Monday, 30 June 2014


Gus was our oldest cat. She was seventeen. My wife found her in August 1997, one of two eight-week old kittens apparently abandoned in the pouring rain at the side of a road out in the country somewhere. She took the kittens in and they were named Bella and Gus, short for Asparagus, after two cats in a poem by T.S. Eliot, unfortunately necessitating a lifetime of explanations that Gus was a girl, albeit a stocky girl who would have been described as something of a tomboy in human terms. Her sister passed away at the age of eight, but Gus continued, growing surprisingly old for a cat - for which the average life expectancy is fourteen - in stately fashion. She was pleasantly round and solid without being fat, with a personality unlike that of any other cat I've encountered.

Her beetle brow fostered the impression of a failure to be amused in the same sense as Queen Victoria, and it seemed fitting that Bess's mother would occasionally refer to Gus as our Victorian cat.

On the occasion of my wife moving house, Gus had the feline equivalent of a nervous breakdown, retreating into the darkest corner beneath the bed and refusing to come out for either food, water, or lavatory breaks. After three days my wife, at her wits end, called in a cat psychoanalyst - this being America - who, against all perhaps justifiably cynical expectation, somehow talked Gus down and set her straight once more. By the time I turned up, Gus had settled into old age, not exactly a lively or demonstrative cat, but one who seemingly knew what she liked, who moved slowly but with unstoppable conviction - the sea lion of the couch as we termed her due to her small ears and general build. She would lick a spot on your hand or arm when the mood took her - this apparently being a tic of cats which have been separated from their mothers too soon - and would keep working that spot for the next few hours if left to her own devices. Stranger still was her spanking habit. She would hop upon the arm of the couch as my wife sat, wearing the hard stare which let us know that she was ready for her daily session. Bess would pat her rump just above the tail, sending Gus into paroxysms of delight. Bess would pat harder, and Gus would grab the arm of the couch with both paws rubbing her face against the material, squeaking and quacking with pleasure.

'I feel kind of dirty,' Bess would shrug, pounding away at a now delirious Gus with one hand, 'but she likes it so much.'

Sometimes I'd have to say that's enough, if it had been going on for more than ten minutes with such vigour that I could no longer hear the television over the slapping and Gus's happy meows.

Over the last couple of years, she slowed down somewhat, although came to appear regal rather than old in so much as she continued to keep herself clean, and never acquired the decrepit look of some elderly cats. She spent a lot of time sitting out on the porch in the sun, often with another old cat - a friendly stray who seemed to have adopted us, and whom we named Selma after Homer Simpson's sister owing to a deep, discordant meow which suggested a nicotine habit of at least two packs a day. We liked to imagine them as two old ladies sat in the sun discussing days gone by.

A couple of months ago, Gus stopped eating. We took her to the vet, and found that dental trouble was making it difficult for her. We had her treated, and things got back to normal, although her behaviour became increasingly erratic over the last week. She began to seem disorientated, and her appetite vanished once more. Fearing the worst for the second time in a matter of months, I picked her up, hugged and kissed her and put her in the cat box. The vet said that her kidney's were pretty much gone, and that at best she had weeks to live, so she was put down to save her further suffering.

We are all still devastated. It feels as though Gus has always been around, and life without her seems unthinkable. She was the heart of our household. We loved that cat.

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