Wearing a sweater against the cold during a January snow, Bosun takes his daily constitutional on the Nuthatch Cabin’s deck.
I FIND GREAT COMFORT in cats.
Everybody says there are dog people and there are cat people. I’m a bit of a crossover. I grew up loving Skippy, the Cantwell family’s fabled and unlikely crossbreed of black Lab and dachshund parentage (mama was the dachshund; don’t think about it too hard). But I’ve shared the majority of my life with cats.
This is about one of our current Nuthatch Cabin housemates, our elder statesman in formalwear, Bosun.
Bosun is a big tuxedo cat, mostly shiny black but with a white v-neck, paws and roguish half mustache. He’s about 17 years old now, which puts him well into his 90s in human years. He lived on our boat most of those years, with occasional weekends at the cabin until we moved here full-time in 2018.
The personality trait that best characterizes Bosun goes back to why we first chose him from a milling crowd of adoptable felines at a rescue shelter: He’s an easy purr. When we told a shelter worker we wanted a male cat with a beta personality, she pulled shy Bosun from under a table, put him in daughter Lillian’s arms, and he immediately sounded off with a booming, rumbling purr that has been his lifelong trademark. How could we not take this sweet guy home?
Since 2004, he’s been an affectionate companion who can melt your heart with soulful gazes from his big green eyes.
Now he’s in his twilight years, if not his twilight months, after recently suffering his second stroke.
But this isn’t a missive of mourning. It’s a tale of resilience, of a tough old cat who wants to live. What Australians would call a “battler.”
Twice we’ve thought we’d lost him. Twice we’ve sobbed over him. In September 2018, after his first attack, he could barely walk. He couldn’t navigate the stairs or climb on to a bed. Only the fact that it was a weekend and no nearby veterinarians were available stopped us from having him put down, out of mercy. We thought we had no choice.
But by Monday, he was getting better. And he just kept getting better. Up stairs and down. Within a week or two you’d never have known he’d seemed at death’s door.
The next 12 months I called “Bosun’s bonus year.” Somehow it took away the sting of knowing we would probably lose him soon.
We thought the time had come a few weeks ago. This “bad spell” was even more unsettling. He fell over, one side of his face contorted and one eye blinked with a tic that went on and on. Finally, Barbara found and administered some herbal “cat calming drops” she had tucked away, and that seemed to help. Eventually the twitching stopped. But clearly Bosun had lost most control of one of his rear legs, and he was unable to retract his claws, so that he kept snagging his paws on rugs and bedspreads when he did manage to walk.
But once again, he has gradually gotten better. Still “unsteady on his pins,” as Barbara puts it, but walking almost normally. Barbara trimmed the tips of his claws, so he doesn’t get snagged as often. The soulful gaze is still there. And he is once again determined to go outside every day for what we call his “constitutional” — a supervised walk from one end of the deck to the other, while he sniffs the fresh air.
A few nights ago, I was awakened in the blackest, wee hours of the morning with a feeling that I was having some kind of mild angina. I soon realized that a feline was standing on my chest. I felt a nose touch mine. Reaching up to see which cat it was, I felt Bosun’s bony old body.
I pulled him down to nestle between Barbara and me, his fuzzy, geriatric cheek to mine. I whispered his name and that booming purr filled my ear in the darkness. It went on and on, engendering a sense of profound well-being as I drifted back to sleep.
Sometimes I find comfort in cats.