Recently, my Tom Cat, Balthy-Boy, passed on to the Great Hall of Kittens.
He and I spent 17 years together, day in and day out. We had a relationship of blokes together, guys who sit at the kitchen table early mornings. I’d drink coffee, he’d sup the juice in his meat bowl, then a few cat biscuits. He’d then deftly spring up onto my lap and enjoy the morning sunshine. I’d be pinned down by him for the next hour. I’d write my notes, and he’d snooze.
I have two cats, so sometimes, two cats would negotiate for space on my lap.
Balthy-Boy’s demise happened quickly.
He began to walk slowly, no more galloping through the apartment, or springing up onto my lap. He wasn’t settled when he laid down for a snooze, he’d just stare into space.
Something was wrong. And as much as we trusted each other, and enjoyed tom cat lad-hood in love together, he could never tell me where it hurt.
Animals are sensitive, and they are driven by deep rooted instincts. They don’t howl and whine when they are seriously sick, they often keep it to themselves.
Step on a cats tail, and it’ll yelp. But when they are sick, and weak, they will do everything to hide it; an instinct that protects them from predators in the wild. Lie low, stay quiet, and suffer. Maybe it’ll pass.
We have to keep a keen eye on our animal friends. Always on the lookout for a change in behaviour that might indicate that something’s up in a cat’s world.
The vet came and told us that his kidneys had failed. There was nothing to be done for him. So we did the best, and hardest thing to do, helped him find his peace.
I have another cat. She is 15 years old, Stubbs. She’s the easy-going, live and let live type of cat. But always the soul of the party.
Stubbs loved Balthy-Boy too. And we both miss him, I watch her as she walks around the apartment checking all the favourite places where Balthy-Boy would snooze.
When she can’t find him, she stands in the middle of the room and stares at me. A big question mark in her gaze.
When I move from one room to the next, I still look out for Balthy Boy, checking he isn’t under my feet.
Sometimes, at night in bed, I hear the sound of a cat jump from a table and land on the wood floor. Stubbs is cuddled up next to me. I wait in anticipation to hear the sounds of a cat playing, a fluffy toy bouncing around in the darkness.
Sometimes, he’d be in his little cottage, a cardboard packing box that we made into a small house. The cats love it in winter. It’s a one bedroom cat cottage on a desirable piece of land next to the heater. Always, first come, first served.
Stubbs will use it this winter, so I’ll make sure it’s full of the amenities. A warm blanket, a toy mouse, and I’ll put Balthy-Boy’s favourite fluffy toy, Lion, in there too.
I first met Balthy-Boy on the warm streets of Sevilla, Spain. Late one night, I walked along a street named Porvenir. The word Porvenir means destiny or fortune, in more eloquent or poetical, Spanish.
Somebody had dumped him among street cats; the street cats didn’t like him, so the chief tom cat of the street gang dive bombed him, and banged into him, every few minutes.
Tom cats are boss on the street, and they don’t want more male cats in their families, so they control the head count in a brutal way. If I’d left him there, he wouldn’t have survived the night.
It was midnight, spring time. It was only when a muscle-bound tom cat whizzed past me, and hit something small and fluffy, that I realized a kitten was close to me. I looked down, he looked up at me; all I saw were those big blue eyes pleading for help. He was a domestic kitten, dumped and scared, out on the mean streets of Sevilla.
I’ve seen some powerful looking cats on the streets of Sevilla. The cat population is large. If you are ever there, just take a look in the parks, or along a roadside, and you’ll surely see a family of cats. It’s a robust population all controlled and checked by some pretty tough alphas.
I once saw a tom cat with neck muscles so broad and powerful, I reckon his mum was a South American panther. He stared at me with burning yellow eyes, dark slits for pupils, and the sort of serious confidence that could knock down a building. I stayed clear of him. A real alley cat. They ain’t all sweet and fluffy.
When Balthy Boy was a kitten we gave him a fluffy toy. Lion. He took it, played with it all day, and we laughed when he wouldn’t leave it alone. Late at night, we could hear him playing in the dark, lion being thrown about the room.
He carried Lion all over the place with him, and of course, late at night as he climbed into bed, he’d be carrying Lion in his mouth. Always gently holding him by his red mane, never carelessly biting his neck.
I’m certain he thought of Lion as his own kitten, and he was going to make sure Lion had all the protection in the world.
When my partner and I took Balthy Boy home that night, he was exhausted. He’d stayed vigilant while he was on the street, attacked by tom cats, rejected, and probably staving off feelings that his destiny was doomed to a bitter ending between the teeth of an alpha cat.
When he finally found peace on the sofa in our front salon, he slept for three days. Most of the time, like a baby, he lay on Deborah’s chest, her heart beat giving him strength. He simply nestled into Deborah’s warmth.
He finally got up after three days, ate a little, and explored his new home. When he realised that his luck had changed, he did what kittens do — played, and played. And with so much joy.
His future changed when I met him, so did ours. For 17 years we lived together, he occasionally showed me that he was the alpha cat in our home. When my partner, Deborah, stayed with us, he’d act like I was a nobody. I got the feeling he’d be happy if I packed my bags and left, so he and she could live together, happily ever after. Tom cats and favourites, special affinities.
When he and I were alone together, we were like best buddies. Shoulder to ankle throughout the day, paw to hand in front of the T.V.
We’d greet the morning together with coffee and cat food, and an hour’s lap time.
The photo below was the night before he died. He and Lion together, Balthy Boy, tired and weak, but always watching out for Lion. One hell of a cat, and a beautiful friend who I’ll always miss.