Today I said goodbye to my longtime feline companion, BlackJack, who slipped quietly into his next adventure. Needless to say, I will miss his energy, loving nature and friendly personality. As everyone who met him knew, BlackJack was a character who, at a muscular eighteen pounds, looked and moved as gracefully as a panther, acted and cuddled like a dog, but at the end of the day, he was a cat and he owned me. Especially my heart.

The Old Gang

Once upon a timIMG_0790e, there were three grandsons of preschool age.  There was also one very large youthful black cat.

The boys quickly learned that if they were gentle with the cat, he would reward them with loud purring.

When the grandsons came to visit, they’d race into the house.

The cat raced under my bed.

Within minutes, the kids were down on the floor in my bedroom, circling the bed and the cat. 

Poor BlackJack. He knew better than to bite or claw and he didn’t stand a chance against three boys.  Sooner or later, one of the boys would get his hand on the 18 pounds of fur and muscle and pull the mildly protesting cat out from his hiding place.

The kids had their routine.  The three boys, with the cat in the center, would sprawl on Grandma’s bed and catch up with the happenings of their lives or make plans for their time together.  In time, BlackJack showed the boys his favorite hiding place on the shelf of a large bay window. The four would often curl up on a blanket in bay window, hiding from the adult world behind white linen curtains.

On the bed or in the bay window, BlackJack would eventually roll over on his back and purred along with their conversation while the boys rubbed his tummy.  The cat looked like a furry Buddha.

The kids adored him.

In time, the oldest of the three boys joined the 4H and got some hens and a rooster for his project.  He named the rooster BlackJack.  Neither his mom nor I could ever figure out the connection, but to a seven year old, it made perfect sense.

It was not too long after the year of 4H that BlackJack the Rooster died. Mom wasn’t too terribly concerned about informing the young owner as she had now taken over care of the remaining birds. She waited for her son to come home from school and sat him down.

I have some sad news. BlackJack died this morning.

My young grandson’s lower lip began to quiver and tears welled up in his eyes. Mom was not expecting this.

Honey, he was an old rooster and had lived…

The Rooster? The Rooster?  I thought you meant Grandma’s cat.  Jeez, Mom, he was just a rooster.

But BlackJack the cat…he was one of the gang.

Then, as things are apt to happen, the three boys grew into young men.  They got much taller, much louder with much deeper voices, and BlackJack the cat grew older as well.

During this last visit, the boys occasionally tried to entice BlackJack out from under my bed, but the cat was having nothing to do with the teenagers. He no longer wanted to hear about their adventures or be part of the old gang.

BlackJack spent the better part of their visit hiding under my bed, coming out only to grab a bite of food when the boys were at the lake, or curling up with me at bedtime. 

When the travelers got the car packed and headed off, it was a while before BlackJack ventured out.  He was exhausted and stretched out to sleep first on the couch, then on my bed.

But, for hours, every time a car drove by, his ears would perk up and BlackJack would stare out the front screen door, just to make sure the kids weren’t returning. When a car had safely driven past our driveway, he’d curl up to rest again.  Soon, he fell into a well-deserved deep sleep.

Truth be told, as much as I love everyone showing up, I know just how BlackJack feels.

I think I’ll join him for a nap.



A Woman and her Dog

Back before there were grandkids, cats and an ex, there were dogs, German Shepherds to be exact. On the cusp of the youngest kid going off to college, the last of the Shepherds went on to doggie heaven.  I was well past the puppy stage of life, but not quite ready to be animal-less, so I called a friend who was a police chief.

How can I get a retired K9?

Call Randy. 

FeroI called Randy, a well-regarded K9 trainer, who, as luck would have it, was looking for a home for a retiree.

Fortunately, she thought I sounded like a nice person, so the vetting process began with her checking us out with our local vet. As we had put our vet’s kids through college with the medical bills of a number of horses and dogs, that was not a problem. He loved having our pets as clients.

Then, the entire family, including the son at college, had to meet Randy and the retiring K9.  Fero was pretty intimidating, prancing around us and checking us out. He was a Schutzhund III (the masters level of training: obedience, tracking, protection) German Shepherd imported from Germany. 

Fero made up his mind as soon as he nuzzled me.  He jumped into my car and waited to go home. He was mine.

Randy handed me Fero’s teddy bear and a K9 vocabulary list in German with two commands — attack and track — circled and not to be used. He was still the top tracking K9 in the area, so, even retired, he had to be available should law enforcement need him.

She then loaded an enormous bag of imported German dog food into the trunk. He got that every morning and evening.  Dinner also included raw beef or, as Fero got older, a cooked chicken breast and a teaspoon of cod liver oil for his joints. Some days he had a better dinner than I did.

Fero was magnificent, massive and intelligent — he had a far better lineage than the kids and was certainly far better behaved. He was never on a lead and, being voice trained, would match me step for step unless told he didn’t have to heel.  It didn’t matter what or who ran in front of him; he stayed focus on matching our steps.

If he felt I needed protection, Fero could scare the Bejeezus out of both strangers and the soon-to-be ex, especially when he sometimes showed up in the middle of the night due to flight delays during our bi-coastal marriage cross county treks.

When we first got Fero, we lived on a couple acres in the country — no fences — and this was very new for a K9.  He had to learn how to be a normal dog after being kenneled all of his working life.  My neighbor, a family therapist, used to take her pooch out on walks every morning and all the neighborhood dogs would join in.  It was a motley group to say the least, but they all enjoyed the morning trek.

Fero wasn’t too sure, but she invited him so he trotted along.  She called me to say it was amazing to watch Fero — he observed the other dogs to see how he should behave.  He caught on very quickly. By that evening, when another neighbor and I took our evening walk, usually just with our two dogs, Fero had the routine down cold.

Almost too quickly, as it turned out.  Fero started disappearing for hours at a time.  Not good.  I went out looking for him and, almost a mile away, he found me.  He ran down a long driveway, barking excitedly for me to come and see what he had found.  There was a new canine friend, an old black Labrador, and the two old retirees were evidently spending hours lounging next to a pond, watching the swans and ducks.  Had they been old men, all that was needed were mugs of hot coffee, a shared newspaper and maybe a pipe or two to complete the Norman Rockwell painting.

It sadden me to tell Fero that he had to stay home, but he understood and never wandered again except for the approved morning and evening walks.

I occasionally wondered what life would have been like had our kids been so obedient.





Grumpy Old Men

I have an old man of a cat, BlackJack.  He took one look at our new home and immediately claimed it as his own, which is good because a happy cat is a happy home, or something like that.  He does love the outdoors, the deer, the space…he even occasionally enjoys watching the golfers trying to navigate the 6th green.

In short order, BlackJack realized that there is a cute grey tabby two houses away and fell head over paws for her.  It didn’t matter that BlackJack is somewhere around 17 — that’s in his 80’s in human years — he was smitten by Gracie’s siren meow and immediately turned into a teenage TomCat.

Things may or may not work out between the two of them, but BlackJack’s plans have now been placed on hold. Gracie has a housemate, Buster, who is orange and about the size of BlackJack — that is, they both weigh in around 18 lbs.  He’s not much younger, so we’re talking about two senior cats that are each very protective of the sweet young Gracie.

I first noticed there was a problem when BlackJack disappeared for three days.  The cat never disappears and has never missed a meal.  Three days was a very long time and I had all but called out the National Guard to find him. We, Gracie and Buster’s mom and I, finally discovered BlackJack hiding in their storage room off the garage.  As I carried BlackJack out of room, Buster leaned over from their second story deck, sporting a gigantic Cheshire Cat grin. BlackJack found enough strength to snarl back.

Two grumpy old men…funny if they weren’t in the process of trying to kill one another.  The two have gotten into a knockdown/drag out fights, complete with black and orange fur flying and high pitched yowls.  Buster’s male owner yelled at the two of them to no avail and finally turned the hose on full force.  The two were soaked to the skin before finally realizing they should stop fighting.  They both dripped their way home, looking a whole lot like drowned rats with tails tucked between their legs.

After a couple soakings, coupled with superficial injuries, the two cats have come to their senses.  At least we think they have. They still are territorial, they still yowl, growl and howl and they still face off but they now pretend there is an acrylic Berlin Wall between them so no actual fighting occurs. And, they make sure that one of their owners is nearby to call a halt should things get out of control. The grumpy old men have pretty much gotten the whole thing figured out.

Now, the two look for one another so another round of chicken can be played.  Gracie is all but forgotten. If BlackJack isn’t outside immediately in the morning or disappears inside for his naps, Buster climbs the stairs to our deck, first peering over the edge of the deck, then sitting with his nose against the sliding glass door, waiting for his nemesis to appear.  I understand BlackJack makes a similar trek to Buster’s deck and sliding glass door.

The other day I thought there might actually be hope for World Peace.  The two grumpy old men were sprawled on the same lawn below our deck, watching each other and the golfers. Every once in a while, one would growl and the other one would snarl, but it was as if they had just run out of steam, too tired to fight and finally willing to get along.

Detente only lasted one afternoon. By the next morning, they were at it again. So much for World Peace.

BlackJack Comes Home

When the original BlackjackBlackJack, the cat who came for winter, moved across the valley to a larger home with his young family, I was devastated.  I called my good friend Joanne because she and I had mutually grieved the loss of a number of animals.

Joanne listened to my Pity Party for a time before finally saying, Geez, Carla, you need to get your own cat. If you can’t commit to an animal, how can you possibly commit to a man? 

She and I had also shared our woes in dating, although Joanne had found the Love of her Life so those talks had long since ceased.

I thought about Joanne’s words as I realized how much the cat meant to me and how much he had become a part of my life.  BlackJack had been an amusing companion and he had certainly kept me entertained when he wasn’t napping. However, there was the reality that we didn’t belong to one another. He and I had both wandered in and out of each other’s lives, even if he had snuggled up to my back on cold winter nights.

As I write this, I realize this experience wasn’t really that much different than some of the long term relationships I’ve been in, which certainly gives me pause for thought.  

Regardless, Joanne was no doubt right.  I needed to commit, at least to a cat, especially as there were no men currently vying for my attention.

I knew I wanted a black male cat, having first had such great luck with the first BlackJack and then, after researching black cats online, learning that black male cats do make good companions and are pretty mellow.  They are also good at keeping your feet and/or back warm in the winter.

By winter, I had ventured onto Craigs List and, in the dead of February, there he was…a big, big black cat with gold eyes. He lived in Berkeley, a street cat that had been taken in by a young couple that already had two too many cats.

I drove up to Berkeley, took one look at the a four year old, very large black cat who nuzzled me and purred before going back to his nap. He had a jet black coat that still feels like soft velvet, inquisitive eyes and a cold nose. I knew immediately this was a cat with whom I could commit.

The two of us drove home with the newly named BlackJack howling beside me.  He didn’t know he was on the cusp of a new, pampered lifestyle.  As soon as he got in his new home, BlackJack bolted down into the basement and hid.  The good news was that I was on winter break, so I had all the time in the world to sit on the stairs in a damp basement and bond with my new cat.  The bad news was that I was still recovering from bronchitis and the damp basement did not help speed the recovery.

Nonetheless, we bonded once he got hungry.  Apparently, the key to a male’s heart may be through his stomach regardless of the species, although I quickly learned an 18 lb. cat is always hungry.

And, BlackJack is pure male. He loves food and he loves football, especially the 49ers. He stretches out on the couch and watches every play unfold with great concentration, but only during their winning seasons.  Don’t ask me how he knows, but he’s currently batting 1000 (a mixed sports metaphor, I know) and he senses exactly how the season will go by halftime of the first preseason game. This season looks particularly bad, but you already knew that.

It’s been almost 14 years that we’ve been together — take that, Joanne, I can commit — although recently, BlackJack appears to have been smitten by the siren song of a sweet young thing next door. He does come back home for meals and naps, and I have to admit, he still snuggles close and keeps my back warm on cold winter nights.

The Cat Who Came for Winter

My daughter’s cat lived a good number of her nine lives with me before going on to kitty heaven, or where ever cats go after permanently scarring their mistresses. In the weeks prior to her departing, a young black cat mysteriously arrived. He had no identification other than a tag with his name, BlackJack. He was obviously well cared for.

BlackJack would hang around in the backyard with Misha, trying unsuccessfully to interest her in a leaf, a blade of grass, his antics.  She ignored him, unless he got too close and then she’d hiss.  I warned BlackJack what that hiss meant and shooed him away.

Within a couple days of Misha moving on to her just rewards, Blackjack showed up, this time pushing his way through the kitty door and looking for food. I tried to explain that he had a home and I thought perhaps he understood because he cocked his head at me and looked like he was paying attention.  BJ1 (1)

Of course, my own kids and students did the exact same thing and they weren’t listening to my words of wisdom any more than the cat.  I turned around and he was curled up asleep on my bed.  

BlackJack!  He opened his eyes halfway, looked at me, yawned, stretch, rolled over and promptly went back to his afternoon nap.

The visiting routine turned into a full time residency as autumn turned to winter.  I still had no idea who owned him, but BlackJack had moved in, now eating meals twice a day and keeping me company on the winter evenings.  Then, we would head to bed where he usually slept cuddled up next to my back.

He was much better behaved than Misha and preferred purring to hissing. 

Although BlackJack enjoyed Thanksgiving with the family, entertaining us before dining on a bite or two of turkey, he really loved the Christmas holidays. He thought the decorated tree was his new toy, batting ornaments and sleeping under the lit tree in a cozy, warm nest in the middle of the gifts. I tied a red ribbon and bow around his neck and he thought he was the cat’s meow.

I still had no idea who owned him, although it seemed like I might be assuming that role. 

Springtime came, the weather warmed and, just as mysteriously as he showed up, BlackJack disappeared.  I have to admit, it was rather lonely and I did worry about him, although that ceased when he started stopping by for a few minutes, rubbing up against me, purring and then twitching his long black tail before running off.

It was mid-summer and I was out for a walk when I spotted BlackJack a few blocks away.  He ran up to greet me and then turned tail and ran towards what I later learned was his summer home.

Eventually, the owner of the summer home, and real owner of BlackJack, and I met.  The cat looked at both of us, caught red-pawed so to speak, and took off.  She and her husband had two young daughters so winters inside were louder than the cat wanted. By then, BlackJack had his routine and for the next few years, he wintered with me. I offered to pay half the vet bills, but she declined, saying room and board were more than sufficient.

She called one year in early December to check on BlackJack.  He was sleeping on my pillow.  They were going away for the holidays and she wanted to know if she should board him

Oh no, he loves Christmas, I said.

I wouldn’t know, she answered.

A few years later, in the middle of summer, the family moved to a larger home, taking our cat with them and breaking my heart.

My Daughter’s Cat

I inherited my daughtIMG_2441er’s cat. 

I like dogs.  We’ve always had dogs and they were always German Shepherds.  The dogs instinctively knew their role: to serve and protect. And they did it quite well without ever complaining.

Then there was Misha, a small, dainty bundle of tangled black, white and grey fur that always needed grooming.  She established her role rather quickly: she was the center of the universe.

I’m not quite sure how I ended up with her — at the time, I thought I was just cat-sitting for a weekend.

Misha and I had met once before, right after my daughter, a student at UCB, and her boyfriend/now husband adopted her from the local animal shelter.  Misha was cute enough, but she was a cat.  My daughter had always wanted a cat;  I’m not sure why, because as an adult, she and her husband have adopted very large dogs that keep up quite well with my two very active grandsons.

However back in her college days, my daughter had Misha.  And, being a cat and somewhat curious, Misha got out of the Berkeley house and was hit by a car.

I got the call at school during lunch.

Mom…daughter was crying.  Sob, sob, sob. 

Misha got hit by a car. Sob, sob, sob.

I thought that was the end of cat’s nine lives from my daughter’s sobbing. I was wrong.

Mom, she needs surgery.


Honey, there comes a point you have to let Misha go onto kitty heaven. 

I tried to be gentle, but good grief, the soon-to-be ex and I were underwriting two kids in college, a bi-coastal marriage with two households, and this was a very young kitten of questionable lineage.

You’d never make that decision about your dogs.  My daughter quickly grew very indignant. 

Actually we had, but the kids didn’t know it and this didn’t seem like the best time to rewrite history or argue the point.

Besides, Misha had already had the surgery.

Can you put money in my bank account?  Please…

Cha-Ching, Cha-Ching.

We ended the conversation and I headed back to my classroom, where the phone was again soon ringing.

The teacher next door walked in, mid-conversation, and, having kids and animals of his own, quickly pieced together what was happening.

He stood at the door and kept mouthing, It’s a cat. Are you crazy? as I listened to my daughter give the Misha Medical Update.

Did you know they have kitty respirators? 

Cha-Ching, Cha-Ching, Cha-Ching, Cha-Ching.

So, by all standards, Misha should have lived the rest of her remaining seven or eight lives with my daughter, who obviously had the cat’s best interests at heart.

But, no, Misha ended up with me.

We had a love-ignore relationship.  I tried to love her; she pretty much ignored me.  Maybe not totally ignored me, because I fed her and tried to groom her. But it was definitely in the toleration range.

Misha wanted to be left alone until she didn’t, and she wanted to be petted or groomed until she didn’t, at which time she’d hiss and bite or claw.  Unfortunately, I never saw the hiss, bite or claw coming so she usually got me.  Then, she would walked away, twitching her very elegant tail and feeling very pleased with herself while I nursed my bleeding wounds.

If I didn’t give Her Highness the attention she demanded, Misha would walk out in front of my our her home, sit on the lawn at the edge of the sidewalk and patiently wait for a neighbor to walk by.  Then, the cat would throw herself on her back in front of anyone who strolled by, purr loudly, and wait for a tummy rub.

Everyone in the neighborhood thought Misha was the most perfect, most polite, most beautiful cat they had ever met. 

Evidently, I was the only one who knew the truth.