We used to live on the banks of the Russian River in Northern California. It is still a place I long for, so beautiful and magical that a sharp intake of breath accompanies the recollection. The river was an old, winding one, cutting between a lush growth of trees and foliage. We lived in a large cabin-type home, with only a small gas heater to keep us cozy. The door to this cabin had a small window cutout so you could look out of the glass to see who was on your porch – not one of the tiny things that work one-way –this one gave a pretty good view in both directions.
A Winter Visitor
One particularly icy Christmas season, we hung a wreath over the glass window on that door. My two sons and I were usually in the family room where the heater resided and where we were huddled on our evenings together, trying to stay reasonably warm, usually not succeeding to any great degree. This was the room with the windowed-door. I remember clearly looking up at the sound of a small cry, and seeing this little orange kitty hanging from the wreath, looking longingly into that cozy, primitive room. It was the little kit-kat that I had seen hanging about the mountain for sometime, seemingly independent. (We had a porch railing that went on the other side of the walkway between our front door and the river, as did most of the cabins on the mountain; the cat had evidently walked up the railing and jumped onto the wreath.) This one had a reputation. I had heard tales about him, that he followed one little boy after another home and was so cute that the mother would let him in, only to toss him out on his ear when he did something very uncivilized. It was a rough neighborhood, with lots of large-breed dogs roaming about at will, some fast traffic rushing by the narrow road, and all the hazards of a mountain or hill terrain– snakes, critters, little boys.
Unknown to me at the time was a duplicity between my eldest son and this cat. My son had removed the screen from his bedroom window and was sneaking food to the cat. We were a vegetarian family so I am sure the cat was not particularly pleased, but I had seen him fishing down by the river with his paws, catching small prey with a keen eye. He was not your finicky type. I think by this time, Slinx (we later found out his name) had worn out his welcome all over the mountain and his options were getting extremely limited. This funny little house on stilts above the river was probably starting to look pretty appealing to him.
I could not bear to see this tiny little creature out in the cold on his own. When I opened that door, little did I realize what would come in along with him and the gust of wind that followed him; Slinx lived with us longer than we lived with one another. He died in my arms after twenty years of loving every minute of his life. Where some cats would leave the occasional dead bird or bug on your doorstep, Slinx would drag home a squirrel. In fact, he had a long-term battle with the squirrel that lived in the tree that grew through our deck. The boys were leaving cashews and other deluxe nuts for the squirrel on that porch railing I mentioned so he pretty much spent a lot of time in that tree. But Slinx considered it his territory, so the two of them would go at it: the squirrel would screech and toss things at the cat, and Slinx would dart up the tree and twitch his tail. (I think they really appreciated each other, though, because this went on for many moons; but they had to keep up appearances after all.)
One day, Slinx simply disappeared. We thought he might have been hit by a car. We hunted for him, called for him, walked around the mountain, but could not find a trace of him anywhere. Then one day, he showed up on our doorstep with his front leg in a very professionally made cast, acting as if nothing had happened. We once again took him in and he once again made himself at home – his home, as he had tried to tell us. Later, I ran into an old boyfriend in town. It came to light that Slinx was an abandoned kitty; my friend had found him with a broken leg and had taken him to the vet, thinking he was still homeless. Once he was in his cast, he had hobbled off with no sign of where he had gone; he was indeed an independent type. My friend was relieved we were taking him in and refused any recompense for his expense. He said that the cat’s name was Slinx and that he was an amazing animal. He was glad he was ours.
When we moved, Slinx moved with us. He lived long enough to spend time with Brittney and Jesse, the next generation down, and became a fixture in their early lives. He was a tough Tom but very gentle with all children. He adapted to life in a condo, although he loved being outdoors. When we lived in the Ojai Valley in southern California, he disappeared once again. Luckily in this area we had a large amount of undeveloped land around us. I was searching the open land, calling for Slinx, when I ran into a man who was doing the same, searching for his cat. He later told me that his cat was trying to take the Alpha cat title from Slinx, to no avail; but not to worry, they were moving, so Slinx could be dominant male once again– without challenge. Meanwhile, we found our bad boys, with nasty bites in their sides, helped support our local vet, and went on our way.
The Warrior Leaves
Slinx lived a good long life. He disappeared for the third time in his golden years and was gone for two days. I made up colored flyers and posted them all over the alleyway, with photos of the little children holding him and pleas for information for this family member. He came home within an hour of the posters going up; I am sure that some kind soul thought this dog-eared cat was homeless, or he had been uncivilized again. He made friends more than most people. The last place I lived with him did not leave him much space for the outdoor life he seemed to need, but he made the best of it. There was an alley behind my condo near the beach that had a lot of traffic, since it led to a small grocery store and strip mall. When Slinx finally died, I was amazed at how many people stopped me and asked where he was. A grandfather with his little granddaughter used to walk by and talk to him; a homeless man was leaving him food that was better than what he was consuming himself. A woman in an SUV got out of her car to inquire about the orange cat – where was he? The neighbors, kids, young adults, teens….Slinx had touched a lot of lives, not least of all those in our family.
I have heard it said that animals will crawl off on their own to die. But that was not my experience with Slinx. His last night, he would try to crawl after me if I left his side for a second to use the restroom; I finally slept on the kitchen floor with him, which seemed to be where he was the coolest and most comfortable. I took him to the vet the next morning, but he appeared to be losing his battle for life. I had taken him outside the day before, and he rallied slightly, raising his little head and putting his nose into the air, trying to take in one more taste of life. I did not want to have to take one second from his life, nor did I want him to suffer. But Slinx was a warrior to the end, and as I waited for the vet to see us, he let go. I was surprised by the amount of grief I felt. In fact, I have tears running down my face as I write this, and he has been gone for more than a decade.
A Member of the Family, Forever
So, don’t tell me animals are not individuals, do not have feelings, or personalities, or have an impact, or a mission. Slinx found a single mom with two troubled kids and nurtured us for all of his life. I think if you asked my sons what they remember from their childhood, Slinx would be one of the first and best of their memories. He found us; all I had to do was open the door.
*I believe in indoor cats and now have one; Slinx was part feral and never took to the indoor life. FYI.
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