I’ve been debating whether or not to post about the death of my cat, Buddy. In general, I have a big internal debate ooh, about once a week, about whether or not I should put more personal material up here. Who’d be interested? Is it right to write about something like this on a site which is primarily there to get people to read my books? Am I exploiting him, even?
But seeing as Buddy appears in pretty much every biography of me floating about there in the infosphere, and simply because I want to, I figured I should.
Buddy was a Norwegian Forest Cat. You can check out his personal statistics here. Forest Cats are striking beasts, the second largest domestic moggy after Maine Coons. Buddy was our second, after the first, Charlie, was killed by a car.
Charlie was awesome. My wife wanted a cat, against my better judgement. We saw him in a shelter. He was asleep, all the others were yowling. I’m not a cat person, they piss me off, really, so I suggested this striking looking beast to my wife mostly for his silence. He changed my opinion of moggies. He was a magnificent, somewhat aloof but fundamentally affectionate creature. He was much-loved. I suppose Charlie was a kind of child surrogate for us, our training animal, if you will, before we reproduced. Having a cat and a kid are universes apart, of course, but there was something in the way that Emma and I bonded over Charlie that prepared us emotionally for having a baby.
He was hapless, comedically so. He couldn’t miaow properly, only manage a pathetic “app! app!” One night, he came home covered in oil. Have you ever tried to douse a cat in detergent and hose it down in a bath? I’d leave it off your bucket list. Another day, he disappeared. I looked all over for him, following the sound of frantic miaowing, only to discover that he had become sealed under the floorboards by our plumber. I had to cut a hole in the ceiling to release him. Idiot.
Charlie was run over a few weeks before our son Benny was born. I remember the night well. I was deep in a dream where I saw lots of Charlie-faces spinning around in a bright light, before they withdrew into the distance. A great sense of peace suffused me. A loud bang brought me to, the sound, I am convinced, of Charlie being hit by the car that killed him, which then hit a kerb. I saw it towed away from the scene the following morning, although I never found out who was driving. I’ve had a number of odd things happen to me in my life, and I’ve part convinced myself that the dream was Charlie saying goodbye. Nonsense in all probability, but I like to tell stories, not least to myself.
My heavily pregnant wife was distraught. I mean, weeping for days on end traumatised. Perhaps rashly, I sought another cat of the same breed. Buddy was procured. Alas, the relationship was to be different, for Buddy reminded me of why cats and I do not get on.
Buddy hid under our sofa for the first three days. He had problems with his eyes – congentially malformed tear-ducts, it transpired – which the rascally breeder told me came from kitten-fighting, but I think he knew better. Well, I made noises about Buddy being an indoor cat, but as Buddy spent his first months of life endlessly smacking the door and whining to be let out, my intentions were not matched by actuality. I guess we’re even.
Whining was something Buddy was especially good at. He had a miaow like a small troll being drowned in an egg-cup. It was horrible. Buddy’s miaow could cut through quartz. He’d miaow for food, get fed, piss off, then reappear at various junctures throughout the day. Usually the most stressful, like when Benny was ill, or the shopping had arrived, or we’d all just come in through the door dripping wet and covered in mud, or I had just sat down to eat. Then he’d miaow to be let out. I later discovered that he went round many houses, asking for snacks. “Ooh, he’s yours is he?” said one lady to my wife. “He loves pilchards, doesn’t he?”
Did he now? News to me. I also goggled at “Oh, he’s such a lap cat!” relayed after Buddy had been to stay at a cattery. “Are we talking about the same cat?” I said, in some amazement.
Buddy was called Buddy because he was the “B” litter of his dam. Breeders do that kind of thing, it’s a label. Usually, the new owner changes the name. I didn’t. “Bitey” would have been more appropriate. Buddy was a deeply ironic handle. He’d lie on his back, purr, make all the usual “Come and give me a tickle” cat noises, allow precisely three seconds petting before sinking two to four sets of claws into your arm and, often as not, his teeth.
I’d be the first to admit that Buddy’s life was harder than Charlie’s. He went from being the centre of attention to being sidelined as our son was born – the advent, as we called it on his behalf, of “That pink thing.” We were half-dead, rebuilding a house, we little time for anything. The house, I say house, but I mean building site, became infested with fleas, as did he (I remember hunting them with a torch in the dark, and surprising only what I can call a carpet worm waving around horribly out of the crappy carpet left by the previous owner in a revolting, miniature re-enactment of Dune.) Later, he was run over, and expensively rebuilt. He got better, returning to his normal life of miaowing horribly and murdering enormous numbers of the local wildlife. An equilibrium was reached, of sorts. He and I became frenemies.
And then I decided to buy the world’s third largest dog, or “That fucking dog” as we called Magnus, on Buddy’s behalf.
Malamutes eat cats, sometimes. Not if they’re socialised to them, I hasten to say, as Magnus diligently was, but Magnus required a shitload of attention. Mainly because he deposited loads of shit all over the floor, as puppies do. In disgust, Buddy went off to fend for himself. The local rabbits will tell you, in hushed and terrified tones, he was rather good at this, devouring their children as snacks in between his six packets of catfood a day. Miaow.
Nevertheless, as Magnus grew, Buddy and he developed a special relationship. When observed, they’d chase or bate each other. But left alone, you’d see them sleeping side by side, or flick the light on to see the dog disturbingly wuffling the purring cat’s belly. They’d look up at you in surprise, as if caught at… something.
Magnus misses Buddy, I think, he seems a little sad, and more scroungy than usual. He’s comfort bin-raiding. Although if I’m honest, I don’t miss the regular bouts of diarrhea Magnus got from scarfing Buddy’s catfood when I wasn’t looking.
On September 29th, when I was at Games Day, I rang my wife to tell her I was coming home, only to hear that Buddy had come in covered in his own faeces. My wife cleaned him up and, as is standard practise for cats with upset tummies in our house, sent him to sleep in the garage until better. Sadly, this proved to be no passing illness. Two days later, he began to smell of urine, so I took him to the vets. There he was diagnosed with a kidney infection, and given an injection. This perked him up, and he, deeply offended at having the still filthy bits of his fur shaved off, disappeared for four days. He missed his follow-up appointment, but as I told the vet, he was a lot better.
He wasn’t. He was dying.
I found him sleeping in odd corners – in the garage, in a compost bin, in a hedge. For two days saw nothing of him, not at the house. My youngest brother was getting married, we were distracted, and had to go away. We came back to our neighbour telling us that Buddy had barely eaten anything, a very unusual state of affairs. He went from licking the jelly off his meat (which he used to do if given affordable catfood, rather than the platinum-coated guinea fowl he preferred), to eating nothing. He was getting thinner and thinner. He came home, and slept on the landing almost constantly for three days. Again he went to the vets. They sent him straight off to hospital.
On Saturday 26th October he was put to sleep, suffering from incurable pancreatitis and a host of other conditions. He had half a litre of fluid in his abdomen, his liver was packing up. There was no hope.
My wife went to see him off. She was again inconsolable. At least Buddy went the way he lived. His last act on this Earth was to sink his claws into the nurse’s fingers.
As you’ll know if you read this blog, I’ve had a busy year. My career’s warming up in the sense that I’m getting a lot of work, but not enough money to turn any of it down. My wife lost her job earlier this year and became a freelancer, the result is that both of us work stupid hours, trying to cram in our respective jobs around caring for a five year-old boy. (Or atomic-powered alien changeling, as I think he must surely be).
I can’t help but think that if I were less stressed out, less invested in my work, then I might have noticed Buddy was sick sooner, and paid more attention after his first trip to the vets. Maybe I even wishfully hoped he wasn’t very ill. I have been assured that cats – being finickity eaters, often staying away from home for days anyway, and hiding when they are seriously ill – don’t make it easy for people to heal them, and that had I brought him in earlier, there would have been little to be done. But even so… Who knows?
Buddy was five and a half, very young for his kind. Cats can live a long time, but a great many of them don’t. If I had no dog, and no child, it would have been different. If it were in Charlie’s day, I’d have noticed sooner. But Buddy was never going to get that same level of loving. Our priorities shift, and when our genes lock into those of another, and spool themselves out into someone new, who with urgency howls endless alarms for food and warmth and cleansing, cats become well… They just become cats. It is for our benefit we keep pets, and not theirs.
And he was a pain. A fucking huge, hairy pain in the arse. That miaow rings in my ears still. He’d lie in the road in front of cars until bodily shifted. He fought other cats, ate his own body weight in the most expensive cat food, tarted himself about the neighbourhood like a cheap floozy, dragged in half the countryside and left it scattered around the house, roamed away for days on end until we were sick with worry, and enjoyed provoking next door’s already infuriatingly barky dogs into barking some more. He couldn’t groom himself. He was arrogant, pushy, and slyly vicious.
But he was our huge, hairy pain in the arse. I expected him to be around when I was fifty-five, dozing in the sun next to my desk, quiet finally. He had such presence, and real spirit. You’d see him on the hill, large as a tiger in the grass, stalking something small, crunchy, and very close to the end of its life. He was, in every way, a proper damned cat. He drove me insane, but I loved him for it anyway.
So I raise a glass to you Buddy, and will fondly imagine you in some kind of cat heaven, being fed the most expensive of catfoods, and biting the fingers of angels.