Farewell to Stella

When Stella started to show her age, acquiring the bony look that old lady cats have, I thought we had a couple of years left to enjoy her cat-ness. stella_huntress

She was all cat: an athlete, a hunter, a courteous and amusing room mate. She was aloof but not indifferent. She liked us and paid us attention in pure cat terms. I have received numerous rodent offerings, and could always count on her to flop over on the mulch to welcome us home after absences.

But she was most definitely not a lap cat. She was deeply ambivalent¬† about PDA. She liked to be scritched about the ears and spine, but she didn’t like to be picked up or held. She would gradually move away from you as you tickled her pleasure points until she was just out of reach, whereupon she would look at you longingly as if to say “Why did you stop?”

I met Stella at Angel Memorial animal shelter, where she occupied a cage with her litter mates and mom. Mom was a regal, dignified personage with the profile of an Egyptian temple cat. Tiny Stella approached me fearlessly, displaying classic feline curiosity. I didn’t know it at the time, but female gingers are relatively rare: ginger coloring is more common in males.

As a kitten and young cat, she never vocalized. One day I started meowing at her occasionally, and within a few days she tried out a few meows of her own. When she discovered that a “meep” would cause us to remember to give her the evening can of soft food, or induce one of us to splash some water into the shower for her entertainment, there was no stopping her. After I realized she had me trained to do the shower trick three or four times within ten minutes, I realized I had to get a grip, which I did, eventually.

The vocalization episode showed me that she could learn, so I decided to try to teach her how to demonstrate a little bit more attachment or affection, in ways that I could relate to. To get her to tolerate a bit more petting, I wrapped her in a towel, held her on my lap for a few minutes of good scritching, and then released her. It worked to the extent that she’d occasionally sit next to me or even voluntarily sit on my chest for a short time. She always called it quits after half an hour at most, which was perfect.

More recently, I decided to introduce her to the pleasures of belly scritches, something she never tolerated. I tried once or twice when she did one of her welcome home flops, because these always involved rolling over on her back. But as soon as I tried, she’d twist herself upright and give me an annoyed look.

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The flop.

I did succeed in teaching her to enjoy a good belly love fest, using a variation on the towel method I’d used previously. Once introduced to the concept, she became an enthusiast. She would go into a hypnotic state of utter relaxation: eyes glazed, a vacant expression on her face. If I was sitting on the floor she’d invite a belly rub by flopping next to me.

These changes made her an even better companion in my eyes. But her best gift to us was just her being herself, a self-possessed being of startling grace and strength.

We lost her on July 4. She’d stopped eating and drinking quite suddenly a few days before. As far as I can tell, she simply let go of life, decisively, swiftly, and with no fuss. She left a cat-shaped hole in my heart.

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Sunset on July 3

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