I know HB’s torch will be passed on, I can’t help but also feel that the matriarchal link between our family units has been broken.
Rest well, rest easy, HB. If there is an after, I’m sure you’ll find your good friend “uncle” Ezra waiting there for you.
Post Script – The Final Good-Bye
Waiting for the big appointment this morning, giving HB all the snuggles, we were touched by the delicate attention Fergus and, particularly, Jonas gave to HB. I didn’t get a photo of the time Jonas rested his paw on hers, or the moment when he rested his head gently on her haunches, but did catch it moments later, after she’d adjusted, when Jonas just laid near her quietly.
Then there was Fergus’ gentle touch of her fur.
There are a few possible explanations for this behavior, but I think they were saying their good-byes as well.
After, Steve and I went out to get a small bite to eat and found ourselves gazing on a rainbow.
Once again, we’re quietly going through and putting away various medications, readjusting routines, and removing certain accommodations we had made for the old lady.