We Never Considered Ourselves Cat People
We’ve always had dogs in the family. Growing up, both of my parents also had dogs. Cats were more of an afterthought, especially in previous generations before leash laws were a thing and all cats lived outdoors.
We never disliked cats, of course. We were a growing family who just wished to have a dog running around with the kids outside as opposed to a cat who may be temperamental around children.
Then there was Hunter.
Hunter was a beautiful long-haired cat, most likely a ragdoll or a similar breed, and was actually not called Hunter originally because we had believed he was a female. One summer, he was wandering the neighborhood, pausing whenever my sister or I were outside to say hello. He enjoyed hanging out in the yard, purring as he sat on the deck or the railing, even joining our games once in a while to bat at our hair.
It took us a while to realize where he had come from. Supposedly, another family close by had released a quartet of cats — rather, stopped letting them back in the house — when the family got a dog. Being the sociable cat that he was, Hunter made his rounds throughout the neighborhood, being fed by more than one household that felt sorry for the affectionate stray, including my mother. Dad didn’t want the cat in the house, not with our aging English springer spaniel, but Mom figured it was fair game to leave a little food on the deck.
(Raccoons and squirrels probably thought the food was fair game, too.)
As it turned out, Hunter knew that we would need him in our lives.
It was a tumultuous time for our family. My aunt abruptly passed away at the end of the summer, leaving behind my uncle with their two daughters, only three- and one-years-old at the time. Amid our mourning, schedules needed to be shifted to be sure the little ones always had someone watching them when my uncle went back to work.
Aside from my aunt dying, our beloved English springer spaniel took a turn for the worse. At this point, Hunter was living more inside our house than outside, and he was always respectful to our dog whenever they met. She had her favorite sleep corners and he never went near her food. He never interrupted when she was getting belly rubs from my father and she never snapped at him. If our dog had been younger, I imagine they would have been good friends.
Unfortunately, about two weeks after my aunt passed, our dog needed to be put down. The stress and grief from losing two family members in the same number of weeks right before a new school year started weighed heavy on our hearts. Our lives would turn upside-down as we all supported one another, helping to raise my cousins, many of us trying to substitute as a mom as they were shuttled between their hometown and our own every few days.
But Hunter was there.
He became a stable force in our lives, easing our grief by being a quiet companion. He darted into the house one night during the beginning of a thunderstorm and never left, opting to sleep belly-side up in a sign of trust on our beds and in our late dog’s favorite corner by the heater. Cuddles and talks were normal, and he was the definition of patience when it came to my younger cousins as they grew and showed their affection for him sometimes a little too enthusiastically.
He went along with their games, allowed them to carry and hug him, and the only time he raised a paw was when one of my cousins surprised him. As soon as Hunter realized it was one of the kids, he brought his paw back down.
It was Dad who actually sighed and said, “Well. Guess I better take the cat to the vet,” and called Mom later to tell her, “Guess what? We have a two-year-old neutered son.”
(Considering Hunter was just called “Cat” in the vet’s files at that point because Dad didn’t pay attention enough to Hunter to know what we were calling him, we figured it was a win that he called Hunter “son.”)
The guess at his age was generous. Hunter was with us for about ten years, sharing his warmth and affection with all of us — including our small mutt when she came into our lives — and our hearts broke all over again the day we needed to put him down.
While it is never easy to put a pet — a member of the family — down, we were all older and understood the circle of life, including my younger cousins. We hated the void that Hunter left, but his passing brought us back full circle. We shared stories of other late pets and family members, including my aunt, during a time that my cousins were ready to hear and grasp the memories.
The emotional capacity of animals has always astounded me and Hunter was a pinnacle example. He came into our lives when death surrounded us and quietly left when he knew we were all well.