The first time we saw him he was doing what he loved: ridding the earth of rodents. He was only a kitten then, cocking his head back and forth, the fine hairs at the tips of his ears trembling as they picked up the tiniest whispers of movement below the deep snow. With a sudden jump straight up, he came down hard on just the right spot and when his head emerged from the snow he clutched a very surprised vole. He dashed off into the barn, jaws clamped tightly on his prize. That was when I noticed his huge paw prints on top of the snow. All four feet showed an extra toe: a “Hemmingway” cat! I turned to the man showing us the property and asked if the cat came with the place. He said he would have to ask his wife, so I dropped the subject.
A few weeks later we took possession of the small farm but, as it was winter and the snow too deep, we didn’t move right in. We’d check to see that the furnace was keeping the pipes from freezing and that was when I noticed his footprints again. The previous owners had moved and left him behind! We brought cat food and a heated water bowl and put them in the barn. We started calling him “Paws” and soon he was there to greet us every time we drove up.
When we finally could move in, Paws sat by and critiqued the whole moving process. He let it be known that HE was the owner and considered us the lowliest of “renters”. Although he made it clear that he had no desire to be an indoor cat (HE was meant for finer things!), he did insist on doing a “walk-through” inspection of the interior of the house on a regular basis. He tolerated our elderly indoor cat only because of her age and always differed to her when he passed through the kitchen.
Paws ran his “trap line” daily, checking all boundaries for possible intruders. When an interloper was detected it was quickly dispatched and the evidence brought to my attention by depositing it next to and sometimes IN my boots left by the door! I watched in fascination one afternoon as he flatly refused to let a fox cross our pasture. Every time the fox poked his head out from between the rows of corn, Paws was there to confront him. The fox would try a few rows over to one side or the other but Paws was there again to firmly enforce the “no trespassing” edict.
That first spring, Paws took to disappearing overnight or for a day or two. He would always return home muttering cat swear words all the way down the lane and checking over his shoulder for a possible tail by the unknowns with which he clearly had had a disagreement. Being the kind of cat who never went to bed without a bath, he would give himself an extra thorough cleaning and tend to his wounds before crawling into the hay to sleep it off. Inevitably, his wounds would necessitate a trip to the vet a few days later and after the first couple of times I checked and sure enough he needed a longer stay at the vet’s to remedy the situation. Afterwards he was less inclined to wander and get into fights and even more devoted to his self-appointed duty at home.
Paws tolerated many new “squatters” including chickens, dogs, horses and cats that came with us. He would curl up on our horses’ broad rump during the coldest of weather perfectly balanced and fast asleep. His best friend was a tiny orange marmalade kitten rescued from a box dumped alongside the road. Tid was Paws’ first “pupil” to direct in the efficient patrolling of our ten acres. Paws and Tid spent twelve years together. I could count on Tid to keep Paws groomed as he aged. When Tid died Paws seemed to go downhill as many do when their partner in life goes on ahead without them. Then came the day when the decision had to be made for Paws. He developed a tumor behind his eye that the vet assured us was inoperable, malignant, and extremely painful.
As I held Paws in my arms for that last time, he purred and stretched his front paws towards my face. I felt as though he was saying “thank you for letting me go”. As the procedure concluded, Paws simply relaxed more and more and as I gently put him down on the table, a huge cat “smile” spread across his face and he looked like he had that first day we met. He was released from his pain and had arrived at the place where we will see each other again. And, it was good. Undoubtedly, Tid was there to greet him with many others that Paws knew.
We left Paws at the vet to be cremated and returned home. We drove up to the garage door and when we opened it there was a big fat freshly dispatched mouse next to my boots! I can only believe that Paws was responsible and had sent one last catch as a “thank you” from the place beyond where he waits for us. Paws was returned to us a few days later and we walked the perimeter of our property and released some of his ashes into the wind at each of the four corners.
I am sure that Paws keeps busy taking efficient charge of all of our four-legged friends that have gone on before us and making sure that place where we will all meet again is regularly patrolled and rodent-free. Thank you for being our friend Paws. You are missed. We are better for having loved you.