Saturday, March 24, 2012

Pete "Black Jack" Ketchum, R.I.P.

Pete, April 27, 2004 - March 20, 2012

Pete was a strange cat.  He enjoyed car rides, the park, and he tolerated change at the worst, and seemed to enjoy it at the best.  He was named for an outlaw, but he was everything but an outlaw.  He was a clown, curmudgeon, scientist—he tested gravity at every chance, and never failed to be mildly disappointed with the results—but mostly he was a companion and friend. 

We adopted Pete as a kitten from the Humane Society and it took him less than thirty minutes to make our home his—he was on my lap before the sun set, and that night he slept next to me on my pillow.  It took him even less time to steal our hearts.  He was rambunctious and so damn playful he never failed to make us smile. 

Our kitchen had linoleum flooring, and Pete would run to the end of the hall that led to the kitchen, get his steam up, and hit the linoleum under full power, extend his claws and slide across like it was ice.  He did that so many times I worried the flooring would flake into nothing.

He loved to play fetch—not with a ball, but with a wadded piece of tin foil.  When Pete wanted to play, he would drop the ball in a lap—any lap would do—and look at the lap’s owner expectantly with his big green eyes.  If the human didn’t throw, Pete would nudge the ball with his nose, look back with an insolent tilt of his head and unleash an impatient grunt.  As a kitten Pete wanted to play fetch all day, every day, and he liked it best when the tin foil ball was thrown across the kitchen floor, which allowed him to combine his favorite two pursuits—skidding across the linoleum on his claws and snagging a two-hopper with his teeth.  And damn if he didn't do it nearly every time.

As Pete matured into adulthood he lost some of his zest for fetch, but he found other ways to amuse himself.  We lived in a duplex in a rural Utah college town, and across the street three young men shared a house.  Pete would sit on the window ledge for hours watching the neighbors—they were the type of guys who “stored” four wheelers in the beds of their pickups, drank beer in the front yard on lawn chairs, chatted up the plump blonde next door, and took about a week to mow their lawn, one stripe at a time, followed by a can of Coors, followed by another stripe of lawn.  And Pete saw it all from his perch.

Pete also enjoyed the occasional trip to the park for bird watching, but his favorite activity, better than eating, playing, testing gravity with a shove of the nearest item not bolted to the counter, was sitting and preening on a lap.  He could, and did, do it for hours at a time.  His personal hygiene was beyond reproach.  The balance and coordination it took to keep himself anchored to the lap with at least one of his hind legs sticking straight in the air and his long body folded into unreasonable angles was a wonder to witness.  It was better and more impressive than competitive gymnastics and twice as fun because it was interactive—you could create obstacles for him, such as spread your legs a little farther apart, give him a gentle push with a finger at the right moment, distract him with a hand, and watch him recover with seemingly effortless coordination and athleticism. And of course give you that impatient grunt.

But Pete’s best quality was his pure, unalterable acceptance of my family.  He never failed to meet us at the front door; although he generally tried to pass it off as coincidence.  He never failed to make me laugh, and if I wanted to play he did to, or nap, or just sit.  He didn’t seem to care so long as he could be part of what we were doing.   Pete was a wonderful little friend, and his journey with us ended far too soon.  One day he was the old Pete, prowling around the house looking for trouble and the next he was a shadow of himself.  He lost three pounds in as many weeks, and when we finally realized something was wrong it was too late.

He stopped eating; slowly at first because it took us a few days to realize his food bowl wasn’t emptying as quickly as usual.  Then he stopped drinking.  We took him to the vet sometime before he completely gave up nourishment, but the blood tests came back normal.  We scheduled an ultrasound a few days later, and the news was bad; he had cancer—three tumors and god knows how many nodes in his abdomen—with a terminal prognosis.  It was about my hardest day, and the decision was awful, but we decided it was best to end his pain and he died laying across my lap at approximately 5:20 PM Tuesday March 20, 2012; the first day of spring and five weeks from his eighth birthday. 

Pete was a terrific little guy, and while his life wasn’t big, it brightened our lives, and I hope he enjoyed living with us as much as we enjoyed living with him.