Sunday, January 10, 2016

Kitty Rex

On 29 November 2014, I met Kitty Rex at the Pat Brody Shelter for Cats.

Kitty Rex had been brought to the shelter when his previous staff, an older woman, had passed away. His background information was scant: 15-17 years old, one home, always an indoor cat. He was given a vet check and kept in the quarantine area for one month, before joining one of the groups in the adoption rooms.

The cats at the Pat Brody Shelter are not in crates; they share large rooms filled with things to climb on, things to get inside of, cozy sleeping spots, windows with an interesting view, and cat-sized doors leading to large, safely enclosed decks which are also designed with cat entertainment and comfort in mind. Visiting the shelter and spending time with the cats both in the big rooms and outside on the decks is a pleasant experience.

One of the lovely outdoor areas

When I visited, Kitty Rex had been in one of the group rooms for just a short time; I think it was only a few days. He was very thin and quiet; not opposed to attention but not seeking it. Whatever his previous life had been like, his world had been turned upside down in recent weeks. He was extremely fortunate to have landed with the wonderful, caring Pat Brody Shelter volunteers, but it had nevertheless been change upon change for a very mature cat. He came home with me that day, in a borrowed carrier and with his own luggage: a package of his favorite treats, a personal handmade blanket and a fat catnip snake provided by his friends at the shelter.

Kitty Rex unpacked his catnip snake right away

When we met, Kitty Rex had a different name, provided by the person who had brought him to the shelter. Maybe it had been his name for 15 years, but if so, he apparently decided to take this opportunity to make a change. From the moment he arrived, he ignored that name totally but would respond brightly to a simple "kitty," as in, "Where's that Kitty?" when I came back in from outdoors.

And he may have been an indoor cat for his entire previous life, but I doubt it. Or maybe he was ready for a change there, too. Despite all that deep snow last winter, Kitty Rex would often make it clear that he would like to have a little look outside, from the back doorstep.

But just in case Kitty Rex would prefer to be an indoor cat, when the porch project was underway last December I asked the carpenter to make slightly wider-than-usual windowsills.
"How wide?" he asked.

This wide.

Although I would have been perfectly content if Kitty Rex had decided to spend all his days snoozing and relaxing, he chose to adopt a "work hard/nap hard" approach to life. And it was on one of his earliest visits to the barnyard that Kitty Rex revealed his name.

I was working in the barn paddock when all the goats suddenly froze, staring at one point near the house. I looked up quickly, expecting to see a moose, a fox, a coyote....

What I saw was a little orange cat, walking along, paying no attention to the goats whatsoever. My goats have seen cats before, without this "Predator Alert! It's a Lion!" response. It was very surprising. I said, "My word, Kitty, you seem to be the new King who rules Goat World! You must be Kitty Rex!"

Kitty Rex began to accompany me on morning and evening chores, every day. He directed the garden preparation in Spring and the planting and weeding in Summer. He supervised every one of my carpentry projects and the recent installation of the new hay feeders. And he always, always kept the daily barn chores from becoming tedious. This is a big job, this chore-tedium-prevention, and it takes a big character to do it.

Although he usually stayed in the house unless I was outside, Kitty Rex had his own little door providing access during daylight hours to the fenced area (there's a reason my perimeter fence has always been 6 feet high and 2x4" mesh). I would occasionally catch a flash of golden-red through a window, and know that Kitty Rex had decided to enjoy a bit of fresh air. I'd sometimes see him stretching up to sharpen his claws on a tree trunk or heading purposefully for a certain spot near a pile of stones where a mouse or chipmunk might recklessly appear.

Soon afterward I would hear the sound of the cat door opening as Kitty Rex returned, for a snack and a beverage and perhaps a nap. He selected napping and observation spots in every room, and sometimes accepted my efforts to make them more comfortable. Because although he gained a little weight over time, Kitty Rex was still an older kitty with very little padding.

But even if he was sound asleep when I headed outside for my usual routines, it was very rare - I'm not sure it ever happened - that Kitty Rex did not appear while I was in the paddocks or barns.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter - rain or shine - anytime I was out doing chores I could look up from the wheelbarrow or the water buckets and say, "Where's Kitty Rex?" and in a moment see those fox ears rise up from amongst the summer ferns, or spot a silhouette quietly observing from a nearby vantage point as the moon rose on a Winter evening. And when chores were done, I would say, "Shall we go in?" And sometimes in wet or cold weather Kitty Rex would allow me to pick him up and warm his cold feet in my hand on the way to the house, but mostly he would become impatient with even this brief coddling, and would insist on being back on the ground - or the snow, or the ice - leading the way.


In November and December, after a sudden series of visits to veterinarians and specialists, we began a daily program of at-home medication which made possible a comfortable and active life for several weeks.

And on 6 January 2016, a gentle, caring veterinarian eased Kitty Rex's passing while I held that orange head in my hands, and thanked Kitty Rex for choosing to share every day of chores, every day of working in the gardens. Every day of a perfect year.

I have taken hundreds of photographs of Kitty Rex, but I always felt that he was a self-contained and private creature, very interested in the photographic process, but not at all interested in being the photographic subject. I rarely felt that one of my images represented the true Kitty Rex. I believe this may be my most successful portrait:


Since Wednesday, I have pondered whether it would feel right to share these images and write about Kitty Rex. Here's why, this morning, I decided to do it:

If even one of my readers is ever thinking about adopting a cat or cats - and if Kitty Rex had made a friend at the shelter I absolutely would have adopted them both together - I would like to gently suggest that you consider not just the kittens and youngsters, but also the older cats. They may have a shorter time to share your world, but what a world of joy they can bring in the time they share.

Fare you well, Kitty Rex.