There is a stone in the backyard next to a freshly turned mound of dirt: Courtland 1998-2014.
Courtland was the cat who had allowed us to live with him for the past dozen years. He was a gift to our middle daughter from her older sister. And as much as anyone can really own a cat, Courtland was hers until she got married.
With a husband who was quite allergic to cat fur, our daughter kept the husband and left Courtland with us.
It’s funny how that has happened over the years. Ben was a little dog who was a birthday present for our youngest. When she left for college, Ben (although smart enough for college material) remained behind.
Before Ben, there was Chico, a yellow nape parrot. Chico was a talker. “Whatcha doing?” “Hello love.” “Chico’s a pretty bird.” While Chico means boy, we learned late that Chico was really a girl.
She didn’t care for human men. She bit my father-in-law once, slicing open his lip. She snapped at me often, and I was the one who fed her and cleaned her cage. I whistled the tune to “The Andy Griffith Show” theme, and she climbed to the closest perch in the cage to listen and learn, cocking her head with the pupil in her eye expanding and contracting with the sound of the song.
She quickly learned the tune which would echo throughout the house when she got the notion to perform it.
Maggie came to us in a different way. She was the last of 10 puppies from our middle daughter’s lab – also a birthday present. Maggie was a great dog, a lab-chow mix, who lived to please.
Shortly after we had decided to keep Maggie, I found her and her mother outside the fenced yard at our home. I whistled and called to them. They both looked my way. Maggie turned and came to me. Her mother, Jazz, ran in the opposite direction. The next morning we found Jazz, struck and killed by a car.
Maggie stayed with us for the rest of her life.
Back to Courtland. When he first moved to our house and allowed us to stay there with him, he was an indoor-outdoor cat. He found comfortable places to stay inside, went across the street and down a storm culvert when he was outside. He wandered through my wife’s garden to make sure no other animals tried to invade his turf.
He would permit petting occasionally – on his terms, of course – and would sometimes leap uninvited into my lap and purr. That was his way of showing me who the boss was.
Four years ago when we moved to our new home, Courtland decided to come with us. He was still quite active at the time and loved going outside – except when the next-door-neighbor cat, Sam, appeared. Sam had ruled the roost of the street for several years, and he did not take kindly to having a threat next door.
Sam and Courtland had very similar golden coloration, and from a distance I had a hard time telling them apart. The two got into some rousing, noisy battles from time to time, with a standoff being the normal result. There was one time, however, when Sam came out on top.
I had let Courtland out of the house, and he was walking down the front steps.
Just as he got to the sidewalk, Sam, who had been hiding in the garden, pounced unseen onto Courtland’s back and ran away as fast as he could. Courtland let out a scream, jumped, spun around and looked as though he was in shock. He never saw Sam and never realized what had hit him.
Courtland started having health problems a few years ago. He had a mouth infection that caused teeth to fall out. His eating habits changed, and he went from having dry food to soft, canned food. He was on antibiotics for one week each month to ease the problem, but he was already starting to lose weight.
After getting ill, he restricted his domain to the upstairs bathroom and the office across the hall. He slept on the office chair or on the bathroom counter. For two years that was where Courtland would be found.
Late in the spring, we went on a trip and took Courtland to be boarded with his veterinarian. Tests were done, and when we picked up Courtland we were told that he was in renal failure. Courtland didn’t have long to be with us. We were thinking it would be a week or two.
Courtland surprised us. I don’t know if he heard the doctor’s report, but when we got home from the vet’s office, Courtland became a different cat. He was once again the venturesome feline who wanted to go outside. Courtland started prowling the whole house and stood by the front door until we let him out.
He lay in the garden or under the car in the driveway and even went in the backyard and shared it with his canine pals who live with us. We marveled at the change in his behavior and wondered which of his nine lives he was now going through.
Last week, however, he stopped eating. Courtland still went outside, still roamed the house upstairs and down, still allowed us to live with him – he just refused to eat.
The uncomfortable decision was made on Sunday night. If he did not eat anything on Monday, we would have to take him to the vet for a final time. Monday arrived, and there was no eating. The appointment was made.
I drove, and my wife held Courtland on her lap. I stayed in the waiting room, coward that I am, while my wife and Courtland went into the treatment room. The vet looked at Courtland’s frail body and told my wife it was definitely time. Systems were shutting down. Eating would cause nausea, which is why Courtland refused.
Minutes later, it was over. Courtland was laid in a small cardboard box, wrapped in a towel. We dug a hole in the backyard near the fence not far from the blueberry bushes. Two of our grandchildren came over with their father for the farewell ceremony. Words were spoken, and 7-year-old Joshua even made up a song about Courtland.
For those who care about their animals, this type of parting is difficult. We know intellectually when we agree to share a home with a dog or a cat that more than likely we will outlive it. With dogs we are given absolute faithfulness. With cats we are grudgingly tolerated. That, I think, is a cat’s way of showing love.
Courtland allowed us to live with him for these past several years. We appreciate that. He has left us the house and the cars, as well as the use of the bathroom and the office.
Jeff Wallace is a retired editor of the Aiken Standard.