1989 – 2009
Time spent with cats is never wasted
Boris and his sister Steffi were born sometime in September 1989. Their mother, whose name I now forget, was a long-haired tortoiseshell who belonged to the MacDonald family of Wainuiomata. Their father was unknown. Or their fathers were unknown. It's a little-known fact that a female cat will mate with more than one tomcat during the course of her heat. If you are a kitten, some of your littermates might be half sisters or half brothers.
Boris was the pick of his litter in size, looks, personality and appetite. In his formative weeks he spent many hours in the crook of Mr MacDonald's arm having his tummy tickled—while Mr MacDonald watched television. I say formative because that early time is critical in determining the relationship of a cat to people. The MacDonalds were immigrants from Scotland and had two teenage daughters who, judging by their accents, had grown up in New Zealand. Kittens in their household were handled continuously from birth, but there were no little children to squeeze, prod, pull or otherwise make them wary of people. It was to worry me that Boris and Steffi were so trusting of everyone they met.
Unlike so many other cats, these two loved to be picked up. When young, Boris would pounce on my jeans and start climbing if I didn't respond to his vocal entreaties, and I would indeed respond before his claws reached the soft skin above my waistline. He often objected to being put down and struggled to stay on board. Many a time over the years I had to get down on the floor with him and gently unpick his 'grappling irons' from my shirt, all the while holding his scruff with my left hand so he couldn't swipe at me freely.
For all that Boris was a wonderfully affectionate cat, there was more than a bit of 'mongrel' in his make up. He would lash out if things were not done quite to his liking. Just as a smidgen of arrogance can render some men amusing and charismatic, Boris's underlying belligerence made him the singular cat he was. Endearingly horrible is an oxymoron, but that was Boris. Men who were otherwise indifferent to cats were captivated by this marmalade monster who eyeballed them, spoke to them, and then got in their faces—literally.
When Boris and Steffi were kittens, we lived at No. 10 Anderson Grove, Lower Hutt. My section backed onto Saint Bernard's Intermediate, a Roman Catholic school. Boris, the supreme extrovert, went to school while I went to work. On the playground of St Bernard's he made hundreds of new friends and became known there as Fluffykins. I came home once during the lunch hour and spotted a circle of about twelve boys seated on the grass just beyond my back fence. And there was Boris in the middle, moving from one boy to another to get his strokes and to be picked up.
The son of a friend of mine was a pupil at St Bernard's. He filled me in on Fluffykin's exploits in academia. Boris would follow the boys into the buildings and on more than one occasion he entered a classroom and jumped on a desk. He would get the attention of the whole class—wonderful. The teacher would have to remove him, but that was no hardship because Boris scored plates of milk from the staff room, and then he would sleep it off on cushions that were situated along a sunny window in the library.
One night they had a dance down at the school. It was dark and Boris, still just a kitten, was missing. I could hear the music and I figured there might be a connection. I found Boris at the doors to the hall, intent on gate crashing this event. He was none too pleased when I gathered him up and took him home.
Towards the end of that time, one pupil picked up Boris and threw him forcefully to the ground. Boris landed feet first but immediately ran home at speed. The groundsman was watching and reported the incident to the headmaster (Brother someone). The boy narrowly missed being expelled—I wonder if he's done jail time since. I don't know if this incident was the trigger, but Boris lost interest in school as he became a young adult cat.
We subsequently lived at Waikanae and then Miramar. In both places, Boris demonstrated his ability to charm and cultivate alternative providers. Fortunately, the family in Waikanae who adopted him came only occasionally to their beach bach. Boris would return to me once they'd departed, having dined well on gravy beef and cans of gourmet cat food purchased especially for him. Good food was not the only attraction however; Boris liked to be in a house with a wide selection of admirers. I couldn't compete.
At Miramar, yet another family became besotted with Boris. Theirs was a full house with tasty titbits dropping from tables. Boris had, not surprisingly, become a fat boy by this time. He was never one to hunt birds and mice—that was for losers. Boris had an eye for easy pickings and was also stealing cat food from another neighbour's house. He was surprised by the owner on one occasion, whereupon he launched his considerable weight at the cat flap, miscued a little and blew out the pane of glass. The neighbour later knocked on my door and asked, "Is that cat of yours all right?" Boris didn't have a scratch. I offered to fix the door window, but the neighbour had a glazier mate who could do that. He was only concerned about Boris.
From 1997 on we lived at Haumoana in Hawke's Bay. Boris was involved in a few dramas during this second half of his life. A certain gentleman, who had left his wife and newborn baby, moved into the area to cohabit with his new de facto. He came with a lean, mean pointer who at some stage had acquired a taste for killing cats. The de facto also owned a dog, a rather unimposing mutt who became a partner in crime to the pointer. These dogs were left to roam at night.
I was woken about five o'clock one morning by a high pitched yelping. I leapt out of bed and ran to the noise, pulled the curtains at the French doors and saw Boris on his back, legs spinning like windmills. A dog was weaving his head side to side centimetres above Boris's throat, looking for a way through lashing claws. I crashed through the door and three dogs vanished into the gloom. The dog that had squealed with excitement was a fox terrier. If he hadn't joined the team that morning, I'd have surely lost Boris. The pointer killed about twenty cats over a period of weeks; Boris was the only one who survived an attack. He needed a few stitches on a bite wound above his hip but was otherwise okay.
The dogs were still on the loose the following week. So how does that happen, you may ask. The problem was that it's difficult for people to identify a predominantly black dog they only glimpse at night, and the owners were asking for proof, denying all. I had been in such a panic to get through the door to rescue Boris that I had no clear recollection of the pointer's markings. The owner was reputed to have said down at the local bar that he didn't give a shit about cats. I had no choice but to lock Boris and Steffi inside. The dog ranger was unable to act without hard evidence. Ideally, we had to catch a dog.
I got a call few days later from a woman who had lost her cat, presumably to the pointer. She had positively identified another dog who had recently tried to kill her pet rabbit. This dog with brindle markings was outside the local pub. The dog ranger wouldn't make the trip to Haumoana unless she went down and caught it—standard policy to avoid wild goose chases. So could I please come around and accomplish that.
It was a Friday evening and the local bar was fair rocking; many of the clientele were quaffing beer on a veranda out front. The brindle dog was mingling with them and I assumed the owner was in the bar with his mates, possibly on his fourth jug at this stage. No way was I going to cross the road and apprehend this dog. Just as I was about to explain my wimp-out to the woman, I was rescued. The pointer—bad guy No.1— came streaking along the side of the road. I opened my car door—on the side not visible to the pub customers—and called to him. He leapt in. I looked over the road to check. No one had noticed.
The woman's house was on a back section more or less behind the pub, so we both drove in there and she called the dog ranger. He duly arrived and took the pointer out of my car. Then he went to the bar and picked up the stray brindle. Apparently the owner of that dog was not there after all, but someone alerted the owner of the pointer to the ranger's presence. I don't know the exact sequence of events, but after I drove out of the woman's house and down the road a bit I saw the dog ranger's parked van. The pointer's owner was talking through the driver's window. I kept moving. The next day I learned that the owner had removed his dog from the ranger's van.
The policy is that dog rangers do not resist potentially violent dog owners. It became a long story after this and I cannot relate all the detail here, but it took ages to get a destruction order for the dog, whereupon the owner declared that he'd got rid of the dog—didn't own it anymore. The officer at the Council told me that he'd more or less told her to get lost. Slight problem with that strategy—the ranger who'd had the dog taken from him was lusting for revenge. One hard bastard had run up against another hard bastard. That dog was going to be found and it was going to die, and die it did—eventually. After the pointer was impounded a spate of cat killings in his then location came to a sudden end. Once again, no clear identification of a dog had been made by many (about forty) distraught cat owners.
Life returned to normal in Haumoana and I was soon catching more fish than I ever had in Wellington. All cats get under your feet at times, but Boris would go nuts when raw fish was on the menu, swirling and yowling beneath and directly in front of me. Once the fish hit the floor, he'd be into it, growling all the while because Steffi had some too. She would usually leave a bit behind and Boris would polish it off. Every fisho who wants his efforts to be truly appreciated should have a cat like Boris.
Although Boris must have known that dogs could hurt him, he never lost his inclination to advance on any that came near him or on his property, no matter their size. Even their properties were not sacrosanct. Another neighbour was a police dog handler. His dog was usually in the back yard, but one day it was with him on the front lawn. Boris, always the fearless wanderer, happened by along the footpath. The German Shepherd circled around for a sniff. When he came close, Boris launched an attack and pursued him around his front lawn. I don't think Boris connected, but he made his point. He was king of the street.
Although I was catching fish, it clearly wasn't enough. A gentleman and his partner moved into a rented a house across the road. I'm sure he was on ACC because he said he had a bad shoulder and spent most of his life whitebaiting and fishing. Boris became his soul mate. The partner was also smitten, and this is where Boris learned that it was acceptable behaviour to lie on kitchen tables and benches. When the couple moved out, Boris was back to me full time. He was almost seventeen years old then and I noticed he was eating a lot but losing weight. A blood test confirmed that he had a common ailment of old cats: hyperthyroidism.
The best treatment, which was pioneered for humans, is to inject them with radioactive iodine. The iodine accumulates in the overactive thyroid cells and 'nukes' them. A simple enough procedure, but it required Boris to go to Wellington for a week of isolation. He came through that well, although his sister Steffi was clearly suffering kidney failure by this time. She collapsed one day in April 2007 and I had her put down. She was seventeen and half years old. Steffi had always been a total sweetie, not like Boris at all. I missed her a lot, although Boris's presence softened the blow.
As Boris got old and slow his famous appetite declined; he became quite fussy. I began to spoil him with cubed fillets of shoalie snapper or gurnard. He rarely refused those. When I related this to some of my other fish appreciators, the human variety, I got some very disapproving comments. Just to wind them up a bit more, I'd tell them it's a sad day when you can't share your snapper with your best mate.
By 2008 it was clear that Boris's kidneys were failing, although I correctly guessed that a sudden reduction in appetite was due to his teeth. A $350 dental clean with three extractions in late 2008 saw him back on his food and gain 700g in one week. I was hopeful he'd survive another year, but he became listless on the night of 11 January 2009. I put him on my bed. By six o'clock in the morning he was on his side and showing severe respiratory distress. I decided this was the end and got ready to have him put down, but that wasn't necessary in the end. I watched as the old boy drew his last gasp on the lounge floor. I glanced at the clock on the microwave: 6.30am.
Boris was then aged nineteen years and three months. I knew it was time for him to go and that he'd had a wonderful life, but it was a hard thing to accept. Disbelief was one reaction. Anger was another. Who was I angry at? God perhaps. Writing this tribute has been a catharsis for me. Cat lovers will understand and the rest don't matter.
Farewell my friend. I may never see the like of you again.