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COMMENTARY : A Wild, Wonderful Gray Cat

December 23, 1990

I moved into a condominium complex up on North Lake Avenue in Altadena in 1984. My wife and I had two cats, a long-haired yellow cat and a short-haired yellow-and-white cat. She filed for divorce and moved out. Took the long-haired cat. I got the short-haired cat.

I tracked down an old friend of mine in Albuquerque. If I moved to Albuquerque, she said, we could do property management there. Bagged everything, loaded a small U-Haul with my clothes and got ready to move to Albuquerque.

But something was bothering me. My short-haired cat was used to having company . . . until my ex-wife left with the long-haired cat. So it seemed only sensible to me to get my cat a new companion.

There was a long-haired gray cat hanging around the condos. A wild cat. Nobody could get close to her. She stole whatever food she could. Hunted her own desserts.

I know. I know. Call me silly, but I thought she might make a good companion for my cat. So I got the U-Haul packed. Loaded my short-haired cat into the car. And then set out a bowl of cat food for the gray cat just inside my open sliding glass door. Then I left.

Sure enough, Gray Cat took the bait. She sniffed her way into the empty condo unit and chowed down. I snuck up, slid the door shut behind her, pulled on my leather coat and leather gloves and entered to claim my new pet.

I finally cornered the snarling, clawing, fanging, insane long-haired ball of fury and hatred, tossed her into my car, slid into the driver's seat and hit the road while she shredded everything in the back end of the car.

I spent the next year trying to teach Gray Cat how to be nice. I was nice to her. She took chunks out of my hide. She terrorized my short-haired cat. She could wake me from a sound sleep with a kamikaze attack on my foot just to let me know she didn't like me.

I finally tired of the old treat-'em-with-kindness technique about 2:30 one morning as I woke, screaming, trying to remove her fangs from my ankle.

That was it. I drop-kicked her across the apartment. Then I threw her against the wall to see if I had her attention. I screamed. I yelled. Then I opened the apartment door and screamed for her to get out of my life for good. I hoped she would get eaten by diseased dogs.

She slithered over, purred and rubbed against my bleeding leg.

She was kind of a funny cat. Skinny underneath all the long gray hair. All legs and elbows. And not very friendly. But she had personality.

I had no idea how old she was, but we spent the next five years in Albuquerque together. When I got home, she couldn't wait to get out. And when I'd leave, she'd go inside. My job got better. I got a used, dark gray BMW. And a blue suede collar with little diamonds on it for Gray Cat. Complete with matching blue tag. She looked positively domesticated.

Then, after five years in Albuquerque, I landed a sales job in California. Back to the U-Haul. Load it up, throw the cats into the car and hit the road.

I got an apartment, we got settled down, and I started my new job. I thought it might be neat to take Gray Cat back up to Altadena to see what sort of reaction she would have after having been gone from there for six years. I figured it might take her a minute or two to recognize the old place, yet I knew she would.

But she didn't get the chance.

The other night she started gagging. I took her to the vet. She X-rayed her and found out that her diaphragm had ruptured. She showed me where her intestines were clear up into her chest cavity. The only thing they could do, she said, was operate. She couldn't guarantee the operation. And it would cost about a thousand dollars to try it.

But this was the kicker: The vet showed me where Gray Cat had at least two previous operations. She had stitches inside her, from top to bottom. Two rows of them. "Looks like somebody else tried to fix her up before," the vet said. "You don't open up a cat completely along her belly like this unless you're going to do something major."

And they'd done it, twice.

I took Gray Cat home and tried something new. I spent a lot of time with her. I tried holding her up and shaking her to get things to settle back down into her belly like the vet said might happen. It didn't work.

She couldn't eat. She wouldn't drink. But she let me hold her. Sometimes. She just kept turning and moving, trying to get comfortable. Getting weaker and weaker. By the next morning she was limping. By that evening she was almost completely immobile. And she was hurting.

I took her out last night. I carried her around and showed her everything I could in our new apartment complex. The bushes she hid under. The cars she got grease on her hair from. Everything I could think of.

And I talked about old times. Told her I remembered how she tried to kill me when we first met. And about when she let other people actually pet her when she thought I wasn't looking. And I thanked her for having been such a great cat.

I took her to the vet this morning for the last time. I didn't think any of this was going to bother me. But it did.

I've been a wreck. I never had to put a pet to sleep before. I don't ever want to have to do that again. There's something about holding her, remembering all the good times, and watching her slip away that just tore me up.

So. That's what happened to Gray Cat.

And it wasn't until the last couple of days with her that I found out that somebody else spent a lot of time and a lot of money fixing her up before.

I don't know how old she was. Or even where she really came from. I found her in Altadena in 1984. I want her former owners to know she lived a wild, wonderful and rich life, and that she gave a lot of pleasure to me. More than I can say.

I want to thank them for fixing her up before. I wish I could have done the same for her. It was an honor and a privilege to have known her.

I miss her. Lots.

JAY BELFORD

Long Beach

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