CaloThere were always lots of cats in the yard in South El Monte, so when the three showed up, there wasn’t much of a change in routine.  Every morning and evening, before I fed our own indoor-only family cats, I also made sure the dry food and water bowls were clean and full, and set out lots of dishes of wet food for those whose tastes ran to the soft, in the cat-houses and on the steps right outside the front and back doors.  In no time, they would be cleaned, and I would bring them in again to be washed, but not before stopping to share affection and forehead-rubs with any of the extended family of semi-ferals I’d been working to earn the trust of ever since I’d moved in. 

Basically, I was dealing with a matriarch, a beautiful, prosperous-looking silver tabby who had been coming for food but never allowed me to approach her, and her ever-expanding brood of kids, grandkids and suitors.  As time went on, I was able to talk to, touch, and eventually get medical care for the family, but Maa remained aloof.  There were other, unrelated cats as well, cats who visited, snacked, and disappeared from whence they came.  The three fit into this category.

It was easy to see that the young red tabby girl was being ardently courted by her all-white suitor; this was a situation to be dealt with in all haste, which I was fortunately able to do, adopting the bright little girl après-spay and gaining admittance for her boyfriend, whose skin condition we unsuccessfully tried to treat, at Best Friends Animal Society in Utah.  But the big, glossy black male in whose company they had always been remained a mystery.  Who was he, and why was he accompanying this amorous pair of teenagers?

CaloAs time went by, and the mini-panther became a faithful visitor, I began seeing evidence of his having territorial squabbles.  It was after rushing him to emergency for treatment of one particularly virulent abscess that I made the decision to adopt him formally, bringing him indoors to join our ever-expanding family.  His regal bearing, stunning ebony coat, and bodybuilder’s physique conjured up images of a panther stalking the wild; his squared-off muzzle and cough-growl voice  would have seemed more in keeping for a big cat, as well, but he was gentle and sweet, calm, serene and even reassuring in his demeanour.  In fact, the only explanation I finally came up with for his having been in the company of the two lovebirds was that he was their guardian, always in the background, ever vigilant. 

He told me, in subtle, unspoken ways, that his name was Calo, which is the Roma (‘Gipsy”) for “black”.  He became the guardian of our family, growing sweeter, stronger, more muscular and glossy with each passing year.  During our three magical years in the Mojave Desert, he learned about the many wondrous creatures that called it home, and, in a cat harness and leash, discovered the delights of snow.  He and his fellow felines enjoyed their own “catio”, built onto the back of the house and accessible via cat flaps in the screen and the sliding glass doors, in almost all weather, sometimes staying out all night, safe and secure, yet able to patrol for insects and survey their domain for rabbits, quail, horned lizards and other fascinating desert denizens.  Their lives were filled with sights, sounds, and wonders.  Though we had found our earthly Paradise, however, it was not to last.

Personal and family crises led to our relocation back to the city – another city, but a city, like every other city, where we were once again limited in the size and scope of our ability to enjoy nature, peace, and freedom.  We adjusted, and Calo, true to his noble nature, was ever our guardian.  He seemed ageless.  His doctor had guesstimated his age at 2-5 years when he had his first checkup, and his glowing good health and robust physique never seemed to change.  But, as with all living beings, after four years in our new home, he very rapidly declined in health, quite suddenly.  I had experienced the passing of far too many loved ones not to recognize the signs of impending kidney failure, perhaps the most common cause of ill health in older felines due to their obligate carnivorous diets.  I made him comfortable, surrounded him with the love and familiarity of his family and favourite things, and tried to deny the inevitable. 

On the morning of 25th May, when I went out to fill the bird feeders that provide nonstop entertainment for my beloved cats, a strange sight greeted me.  There, perched on a branch of the slow-growing white bougainvillea, was a white dove.  A white dove with a wound on her back, just to the right of her left wing.  I had never seen a white dove here; they are generally kept in captivity for release at funerals, weddings, and other occasions, but never seen in nature.  That, and the fact that she let me come so close I could easily have picked her up, made me know she was a Messenger; and, though I would have denied her her mission, I knew immediately what she had come to tell me.

Returning indoors, I got my camera to document her visit, so people hearing about her wouldn’t question my sanity in the wake of our family’s impending grief. 

Our beloved Calo transcended this earth late that night, four years to the day since our forced relocation, and three since our beloved King Nicolas Cat had also made his final journey.  He went easy, in his own home, in comfort, surrounded by his family. 

The house and yard where we met no longer exists.  Neither does the marriage that brought me there; and most of the beloved cats of that time have also gone to the Rainbow Bridge.  But their beloved memories, and that of my precious Calo, will forever be in my heart. 

@ 2011, by Jamaka N. Petzak




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