Our cat Welby—the world’s best cat ever—lived with us for the last 9 years of her life, and the happiest moment for us in all that time was when she peed a big puddle on the hardwood floor in our dining room. Seriously. But more on that later.
About her name. She was a feral cat who adopted us after a trial period, which apparently we passed. She slept on top of dried leaves in a wineberry thicket beside our house, and when our neighbors and friends asked if she were our cat, we always said, “Might as well be.”
She had the biggest, most nuanced vocabulary of any cat I’ve ever known. And she was polite. Whereas our current cat will persistently meow loudly (“Get up!”) to wake me at 5 a.m., Welby would come to my side of the bed and make the softest single-syllable sound: “You awake?” She knew her name of course, but I was startled one day when I got home from work and asked my wife, “How was the little girl today?” and Welby pricked her ears and suddenly looked at me. Somehow she had learned she was the “little girl” before I even realized I often called her that.
She was also spookily smart. We allowed her on top of any couch or bed in the house except the bed we slept in. After she quickly understood she was not allowed to set paw on our bed, she once made an incredible leap onto the wide window sill above the head of our bed without touching any bedding. Her brilliance was also evident in her game playing. Somehow she learned to play hide and seek with us. We’d call out, “Where’s that kitty cat?” in a high voice, and she’d run to hide. She hated to lose this game and would be in a bad mood for an hour if we found her too quickly, so we’d pretend not to see her. But once we really couldn’t find her. We looked everywhere. More than once. And still no Welby. After about 15 minutes she strutted out from behind our bedroom door where she had secreted herself in the midst of a voluminous pirate costume hanging on the door knob. She made eye contact and made it clear she was thinking, “I won! Losers!”
She was not what you’d call a “perfect” cat. Her long hair matted and shed constantly; she’d hiss or growl when she was mad (which was pretty often); and she threw up on the floor and carpet all the time. She was small and lost almost every fight with neighbor cats, requiring some costly vet trips. When the vet took her temperature, she’d let out a yowl so loud and alarming we could’ve rented her out as a tornado siren.
“Should we be seeking shelter?”
“No, that’s just your cat.”
Finally, when we went away for 2 weeks to a writers’ conference every summer—despite being cared for by a loving cat sitter, she’d leave messages for us in the library, what I’d call “dingleberries of displeasure.”
Still, she stole our hearts.
And that’s how it happened that our most exalted moment with her was when she peed a pint in the dining room. You see, she’d been almost eaten by a coyote and lived—but only barely. The vet said she’d never known a cat to survive a coyote attack before, it was a miracle. But the wide spacing of the four fang puncture wounds and the broken-back X-rays made it clear. After a couple of days, the vet called us to take her home, said there was nothing more she could do. Welby would either live or die (the vet implied the latter), and she might as well be at home. Even when 48 hours later she started eating again, we feared she’d die of kidney failure. So when she finally made the putrid urinous mess, we were ecstatic. And received the gift of another 5 years with her after that.
When she died, I learned something funny about love. I thought to myself, “I loved her so much,” but as soon as I heard those words in my mind, I knew the past tense was wrong. I still loved her, and continue to love her to this day.
I haven’t seen her for years now. I’m sure she’s obnoxiously proud. Her best job of hiding yet.
I realize she’s no longer alive. But in my heart, she might as well be.
Bill Spencer is author of Uranus Is Always Funny: Short Essays to Make You Laugh.