The title of this diary is borrowed from a beautiful Japanese folktale retold by Elizabeth Coatsworth in her award-winning.book about a cat who miraculously appears on a scroll despite the wishes of the monks who commissioned it, and who dies from happiness at the sight of her image being blessed by Buddha It is also the story of the little Japanese bobtail calico we named Mike (mee-kay, the Japnanese word for a calico cat), who left us this morning at 11 o’clock to cross the Rainbow Bridge. She looked exactly like the cat in the illustrations. I can’t help feeling Buddha blessed her—and us, the day she came to us.My neighbor Patty, surely one the thirty-six Righteous Ones whose loving presence keeps God from destroying the world (according to Jewish myths I’ve read), found her lying by the side of the road on the base we lived in, Kamiseya, Japan. She was so weak she couldn’t stand. She crawled to Patty, wanting just once more to feel soft hands stroking her fur, a loving touch and a soft voice before she died. We don’t know her history before that, but we suspect that some military family on base had abandoned her when they transferred from Japan, an occurrence which happens all to often.
If you hate Pootie Diaries, please skip this one. My heart hurts too much to deal with rancorous comments or disparaging ones.
Despite Patty’s husband’s objections—she was sick it was doubtful she would live and he didn’t want to see his wife’s heart broken—Patty rushed her to the vet and then brought her home. She weighed only three and a half pounds, a tiny scrap of fur over a skeletal body. The vet’s notation in her medical record was “Not expected to live”. She had a severe respiratory infection and had to be fed with an eyedropper for the first few days. Against all the odds, she lived. She had a very big heart and a great deal of love. Even when she was still too weak to stand or leave the bed my friend made for her in a small plastic tub, she was intensely grateful for being cared for, and would try to thank Patty with silent niaows (“niaow” is the Japanese version of “meow”)
That’s how my husband first saw her when Patty told him about her nameless rescue. I think it was love at first sight on both their parts, but I was the one who decided we should adopt her, because I was afraid that another careless family would take her for a couple of years, then leave her behind when they came back to the states. Even 15 years ago, it cost nearly two hundred dollars to fly a cat home, and many families don’t want to spend their money. Besides, I had had a premonition before we left the States in 1994 that we would bring home a Japanese bobtail when we came back.
Japanese bobtails are a breed of cat that you’ll occasionally see at cat shows, but they all are descended from a handful of stray cats brought home by military families. In Japan, they are often just strays, and the tails range from a ¾ length tail to no tail at all, but the most desirable is a little powder puff of a tail, not unlike a rabbit’s. They seem to come in two distinct body types: long and sinuous like a Siamese or cobby and compact. Mike was the latter, a small cat with larger bones and that lovely little pom-pom tail (when she got really excited, that tail would make circles, like she was a furry helicopter about to take off). Her eyes were green, with a hint of blue. I’ve never seen another cat with eyes like hers. Her white fur was white and soft as a bunny’s, her patches distinctly brown and black tabby or deep russet. My husband thinks she’s the most beautiful cat he’s ever seen. She was certainly the cutest, with her little round face and her plump round body and her little round biscuit feet.
When we brought her from Patty’s to our house, our Russian Blue named Illya, always a territorial little beggar, was horrible to her, swiping at her, growling and hissing at her. She put up with it with Japanese stoicism. But our younger cat, a large brown tabby named Torachan (which translates as tora= tiger and chan=an endearment used with children—so “tiger dear”) whom we’d adopted a couple of years earlier, fell in love wither. He started stepping between her and Illya, who eventually got the message and accepted her. She and Torachan were little mated pair, furry soulmates who slept together and snuggled.
For a tiny cat who at her heaviest was a plump 12 pounds, she had plenty of cattitude. She could hit high notes a Wagnerian soprano would have envied, and the lung capacity of Pavarotti. When she decided it was time for dinner, you knew it. I used to call her a diva kitty and her nickname was “La Carlotta” after the prima donna in The Phantom of the Opera. She also had the annoying habit of getting out and running away every time we moved. She scared us to death more than once.
But what she really was, was love incarnate on four parti-colored feet. When Lamis, the Maine Coon we only got to love for 6 years before she became half-paralyzed and had seizures from what we suspect was genetic issues, arrived, Mike remembered how Illya had treated her, and didn’t even allow him to growl or hiss. She’d stand in front of Lamis and protect her till he got the hint (ironically, Lamis became Illya’s best buddy). When, three years ago, we took in the sole surviving kitten of a litter of four who'd been abandoned by their mother and someone had dropped at the vet’s, Mike finally got her wish to be a Mommy. She would pick up itty-bitty five-week-old Annie and carry her around, often carrying her up onto he back of the couch where she like to cuddle with Torachan. She’d put Annie between them to keep her warm, clean her and cuddle her. Annie became the kitten she’d never given birth to.
She was remarkably good with small children too. Most cats have a strong instinct for self-preservation, and when a baby or a toddler is around, they head for the nearest piece of furniture and take cover. Not Mike. She adored my niece when she was a toddler. When she heard her happy baby noises, she’d come running to pet her. She tolerated the three-year-old boy who lived next door, never scratching him even when his petting became a bit too rough. And she even won over my father before he died. He’d never allowed cats to sleep in his bed—but she his last week on earth was spent with hr cuddled up beside him, and he grinned from ear to ear.
But her closest relationship was with my husband. She’d sleep between us at night, often with her head on my shoulder, and she loved me, but he was her favorite person, and the adoration was returned in full. She was never as happy as she was in his arms. She used to rub her cheek against his; we called that gesture “kissy-kissy” and when he would ask for kisses, she’d do it on cue. When he asked for hugs, she’d tuck her head under chin and rub there. Vets tended to be astonished by that, as well as by how cooperative she was.
On Friday, the 19th, her chronic sinus problems worsened into a respiratory problem, and my husband took her to the vet. Chris has cared for since 2004, and is fond of her, and he was distressed at her condition. Her weight had dropped from 8 pounds to six. She had discharge from her eyes and her little nose was alternately running and clogged. We gave her the antibiotics, and for a few days she seemed to be getting better. By last Friday, we realized there was nothing more to do. She was over 18. We’d had her fifteen years. And she was at least three when we took her, and likely older. She stopped eating. She couldn't stand. Bit by bit, her body was shutting down. The other cats seemed to know she was dying, and spent the last three days cuddling with her. By last night she was mostly asleep, and not responsive even when we petted her. She wasn’t in pain, but she was close to unconscious, no longer looking at us. This morning my husband called the vet to make an appointment to help her cross the bridge those last few steps. Being Mike, she didn’t accept. Her appointment was for 2:45, but she chose to leave us at 11 a.m., passing peacefully as my husband lay beside her on the pull-out couch , going to her final rest in his arms. They’ll return her ashes on Friday, along with a little imprint of her paws in clay.
My husband is taking this very hard. I am typing this with tears in my eyes, but he sobbed in my arms when he told me she’d left us. This is a guy who’s been in combat and worked a flight deck for 6 years, but the loss of his little girl has left him broken-hearted.
So tonight we’ll cuddle our remaining six cats close and be grateful that Mike’s end was peaceful and painless. The other cats are staying very close to us. If anyone tells you animals don’t understand death, that they don’t grieve—I will personally punch out the biologist who makes that claim. Our cats loved her dearly and are mourning her passing. Morgana, my tiny black kitty, is sticking like glue to Torachan, not letting him out of her sight. Pookie, my panther cat, is hanging around my husband., wanting to comfort him.
Goody-bye, Mike, our cat who went to heaven. We will never forget you. But I know you were greeted by two old friends, Illya and Lamis, and the three tiny siblings of your baby girl Annie. I think maybe they need you more than we do. So today, somewhere in the Summerlands, my mother and father are watching a tiny bob-tailed calico surrounded by three brown tabby kittens. Buddha blessed her, and now she is with the Lord and the Lady, where she will never know cold or hunger or loneliness again.