Kali, the Feisty Cat: an Elegy

We had to put down our feisty cat recently.

Kali was 21.5 years old, a feral native of O’ahu.

She and I had a love-hate relationship. Everyone else in the family loved her.

The only cat our daughter every knew, the whip-thin, yowling tortoiseshell Kali survived and reinvented herself at least four times.

Hawai’i

I chose her out of a litter box at the Honolulu Humane Society.

As my family liked to point out, I couldn’t complain about not getting a kitten because I selected a “teenage” cat.

Owing to the animal quarantine issues then in place, we’d had to leave behind our terrific 16 year-old cat, Cleo (with friends). We’d been petless for more than two years.

The children were excited.

Kali–rhymes with “pali” the Hawai’ian word for cliffs– fit right in. Confident, proud, efficient and oblivious to anyone’s feelings, she soon captured our attention.

She climbed palm trees,  escaped marauding moongooses (I know, but the dictionary says so), walked on the roof and slept with one child or another.

Her feisty personality became obvious and this cat prefered to vex me.

Other people could feed her, why did she constantly yowl at me?

Interlude–or a summer in Los Angeles

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Kali on the move–always

When my husband retired from the Navy, we returned to the mainland where we spent the summer traveling.

Kali stayed with my brother and his family.

Cowed by the trauma of riding in the luggage hold of an airplane, she behaved in a reasonable manner that summer. At least they never complained–but maybe they never saw her?

A small town in northern California

We bought a house surrounded by acreage in northern California and Kali was in her element.

She hunted small rodents in the yard, avoided wild turkeys and quickly learned to climb to the rooftop to escape our new dog.

One torturous night when I had a 4 am wake up call the next morning, she slipped through the open door with a bird she’d found somewhere.

I woke, heart racing, to squawking and thumping.

Finally, I dragged Kali out from under the bed and took her to my husband working late on the computer.

He locked her in the garage, retrieved the bird and set it free.

An hour later the two returned, thumping, squawking and chasing through our bedroom.

My husband apologized and locked Kali in the bathroom–where she yowled.

It was a tough drive to San Francisco the next morning.

Kali also developed an uncanny knack for finding–under her paw, can you imagine?–the hamster, Phil, every time he escaped.

A city in northern California

After four years in the wilds, we returned to suburbia.

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The only cat my daughter ever had.

Kali adapted with the blink of a yellow eye.

More birds to catch–these of the plump and stupid kind–raccoons to avoid and a picket fence to travel.

Neighborhood cats threatened, squirrels chirruped from the trees and then we got a Gordon Setter who liked nothing better than to point her out.

(My husband always disappointed the dog because he never shot the cat).

She didn’t climb on that high roof much, but she did get sealed into the wall when we remodeled the bathroom.

(When the builder stopped by that night, we asked, “how do get our cat out of the wall?”

(He laughed, until we took him to the bathroom and he heard the crying. A man seldom without words, Jim’s jaw dropped.

(Our daughter coaxed her out from under the house–which was how she had gotten in).

Kali put up–grudgingly–when our son’s cat came to stay for nine months. Shadow remained an indoor cat locked in a room while Kali roamed.

One son often woke in the night to find Kali perched beside hamster Phil III’s cage, keeping watch, just in case.

(Phil III disappeared one night, never to be seen again).

The children all peeled away to college from that house and Kali was stuck patrolling for a comfortable bed to share.

She often ended up with my husband and me. He loved having her.

That’s because Kali always wanted to sleep on my feet, next to my pillow, in my face, or across my chest.

I didn’t like it and regularly shoved her off the bed.

The final house

One summer all the children and grandchildren but a handful returned–along with Shadow the other cat–to live.

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It helped the dog was blind in this photo.

Kali gratefully escaped with us to the new house.

Here she sat in the sun, put up with obnoxious blue jays who liked to pick on her, and guarded the catnip from pirating neighbor cats.

Our veterinarian niece advised special food for her delicate stomach as she ended her teens.

While picking up that expensive food, I purchased a special “aged cat” food to help her joints.

Kali liked the food designed for “elderly cats over 12 years,” and soon showed signs of friskiness once more.

I’d hear the blue jays going wild outside, dive bombing the feisty cat.

(It finally occurred to me they probably had a nearby nest).

One day, however, the cries became more hysterical than ever.

A muttering Kali ran through the open door and up the stairs.

She surprised me–I didn’t think she could move that fast anymore.

But above my head I heard a thump, a smash, and screaming blue jays at the windows.

When I followed the noise, I found a gummed-to-death blue jay beside my side of the bed.

I didn’t know to be proud or horrified; the twenty-year old Kali had successfully hunted once more.

Why do pets die?

Kali reached her end a few weeks ago, and I admit, I cried.

She was one of ten aged pets my friends and I have lost in the last three months.

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Kali loved beds–and getting down from them!

We all cried and mourned those companions.

Perhaps having a pet with a much shorter life gives us perspective on our own lives.

Have I lived the life I’ve been given to the fullest?

Our feisty cat flew over an ocean and moved from house to house.

Kali loved her kids fiercely, and in recent months wanted nothing more than to sit beside one of her boys and watch him work on his laptop.

She’d often lounge on his lap and watch the cursor move.

A pet who dies prepares all of us for death–that is especially true for our children.

The sadness a child experiences losing a pet means tears and questions, but it helps them process life.

Talking about our cat, our dogs, our hamsters, prepares us for the big conversations that will inevitably come.

That’s important.

Rest in peace, oh feisty Kali.

I may have complained about you–just as you yowled about me–but I always admired your independent spirit.

You loved my family well. And we–all of us–loved you, too.

Thank you.

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