Smokey in better days in 2009, expressing her displeasure at being photographed asleep
Her first night out of the pound I don’t think she slept. Yowled all night long. Smokey made one aware of her presence. It was one of the endearing qualities of one of the smartest, most personable, and grayest cats I’ve ever known.
For 21 years she let us know where she was. Uncharacteristically, perhaps, she left us quietly Saturday at 5:32 p.m. Kidney failure.
She fought for life so long as she could. Last Monday she ate a great breakfast. Then she stopped eating, cold. She stopped drinking Tuesday. We had her into the veterinarian, and blood tests confirmed that her long-time kidney disease had taken hold. No function showed up. Other than that, the only outward sign was a little more crankiness (as a cranky cat, she was legendary). So we made the hard decision, and made an appointment to put her down Thursday.
Thursday afternoon, on her clock, she came to life big time. She fought going into the carrier and wailed as loudly as ever all the way to the vet’s office. Another family was struggling with a terminally-ill pet, so there was delay. Smokey’s wails were disturbing others, so we let her out of the carrier, and she headed right for the door.
Going gently? “Get out of my way,” she seemed to be saying. “I’ll go at home, or take somebody else with me.” At the vet’s office, she’s famous for fighting “procedures,” one of those cats who had to be muzzled on occasion.
We let her have her way, and brought her home.
Two years earlier, she fought a nearly-fatal infection. Kathryn and I (mostly Kathryn) had to inject her with saline solution twice a day to get her hydrated enough just to hang on. Her kidney function showed late-term renal disease, then. The prognosis: Perhaps two months. But as soon as she got hydrated, she beat the infection and sprang back to life.
A more self-confident cat I’ve never met. Cats’ tails go up when they feel good and secure. For the first 18 years of her life that tail never fell below full sail. She never met another cat she liked, which created some conflict with the older, gentler rescue cat she joined and the younger, meeker rescue cat who came along later. Smokey got along with the dogs. They were bigger, more appropriate for her ego.
She was a cat of many names.
Smokey came from the local animal pound, a hoped-to-be companion for a cat rescued from the side of the road. She was smoke gray from nose to tail — even her lips and foot pads. “Smokey” was a natural name, and Kenny suggested it. James, just one at the time, had some difficulty with the name. “Bokey” stuck as a nickname, turned to “Pokey” for her habit of yowling to have a door opened, and then pausing, half through the doorway, to ponder several things. Then “Pokes,” and “Poquito,” and “Pokesalot.”
Compared to the longer-haired cats especially, she was sleek. Finely muscled, she could have been the model for what a good, lean cat should look like. Each muscle was well exercised. There was no high place she would not attempt to get to, and no impossible balancing act she would not attempt earning the awe and jealousy of the Wallendas. “Sleek and gray” was a name she’d answer to — “Fink and gray” when she took to knocking stuff off our dressers to get us up at her preferred rising, at 4:30 or 5:00 every morning. On weekends, or any day we wanted to sleep late, she’d get on the bed and gently tap a nose until she got a reaction. Sometimes she’d lick a nose (“kitty kisses”). Once she bit me. Once was enough for her — she went back to gentle taps. Very smart cat.
We resolved to keep the cats indoors, both for their protection and for the protection of the birds who visit the yard. Within a year Smokey began making runs at the open door. Astonishingly we avoided a broken or clamped-off tail, or broken ribs. Finally she made a dash with several yards to build up speed, and by the time she could stop she stood in the middle of the street. Calmly, she strode back to the curb, tail up, and proceeded to groom herself. We couldn’t catch her. After an hour, she yowled to come in. So she made herself an indoor-outdoor cat.
Of course she had to wear a bell, as lithe and fast as she was she posed a great threat to smaller birds. But she learned how to shed her collar, and got it down to a record 30 minutes. Once she figured out we’d put the collar back on when we found it, she took to ditching the collars where they couldn’t be found.
Bird deaths tapered off, fortunately. We were grateful for her hunting prowess when she made it a personal mission to rid the neighborhood of rats who had tried to move in. It took her almost a month to get the family of rats under the shed — one by one — but within a summer the neighborhood was safe for squirrels and other more friendly rodents. Soon after that, she stopped hunting. The rats never returned.
For the past two summers, blue jays brought their offspring to see Smokey lying in the sun on the patio, teaching them that this was one cat they didn’t need to fear. After a few months of that, Smokey stopped even glaring at them. It was almost as if they were visits from old friends, sort of a Blue and Gray reunion after the conflict.
The last year was tough. Arthritis in her hips slowed her. We rescued another cat from the pound, and true to form Smokey took an immediate disliking to Luna. To avoid Luna, Smokey retreated to the back parlor, generally off limits to pets but blocked only by a child gate — which Smokey quickly learned to climb. As the arthritis affected her more, we put a step stool on one side, a concession she took to immediately.
Smokey enjoying the sun from indoors, with pansies. It’s not an easy sill for a cat to balance on — Smokey would balance, and fall asleep.
The affair at the vet’s office Thursday was her last great show of will. One thinks cats know they are dying. Smokey would meet death on her terms, thank you very much. By Friday she was clearly unable to walk or stand well. Saturday Kathryn sat with her on the dining room floor. When she wasn’t sleeping, Smokey would meow. A stroke or two from Kathryn and she’d go back to sleep. She had refused water until Friday night, but then started taking a little sips from a syringe.
Kathryn ran errands about 4:00 p.m., and I checked that Smokey was sleeping. About 5:00 she woke up, wanted water, and looked around for Kathryn. Kathryn returned a few minutes later, and Smokey relaxed, and breathed a last time.
A companion for more than two decades insinuates herself in ways one doesn’t even recognize. Saturday night I turned off the kitchen lights to head to bed, and instinctively looked into the parlor to say goodnight to Smokey. Sunday morning I got up to make coffee, and looked to see if Smokey wanted out. I would have sworn she batted my nose this morning to wake me up, but no cat even close.
Sometime in the next few months I’ll take out a pair of pants or a coat, and notice it’s covered with Smokey’s gray fur. At some point she used it for a pad, perhaps. I’ll have to decide whether to clean the thing, or keep it as a reminder of our longtime friend.