My husband and I had our dear seventeen-year-old cat, Houdini, put to sleep on the evening of August 8, 2007.

For several years, she struggled valiantly with chronic renal failure. When she was fifteen, she came through a pretty scary crisis, when she was getting sick everywhere and ended up very dehydrated, flat on the floor. She wouldn’t purr when I petted her. (This became a litmus test for me–when she seemed under the weather, as long as she was purring, it wasn’t a true crisis.) I was in denial back then about losing her, but it made me realize that all the extra time we had with her was bonus. I believe her strong personality and crankiness were key to her long survival.

She deigned to let me take care of her since 1990. I met her at the Seattle Animal Shelter where I went to choose a kitten. She was three months old, and when I picked her up, she clung to my shoulder, needling her baby claws into my vintage suede jacket. I fell in love with her. Because it was mid-October, and she was three months old, I decided to celebrate her birthday on Bastille Day, a day I could remember. (Later I noticed she always got dreamy when she heard Edith Piaf songs.)

While I said goodbye to her, scenes from her life flooded my memory…when she was spayed, because she was still so tiny, the plastic collar the vet had given her was too big, and protected her stitches but turned her into an unwitting physical comedy act. Instead I made a “sweater” by cutting arm and leg holes from a sock so that she’d leave her stitches alone. Every night she’d wriggle out of that sweater and in the morning I’d find her curled up, the sweater/sock a limp yin to Houdini’s yang. I recalled during her mid-years, trying to toilet train her–which sounded good in theory, but traumatized her pretty fully. All my apologizing paled next to how loudly she purred when I finally gave up and she saw I had set out a new litter box. (I could hear her purring from across my apartment.) I apologized again about the toilet training era before the vet put her to sleep.

We buried her body in the backyard, under the shelter of the young redbud that close friends gave us for our wedding. I read T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Old Gumbie Cat” which has always seemed a perfect tribute to Houdini’s cantankerous and judgmental yet immaculate nature:


The Old Gumbie Cat by T.S. Eliot

I have a Gumbie Cat in mind, her name is Jennyanydots;
Her coat is of the tabby kind, with tiger stripes and leopard spots.
All day she sits upon the stair or on the steps or on the mat:
She sits and sits and sits and sits – and that’s what makes a Gumbie Cat!

But when the day’s hustle and bustle is done,
Then the Gumbie Cat’s work is but hardly begun.
And when all the family’s in bed and asleep,
She slips down the stairs to the basement to creep.
She is deeply concerned with the ways of the mice –
Their behaviour’s not good and their manners not nice;
So when she has got them lined up on the matting,
She teaches them music, crocheting and tatting.

I have a Gumbie Cat in mind, her name is Jennyanydots;
Her equal would be hard to find, she likes the warm and sunny spots.
All day she sits beside the hearth or in the sun or on my hat:
She sits and sits and sits and sits – and that’s what makes a Gumbie Cat!

But when the day’s hustle and bustle is done,
Then the Gumbie Cat’s work is but hardly begun.
As she finds that the mice will not ever keep quiet,
She is sure it’s is due to irregular diet
And believing that nothing is done without trying,
She sets straight to work with her baking and frying.
She makes them a mouse-cake of bread and dried peas,
And a beautiful fry of lean bacon and cheese.

I have a Gumbie Cat in mind, her name is Jennyanydots;
The curtain-cord she likes to wind, and tie it into sailor-knots.
She sits upon the window-sill, or anything that’s smooth and flat:
She sits and sits and sits and sits – and that’s what makes a Gumbie Cat!

But when the day’s hustle and bustle is done,
Then the Gumbie Cat’s work is but hardly begun.
She thinks that the cockroaches just need employment,
So she’s formed, from that lot of disorderly louts,
A troop of well-disciplined helpful boy-scouts,
With a purpose in life and a good deed to do –
And she’s even created a Beetles’ Tattoo.

So for Old Gumbie Cats let us now give three cheers –
On whom well-ordered households depend, it appears.


She had an opinion on and a solution for everything, usually involving salmon. After the burial, our neighbor’s dog Joe came down the hill, appropriately dressed in his black and white tuxedo-style fur coat, to pay his respects.

Houdini Gatallini Bambini Baby-ini (her full name) aka “Noodle”, aka “Munchkin”, is survived by her loving human parents and her supersized 10 year old adoptive brother, Dante, aka “Big Tiny”. Dante’s eyes have been wider than usual since we showed him the body. The night after she died, he slept in the spot where she had slept the night before.

I think he’s still looking for her.

I saw something today in this photo of Houdini, taken several months before her death. The light and dark of loving and grieving, the complicated contrast between sadness and relief, the guilt I feel in letting her go. Her posture, defiant, beautiful, a true Gumbie cat with standards so high that I wonder if we ever met them. Sometimes, I think we came close.

So friends, if you visit our house and it’s a bit more chaotic than usual, do not be shocked. It’s just that scrawny, cat-shaped void.

We miss you, Houdini.

25 thoughts on “Houdini the cat: 7/14/90-8/8/07

  1. I haven’t been here for a while, so I’m very late with my condolences, but I am so sorry, Hon. I am sure she appreciated the poem, and would have appreciated this tribute. It’s always wrenching to lose a member of the family. Seattle, 1990… so much water under the bridge since then. It is hitting me now… Love, Patrick

  2. I bet you will too. I can’t see how one could avoid it. I hope those ghost experiences are more poignant than painful. Is Dante coping any better?

  3. Dante, interestingly, has been mimicking some of Houdini’s previous habits, taking on her job, as it were. He has also lost weight, and looks more like a normal cat than the giant bear-cat he once was…

  4. Oh, Rebecca, I’m so sorry to hear about your kitty. What a lovely tribute.

    I tried toilet training too, back when Waffle (now 14) was a youngster. Similar failure. I related to a lot of what you shared. . .take care.

  5. Thanks Jennifer. I still keep thinking I hear her, usually commenting on something she would have commented on in life… these little critters sure stick with us. Thankfully.

    Glad Waffle has been given the box back!

  6. I had a silky little Burmese for 17 years. She saw me through much. She loved me more than I deserved. Yes, they are dear. I doubt that I could be quite so fond of another cat, though I am fond of our two, even the one who leaves presents by the box.

  7. Ah yes, the presents. I had one very industrious cat when I was kid who loved leaving vole guts for us on the front walk to our house. (I had to use it in the novel, of course.) They do love us, despite our humanity, which is maybe the best part about good cats. Bless their little hearts!

    1. We had to put our little Aggie to sleep on june 12 2012, after 18 years and it has tore me up inside. Can’t quit thinking about her, never will. I feel so bad that I slapped her for getting in my fish. Guts, she was always there when I came home from fishing waiting to get leftovers, and always when I got home from work to meet me at the truck door. She was sick and we didn’t know at the time how bad it really was or I would never had slapped her. She was the last thing that I still connected with my dad after he passed, I miss her so much and I’m so so sorry that she’s gone and hope she didn’t hate me for the slap, she’s back with my dad now and purring again. Miss you for ever Aggie,, see yyu again someday. Love from mom and dad.RIP Aggie

  8. The vet said she would forget that she ate and just wanted food. So when I pushed her away from the fish she just layed down and waited. I feel so bad for what I did. I never hit my pets because we treat them as family. Aggie 1994 – june 2012. Miss u forever aggie

    1. I have looked each day this week for her to be at the truck door when I get home from work but she’s not there, that hurts me the most. Life will go back to the Normal rutine but I will still look for her and remember the great life she had and how good she made me feel, no Matter haow bad my day was she always made it better. Now my dogs must help me, I think they know she has passed away also. They smell around her grave when we walk to the field for our daily walk. She would lay by the trees and watch us, maybe wonder out and join us occasionally. Thanks for being in my life Aggie

      1. Brent, I’m sorry for your loss of your dear Aggie. These little sweet souls are so important in our lives. Thanks for stopping by, and may time help heal a little, as it sometimes will.

      2. We often joked that she would never pass away. Wow, glad your place will let me express my sorrow and guilt. Wish I could take back the little slap I gave her but that’s not going to happen now.expressing my fellings really helped me this week. Thanks again

  9. Just stopped by to remember Aggie, her Birthday is this month and was just thinking about her today, still miss her deeply but I know she’s better off now and hope she has found my Dad and rubbing on his legs as she always did.

    1. I feel like Patric, thought I seen Aggie coming to the truck when I came home from work yesterday, cold chills and lost my breath for a moment, its a good memorie tho just wish it was really her.

  10. A co worker of mine is dealing with having to put his dog to sleep and told him about your site, to go and read some and put down his feellingsand that would help trermendously as it did for me. My dogs birthdays were sunday the 26th of August and only thing missing was aggie. So sad but many fond memories came back and made me smile. Even in death she. Still makes me smile. Love you aggie fro being part of my life

  11. Just thinking about little aggie today, the cold weather makes me remember taking her to the barn each evening, we put inside every nite to stay out of the weather and catch a mouse or two, miss doing that and still think I have to get her each evening, good memories last for ever, habe a nice day all, you too aggie, hope your warm and safe

  12. Happy holidays to all, I will put a wreath on Aggies grave today for christmas and new years, will try to let go so I can get on with life but will never forget my little Friend, really enjoy reading post here, makes me sad but just remembering Aggie. Hope 2013 will be happier than this one was, Good Bye Aggie for now see you in the future sometime

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