Best Cat in the Solar System

It recently came to my attention that October 29th was National Cat Day. With the abounding number of odd “national” commemorative days, it isn’t surprising that I missed it. But it caused me to reflect on some of the feline friends I’ve known.
Some folks don’t like cats. Some claim to be only “dog people.” And some don’t like either. On the Shannon County farm where I spent much of my childhood, we had a variety of animals, including cats and dogs, and I like them both.
In one way or another, the animals on the farm earned their keep. Spot, a wiry, black and white terrier-mix, earned Grandpa’s favor as a squirrel and rabbit dog. [Yes, we ate squirrels and rabbits, and I learned how to clean them at an early age. As cuisine, squirrels weren’t bad, but rabbits, in my view, were another matter. I wouldn’t give a nickel for a cooked rabbit on a plate, though I have eaten them in Paris and at fancy urban restaurants in the U.S. My wife cringes at the notion of eating either. For now, I’m safe from hassenpfeffer.]
The cats on our farm weren’t freeloaders, either. My grandma judged their worthiness on whether they were good “mousers,” and let some live in the barn. I don’t remember much about most of the barn cats except when I was handling the milking chores. I could aim in their direction and squirt them several feet away where they sat with their mouths open, lapping away. My grandmother frowned on this behavior, but where do you suppose I learned the trick? 
You may recall that my grandpa wore a prosthetic, mechanical hook on one hand, which I don’t think Ol’ Bossy the cow would have appreciated. So, Grandma did most of the milking.
Two cats, Tom and Jerry, stood out from the pack. These two brothers looked nothing alike. Tom, a gray tabby, was skinny and skittish. My grandmother claimed, with some distain, it was because he ate lizards. Jerry, a cream-colored, husky boy, and a mouser by trade, was more favorably regarded by Grandma.
Jerry loved to be picked up, even by me as a 5-year-old. When cradled in my arms he draped from the middle like a loaf of bread. He even tolerated riding on my lap (as much as a cat could) as I peddled a tricycle in the front yard. 
Jerry was my first cat buddy—there have been others—but I want to tell you about the current one—Bob.
On our security camera, two years ago in December, we saw a strange cat roaming through the woods in front of our house at 2 a.m. It was eerie. This gray tabby, with white boots and bib, was a double of our last cat, a shelter rescue named Nick Nolte. And this trespasser had just strolled past Nick’s tombstone, a plump ceramic frog in a bikini.
My wife and I laughed that it was one of Nick’s nine lives inspecting his old stomping grounds and didn’t think much more about the incident. But then, the interloper showed up on the camera a second time. And a third. We began checking the camera every morning but didn’t see him again. 
A week later, a friend of mine who belongs to a cat rescue organization in St. Louis, and refers to herself as a “crazy cat lady,” posted a photo on Facebook of a tomcat she had rescued and was fostering. This cat was also a ringer for Nick. 
Two look-alikes in a week? Nah, I told myself, it couldn’t be the same cat—St. Louis was 20 miles away. Brimming with curiosity, I emailed her to find out where she had found this cat. The answer astonished me.
A rescue colleague of hers, who lives only a mile from us, had been feeding feral cats. One in particular, whom she had named Bob, seemed less wild. Because of the frigid weather, they trapped him to get him into a shelter.
By the time I inquired, Bob had been accepted at a shelter in St. Charles County, which is 30 miles away. A couple days later, I had to be in St. Charles County on business, and a feeling that I can only describe as sadness, drew me to the shelter.
Inside, Bob hunkered in a back corner on an elevated platform when I entered the room he shared with another cat. As my friend had posted on Facebook, he was “all big head and sad eyes—irresistible.” Keeping a respectful distance, I stood without speaking, but our eyes locked in communication.
He didn’t flinch as I approached and allowed me to pet his head. My heart told me this was a special cat. I said goodbye and silently vowed to return.
After the loss of Nick, we were hesitant to get another cat, but the next day my wife and I signed the adoption papers and took Bob home with us. We prepared a place in the guest bedroom as a safe space for him to become acclimated to his new home. At first, he hid under the bed and wouldn’t come out when we were in the room. We knew it would take time to gain his trust.
Several times a day I would enter Bob’s room and lie on the bed, silently reading a book. On the third day, with no coaxing, Bob hopped onto the bed and stretched out near my feet. “Good, Bob,” I said, but didn’t attempt to pet him. 
The following day he got on the bed and allowed me to pet him. The next day, within minutes of my lying down, he leaped onto the bed, crawled up on my chest, and stretched out facing me. He began purring and the muscles in his front paws alternately tensed and relaxed, as he peered into my eyes.
I paraphrased Humphrey Bogart’s famous line from the movie Casablanca: “Bob, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” And it has been just that. Sometimes we slip and call him Nick, but we always tell him he is the best tomcat in the solar system.
Now, two years later, Bob has eased into an indoor life, living large and in charge, demanding to be brushed every day, and riding herd on two dogs. At night, if it’s cold, he curls up on our bed, and during the day, he often perches on my desk as I write, occasionally assisting by tapping a few keystrokes. (Any typos are his fault.) And thanks to my talented sister-in-law, Sandra West Whitaker (WSHS ’63), Bob even has his portrait painted on a rock.
It seems as if Bob has lived here for more than two years—maybe he has.

Howell County News

110 W. Main St.,
Willow Springs, MO 65793

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