ODE to ANGUS
The name is Campbell. Angus Campbell. Cat.
Angus was an unusual and unique cat. He was also a socially and psychologically disturbed cat.
I asked him this many times. ” Angus, what’s wrong with you? “What happened to you.”
He came into our lives at the ripe young age of 14 months. We were the 4th in a line of owners, so I guess he was rescued by us. If we hadn’t agreed to take him in from owner #4, his fate may have taken a different and most negative turn, for the worst. He would be a difficult cat to re-house with his fear of people. I also told him this.
We saved him and he repaid us many times over in the short time he lived with us. One year and 3 months. He was in his youth.
Somewhere in his kittenhood, he was traumatised.
I have no doubt his previous owners cared for him. He was micro-chipped, neutered, immunised and council registered. However he was claustrophobic, frightened and would not be contained, restrained or confined. Perhaps he was taken from his Mother too early, unsocialised, locked in a room and forgotten about. At some stage, small children were involved in his fears. He hated most people.
Except for us. He loved us and we loved him back.
I thought I was ready for a cat, being a cat person from way back.
This one however proved to be a challenge and at this stage I doubt there will be another cat for me. However, never say never because the house itself seems different now without him.
On our first introduction, I noticed his about-to-be-ex owner holding him very tightly, too tightly. Even his face was contorted with the effort. The man, not the cat. It was not a good look! He was coiled like a spring, ready to bolt. the cat, not the man!
We had purchased, for $10, a strong , supposedly escape proof cardboard cat carrier from the local Cat Shelter, which all three of us attempted to squeeze him into, luring him in with fresh chicken pieces and closing the lid.
Alas, he was onto this ploy. In about 5 seconds, he was out, after getting a paw through a porthole like opening in the side, followed by his entire body. He slid along the polished boards, got traction and took off like a cat possessed, disappearing down the hallway, while we all stood there looking at the torn and tattered cardboard remains, minus one cat.
It took a much larger and more secure dog carrier, with side window, to contain him for the long ride home. He was quiet.
Once home and inside after a lengthy spell hidden behind the couch, he slowly and steadily, by stealth, insinuated himself into every aspect of life here as we knew it. Cats do that, as every cat owner knows. The house and yard were now his, to do with as he wished.
As it turned out – so were we, poor ignorant humans.
He was an outdoor cat, he made that very clear to us early on.
Many is the time I told him ” Angus I am not your concierge ” as he insisted on me opening and shutting doors so he could enter or exit at any odd hour of the day or night. He trained us well.
He acted as a dog would, sitting at doors, waiting to be let out. He refused a litter tray like a normal cat, preferring to be outdoors, day or night, nighttime being the danger time for all cats. This is their hunting, roaming and exploring time.
It is also a time for nightcrawlers and other unseen dangers in the night, who hide in old, darkened laneways or in nearby swampy wetlands where endangered frogs croak out their familiar chorus. We often wondered where his nocturnal wanderings led him.
For every day he lived here, he would be at the door at dawn, like clockwork, or on the lounge chair on the balcony, waiting for me. In fact, he took possession of that chair, plus all the other seating arrangements around the place, noticeable only if you sat on said chairs wearing black, to be left brushing cat hairs off your person forever more.
I tried to sneak past him, on early mornings at sunrise, tiptoeing across the polished boards, trying to avoid him ..to no avail. That pesky creaking floorboard would give me away every time.
His head would snap up, he would see me creeping there, I froze, he would give a long cat-like stretch and would be sitting at the door, waiting for entry. He was dog-like. He was my shadow. ” Angus – can you stop following me, God, can I have a private moment – ever?”
Visitors didn’t get to meet him.
They knew about him, they wanted to see him, play with him, pat him, pick him up. He would have none of it. The only time I picked him up ended with him scratching me quite badly across the chest, startled by a car – at the end of the street. Way at the end of the street. Gallons of Antiseptic cream later, I told him “Angus, it’s at the top of the road!”
Even people casually walking by freaked him out, the postman, the doorbell ringing, the phone ringing..other peoples’ voices…he was the original ” scaredy cat “. The term was invented for him! He refused to be held.
I witnessed him throwing himself with force against the window glass in a desperate effort to escape the presence of a small child. Another time, early on I closed him inside the kitchen for one night to familiarise himself with his new surroundings only to be woken by a horrendous banging.
That was Angus throwing his furry, black and white long haired body against the wooden door in an attempt to escape. He became an outdoor cat from that moment.
Yes he was a killer. There is a spot at the end of the garden, where we buried the corpses of his hunt. A fully grown pigeon, part of a pair, now single and numerous other birds, the remains strewn across the lawn, mostly feathers but sometimes headless, meaty bits and body parts.
No mice. I don’t think he ever encountered a mouse. I had hoped he would get to sight one, like I did the other day. The little rodent was staring up at me from his (or her) entrapment place – in the bath!
Angus always left his catches proudly spread out under the Hills hoist, never at the door. Always thinking of me!
I once saw him catch a bird in full flight. Oh if only I had been able to YouTube that. He was lying there frozen in bird dog mode when a small feathered foe swooped in low over his head. He swatted at it and missed. Foolishly, the little bird came around for a second fly over.
He launched himself from his hindlegs almost 2 metres into the air, catching that bird in mid-flight. He proceeded to his favourite shady spot to torture and tease the poor unfortunate creature. It ended up in the bird graveyard at the base of his favourite tree. I couldn’t save his catches.
The neighbour cats soon became aware of the new pecking order. They would sit, a metre away, staring at him, for long minutes, in a creepy staring contest until they eventually encroached just a little too far. There would ensue a noisy drawn out cat fight, with Angus going in hard to defend his territory, all tightly knit whirling balls of fur, resulting in the intruder leaping hell for leather over the back fence as if Satan himself was hot on his tail.
One fine Summers day, I observed the mangy domestic moggy from next door, sitting there calmly surveying the yard – and me -on Angus’s favourite step, unbeknown to him. “Um, Angus I whispered slyly to him ” Angus, there’s a cat in your spot ” aka Sheldon from The Big Bang. He carried on oblivious, looking up at me curiously – like “ What’s she on about, there’s nothing here……” until something awakened him to the fact…. he froze statue-like….before launching himself at the offending moggie, who took off like a bullet fired from a gun, raking trails through the leaf strewn back lawn, scrambling for hold on the fence, to escape to home territory and safety.
Angus could look after himself.
During one of the dramatic thunderstorms famous in this area, I roused myself at 2:00am to search for him outside. He had long ago insisted that the outdoors was for him, no holds barred. I was worried for him that night. It was loud. Opening the back door, hearing the rumbling , rolling thunder and crackling lightning, water pouring off the roof, I called him in. It took 2 tries and leaving a light on outside before a bedraggled and howling feline raced from the darkness into safety. Sanctuary. He stayed ensconced on the end of our bed the entire night.
I coaxed him down from a tree once. The old one out back. He went up but couldn’t find a way down. Before calling the Fire Brigade, I talked him into trying another, easier route, patting the branch until he got the message and took the alternative way down, with a grateful “meoouw”. I laughed. We had some fun, he and I.
Until that fateful night.
Being an outdoor cat, I knew the dangers he would encounter in the night. In darkness is when the difficulties occur. When he didn’t appear on that particular morning, outside on the banana lounge chair, I feared the worst. Nothing short of death would have prevented him from returning home. We were due to fly out for an overseas holiday in 2 days. House sitter organised. Various scenarios played out in my mind.
Lost?. No, he wouldn’t lose his way, he stuck close to the boundaries. Presenting himself at a strangers door? No. He avoided strangers completely. Desperation for food.? No person could have coaxed him in. A car? A snake?. A bait?. A cat hater trapping cats, for their fur, after all this is a dog lovers town. What horrible fate awaited him in the night. He would not have missed coming home unless he was physically unable to. I fear whatever he encountered that awful night, was fatal. I fear human involvement somehow.
I remember being woken by barking dogs and what sounded like a cat fight on the night he didn’t come home.
Those dogs were going off this time, much more than usual. Should I have checked on him then I have often wondered?
Angus was my mate.
Wherever I was, he was . On the end of the bed, like a lump of lead. Behind me on the couch, watching tv, ears flicking back and forth like antennae as he watched the ads. Licking me…yes, the licking, hands, feet, even licking my hair and gazing into my eyes with a look of such glazed over adoration, I had to tell him to cut it out. ” It’s creepy Angus ” you are creeping me out..
Outside while I read or wrote in the sun, he was there at my feet, sharing a sandwich or the remains of my yoghurt. Half his head would go into the tub. He loved it so. It was a regular occurrence. Sitting at the upstairs window, looking out at the world silent like the Sphinx. What was he thinking right then.
He loved me. He tolerated others. He seemed to like males more than females.
A real estate agent who visited, he warmed to. ” Cats like me ” he said.
He knew the car. He knew when we went out.
He knew when we returned. I would always call him on opening the roller door – ” It’s us Angus “. He would then appear, from close by, stretching, strolling out to greet us. He knew the sound of the sliding garage door opening.
Food drove him. We spent as much on his food as we did on electricity.
Whatever happened to him, we will sadly never know. Despite family members inquiring, doing the streets while we were away, there were no phone calls, no notifications, no word at all. Being micro-chipped, someone would have called. He wasn’t wearing his council tag. Too many collars had he loosened, with tag lost so I bought him a new collar, in fluoro lime green, ready for his re-registration and subsequent new tag. It’s still here in plastic packaging, untouched. Along with a huge bag of catfood, untouched.
Once, not long after, I was sitting at a local outdoor café, caffeine fix in hand, enjoying the view. Throngs of visitors made their way along the street, a rather colourful mix of humanity, consisting of excited tourists, busy shoppers, travellers, all adding a certain flair and hype to an otherwise grey, cloudy public holiday. I found myself people watching.
Suddenly a remote memory surfaced….of Angus. It simply popped, uninvited, into my head. There I sat, in a very public space, surrounded by this thriving bustle of sidewalk strollers, when a single tear began its unexpected, slow and sad trail down my cheek, threatening to splash, uncontrolled, right into my skinny latte.
“ Angus, you little shit “ I silently cursed. “Why won’t you leave me alone? Please, you have to leave now ”. Nobody noticed a thing as I brushed that tear away.
I believe he triggered something which had lain dormant deep inside me, a hidden memory of abandonment, so strong, it rose up from the past, triggering an outpouring of grief. This time however, it was Cat grief. Grief for a poor lost cat.
A heart can be broken more than once, this is true. Humans can and do break your heart. There is recovery but the wounds remain, that break remains, hidden under scar tissue which forms and hardens and sometimes it splits apart a little. The love for a pet is no different. I wasn’t prepared for the depth of heartache this caused me. It’s only a cat I hear it said…. I had lost cats before, but he was different. We put work into him. We rescued him. He wasn’t only a cat. He was an old soul, like a human in a cat’s body. He couldn’t have affected us like this if he was ” only a cat”. He was my cat despite all his foibles. He came into our lives for a reason. We all needed each other.
I missed him terribly.
I still expect to see him out there, on the chair, all the chairs. I even opened the back door a few times, automatically looking for him, same with the garage door, when I called to him on arrival home ” Angus, it’s only us “. The places he went, lived, lay upon, climbed, are all reminders of the loss. That balcony step where he chased off an interloper, the cane basket amongst the geraniums where he squeezed himself into, to be close to where I was, the cool, shady concrete path he liked to lay on in the Summer heat. The outdoors doesn’t feel the same… without Angus in it. I still looked for him.. how long will I keep looking for him? His presence was about. He hadn’t left yet but it got better. Was that the sound of his bell, tinkling in the distance? Was that lump at the end of the bed his warm little body?
Here are some Angus-isms – comments he made in his own way.
“Can you let me in, I’ve been waiting out here long enough!”
“I’m not liking this brand of cat food, it stinks. Can I have the old one back?”
“What do you mean I’ve already been fed?!”
“I know I’m not supposed to have dairy but I do like your yoghurt – but not the fruity ones, just plain thanks”
“ I would like to go out now – oh wait – I changed my mind it’s raining, I’ll stay in…..no maybe I will go out – immediately -? I’ll be back in 5 – well – maybe 2”.
“ I like to follow you everywhere.. there is always the chance you will give me more food.”
“ But I like to be close and stare into your face – because I love you.”
“ Don’t even think about putting flea powder on me!”
Angus. Wherever you are…
I hope there are great open spaces for you to roam free and unhindered, with long grass for you to hide in, where you can slink along on your belly like a great, brave hunting lion. I wish for you old gnarled tree trunks so you can dig your claws in and climb higher and higher, trees with leafy branches that twist and turn and reach right to the stars. I hope there are birds flying high above, ..out of reach, some companion pals, a shady spot to sit, perhaps on top of the spoils of all your hunts – a kind touch…a tickle under your chin… and a food bowl that is always filled to overflowing.
Somewhere in my heart, with all other reminiscences we collect and hold dear, there is a small space, where memories of Angus will reside. Other memories will be created, crowding around with old ones and his memories will dim eventually but they will never completely leave. They never do.
Roam free Angus. Go well Puss.