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November 1, 2009
Taking Off the Tuxedo
Our “tuxedo” kitty arrived on the farm in 1993 with all the accoutrements of an especially loved cat: a soft bed, scratching post, litter box, collar with bell, self dispensing food and water dishes, expensive diet. Her owner was moving and could not keep her after two years of luxurious indoor living. So black and white Bobbie Sox would become a barn cat. No collar, special diet, entertainment center or scratching post were necessary. All her stuff was put up in the hay loft to make her feel “at home” where she initially walked out of her cat carrier, and I don’t think she ever looked at it or touched it again. She gazed about her new surroundings, flexed her muscles and disappeared into the hay. Freedom was at hand (or four white paws).
She chose not to be particularly social; she kept away from the other farm cats, and kept her loft kingdom to herself. Even when called, she would not come quickly like the other cats. She stayed aloof and formal in her interactions. I would climb into the loft to fetch hay bales, and give her a daily ration of cat kibble, and I’d glance into the hay stack to find her. She would be generally on her throne on top of the stack, looking down at me with curiosity, her yellow eyes a reflective flash from her black face, her stark white bib bright in the semi-darkness of the loft. She would wait until I was gone to come down to eat her fill. I don’t recall ever touching her soft black fur coat that first year—she always stayed at arm’s length, regal in her demeanor and her dress.
Over the ensuing years, as other cats came and went, Bobbie Sox was a constant. She ventured more often from her hay loft perch, helping to keep the rodent population under control. Occasionally, I’d see her sharing her food dish with her peasant feline companions in the barn. She would talk more often to me when I came to the barn, and every once in awhile, she would come up and rub on my legs as I did chores. Her formality started to soften and her personality blossomed.
Sixteen years have passed since Bobbie’s arrival. This past year she showed her age for the first time, becoming a bit thinner, and showing signs that she wasn’t able to keep up her self-grooming. Her tuxedo coat started to mat in places, and her clean white bib began to show stains she could no longer reach to lick clean. Her bright yellow eyes began to cloud with cataracts. She didn’t respond as quickly to sounds. She seemed to forget her reticence to be touched. Bobbie began to accept and give love.
Yesterday, as I climbed into the loft, I did not see her peeking at me from her usual perch. Instead, she lay on the floor, a little black shadow tucked up against a hay bale. Her body lay still and flat, deflated, eyes partially closed, white bib blemished and yellowed. She had gone for good during the night, leaving her little tuxedo suit behind.
We will bury her today on a little hill overlooking the barn loft throne she occupied for so many years. We have wrapped her little body carefully in a soft blanket and will lay her gently in earth still warm from the autumn sunshine.
And now, truly, freedom is at hand and at the feet of her four little white socked paws.