Sunday, April 4, 2010

A belated ode to Chico, a Steveston cat

From my past ramblings, you can probably guess that I am an ailurophile.

Believe it or not, it didn't start out that way. At one point, I was a self-proclaimed dog lover and habitually extolled such incontrovertible canine virtues as loyalty, patience, affection, and courage in the face of danger.

Cats, on the other hand, are known for their fickleness, disdain for human frailties, pathological aloofness and, except for a few documented cases, would would be the first ones to flee a burning building.

Some cat fanciers fool themselves into taking these qualities as signs of intelligence. I personally think they are just manifestations of the cat’s hyper developed instinct to watch out for number one.

But when we picked out Chico from the litter in what used to be Richmond Mall's Pet Habitat, drawn as we were to his perky ears, oversized paws, and confident stride, we didn’t know how quickly he could make us switch allegiance from one set of paws to another.

Chico as a kitten

Throughout his all-too-brief stay with us, Chico never ceased to amaze us with his:

* Spunkiness – confronting raccoons that occasionally strayed into our backyard was a welcome nocturnal pastime
* Prodigious appetite – anything left unattended was an open invitation to sample
* Generosity – birds with broken wings and dead rodents were routinely served up in an old shoe
*Determination - rebounding after a car accident which left him blind in one eye and significantly weaker, Chico re-invented himself as an even more fierce warrior than before
* Wisdom – even as his body wasted away due to an undiagnosed intestinal problem, he retained his quiet dignity and thirst for life
* Trust – as he surrendered himself to the vet's final ministration and faded from life in my husband’s lap

Chico in his last days

In the throes of the emotional upheaval immediately following Chico’s demise, I was consumed with an overwhelming need to document his life. With pen in hand and a palm size spiral bound notebook, I casted my net far and wide and pulled in memories from some vast unknown reservoir. They flowed out, sometimes in drops and trickles, and sometimes in a great bruising gush that soaked me with an unbearable longing to stroke his soft fur and hear his plaintive cry just one more time. Yes, I was grieving…

My ode to Chico was finished in less than a week. Feeling spent, yet oddly cleansed by my unrelenting pounding on the keyboard, I pressed the “save” key and walked away from the computer. A quiet interval was essential to let all those words settle and new ones to percolate to the surface.

Alas, it was precisely during this brief period of recouping and recharging that my husband decided to “clean up” the PC. And you can guess what he managed to sweep into cyberspace along with the odd collection of bad photos and recipes from a not-so-favourite aunt.

I attempted a second try at the draft. After all, the notes were still there. The photos were still there. The pain, though dulled with time, was still there. But the driving force that had charged my spirit had dissipated, perhaps for good.

Life’s lesson for dear SL readers:
* Hug your cat often
* Take loads of photos
* Take more photos
* Keep a diary
* Back up that diary
* Don’t let your husband near that PC – ever!

Even though we now have another cat, Roi, that is Chico’s opposite in every respect, I still feel something stir inside me whenever I spot a grey tabby – which would explain why I am such a shameless sucker for a neighbour’s cat, which I have dubbed Tabster, who slinks over to our back door just about every day for a free treat or two.

Tabster the mooch

But no cat can ever replace Chico, our beloved Steveston cat!

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