Animal Writes
From 18 May 2003 Issue

Goodbye Scooter
By Dr. Steve Best - [email protected] 

In 1999, Scooter came into my life in the most unpretentious packing, brought to me in a plain paper bag. He was one of three tiny kittens held by a volunteer working at the local "humane society" who told me that they would all be killed the next morning if no one took them. Already having 14 cats at the time, I was most reluctant to take more, but as everyone around me made excuses I acquiesced. You could say I was left holding the bag. I thought I would be their guardian just until I could find others to adopt them. Little did I know that the kittens in the bag, Scooter above all, would prove to be a blessing and not a burden.

Scooter, Shag, and Willis, as I named them, were like unruly human babies. Being a lifetime member of the club of Non-Breeding Bachelors, I was not accustomed to waking every 2 or 3 hours to bottle feed. Each tiny body fit snugly in the palm of my hand. As will surprise no animal lover, with each nursing period and every passing day, I grew increasingly attached to all my new babies, despite the constant noise and messes and overall chaos they brought into my peaceful world. After two weeks of bottle feeding, I put them in a box and took them to every house in my neighborhood in an effort to find them a good home and to prevent even larger tumbleweeds of cat fur rumbling through the hallways of my house.

As it dawned on me how difficult it would be to adopt them together to a loving home, it hit me like a thunderbolt that I already had fallen in love with all three and I suspect by then they felt I was their lumbering, ill-shaven, two-legged mommy.
And so it was, they entered my family as my own children, not temporary adoptees, and I joyfully embraced my new found responsibilities while I awaited the return of nights of unbroken sleep.

All three kittens and I shared a deep bond, but Scooter stood out from the rest, indeed from all my cats, even though I was loathe to admit I had a favorite. Scooter was an orange and white, short-hair, striped tiger cat. He was always skinny, not because I didn't try to feed him enough but because he was the most finicky eater on the planet. If the dice of the I Ching rolled right, Scooter might not turn away from the food offering on a given day. And he had another trait: he scooted a lot.

The intuition behind the name proved sound as Scooter loved to run throughout the house. He cherished his time on the roof, often standing still on the front corner like the wise gargoyle of my street. Every day I heard him thunder across the rooftop as though Charlton Heston were running a chariot race. It was a comforting sound, like raindrops.

Very early on, Scooter assigned to himself the role of being my shadow. He followed me from room to room, he glided across me as I tried to read and write, and, most poignantly, he slept with me every night, if not on my chest, nestled within the crook of my knees. Every morning, without fail, I repeated the same ritual. I stirred to consciousness, felt Scooter's warm body next to mine, sat up, stroked him, and said matter-of-factly, "I love you, Scooter." The day was born. If I woke too early and went back to bed, Scooter always returned to assume his rightful place.

Scooter was aggressive in his need to give and receive love, and he had no respect whatsoever for my work deadlines. If he jumped on my lap, I would counter by lowering my book to block his move to my face. Scooter easily evaded that by maneuvering around the obstacle or climbing under or over it to get to my face. Checkmate. Scooter rubbed his face against mine while his vibrational purr glided past my cheeks like an electric razor. Typically, his will was stronger than mine. All work ground to a halt, and it was time for a Scooter break.

Scooter had a perverse sense of humor. Whenever I lay prostrate watching TV or reading a book, he would leap onto my upper chest, slowly turn around, and then back his rear end directly into my face. The best sense I could make of that habit was simply that Scooter liked to play practical jokes on me. When I turned him around to face me in a more pleasing direction, I could see a smirk on his face and smug self-satisfaction while his purring roared.

Scooter's favorite game of all was to do everything in his power to stop me from making the bed. As soon as he heard the sheets snap before draping down on the bed, he tore through the house, flew onto the mattress, and pounced onto the sheets to make it impossible to complete the task. If I outwitted him with the bottom sheet and managed to pull it over all four corners of the bed without trapping him underneath it like the Loch Ness monster about to surface, he raced about as the successive layers of bedding came down and then waited furtively to attack anything that moved around him.

I played jokes on Scooter too. My favorite game was to pick him up, hold him in the air, roll him over, and bury my face in his stomach in order to feast on a delicious "Scooter sandwich." He endured my face cheeks good-naturedly, just as I tolerated his butt cheeks.

One of my favorite mantras to say with Scooter was "friend to the end." That was my way of reaffirming our special bond everyday, knowing that nothing could disturb it until either he or I met our inevitable end.

Not in my worst nightmares did I fear that Scooter's end would come so soon, so terribly soon, after only three years of joyful romping, creative bedlam, and soulful loving. An unimaginable thunderbolt of grief shattered my world and for many days everything stopped but the tears.

I remain the privileged guardian of nine wonderful cats. There is not a place I can go in the house without seeing furry bodies up to no good. Yet without Scooter, the place is eerily empty and devoid of life. Space is haunted by his absence. The center is gone. The house is not a home.

People ask me how I cope with his death without believing in the postulates of God, spirit, and the afterlife and with total honesty I answer: I cannot. I cannot comfort myself with the belief that Scooter went to a better place, that there was a cosmic reason for his death, or that I will see him again when I too "pass."

I will never find another Scooter in any skinny orange and white striped cat and I will never see him again. I doubt his soul is in heaven, but I know his body is buried in my yard, nourishing the bushes and flowers he so loved to run through.

Without God or the afterlife as reference points, I have only my memories of Scooter and the knowledge that we shared a profound love and bond. When I sit by his grave and water the flowers with salty tears, I do not bother pray to a void. The pain is pure, unrelieved, and inconsolable.

This aggravates the grief, but it increases my appreciation of life. It means I can only live and love now, and fulfillment and enjoyment cannot wait for another life or world. It makes living, loving, and four-footed beings like Scooter all the more special. Accordingly, I gave my whole heart and being to Scooter, as he gave me his.

Friend to the end, Scooter. I curse the darkness that the end came so soon and I miss you so terribly much.


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