Tag Archives: cat obituaries

Houdini the cat: 7/14/90-8/8/07


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.

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