I have lately found myself thinking of Thomas Gray’s “On The Death Of A Favourite
Cat, Drowned In A Tub Of Gold Fishes” which ends:
From hence, ye beauties
Know, one false step is ne’er retrieved,
And be with caution
Not all that tempts your wand’ring eyes
And heedless hearts is
Nor all that glisters, gold.
Sadly, the reason is the
traumatic death of a favorite cat whose end was so bizarre I could not have
predicted it in my worst nightmares – although it has haunted them once or twice
during the three weeks since it happened. Yummy (Yum-Yum), a tabby cat like the
poet’s protagonist, either fell or jumped from a tree; but instead of landing on
all four legs, she impaled herself on an spear-like branch.
you any more details, but suffice to say, Yummy was not one to give up any of
her nine lives easily and we hovered between hope and despair as she hovered
between life and death for the next 48 hours, surviving major surgery, until the
vet informed me that her chances were slim due to infection and I made the
difficult decision that she be put to sleep.
A 12-year-old, very fat cat
who had never hurt a fly (she couldn’t catch them) and whose idea of fun was
flipping rubber bands in the air, I don’t know what made her climb the tree in
the first place. The small consolation is, however awful, at least we know how
she died. Having a pet just disappear is worse. At least we have some
There is a word for people like me: I’m an ailurophile, a proud
lover of cats. Judging by the number of catrelated images on my Facebook feed, I
am not alone.
Outside my front door is a sign: “This house is for the
comfort of the cats, if you understand, you’re welcome; if not, what are you
doing here?” I could put a similar warning at the top of this page. It is
unapologetically dedicated to my deceased feline friend. Israeli cats in general
tend to receive bad press, so it seems only fair to allocate one column to my
late cat (with wishes for a long life – and many of them – to my surviving
Fans of felines and/or French movies might be familiar
with the 1996 film by Cédric Klapisch, Chacun cherche son chat
albeit less alliteratively, “Everyone seeks his cat”; usually known in English
as “When the cat’s away.”) The comedy shows life in the gentrifying Bastille
neighborhood of Paris through the characters who mobilize to find a pet that
goes missing while his owner, a young woman, is on holiday.
The movie is
surprisingly universal, and even many of the personality types will seem
familiar. But, vive la difference, when one of Yummy’s predecessors went missing
in an upscale Jerusalem neighborhood, I accidentally mobilized Shin Bet (Israel
Security Agency) agents to participate in the search. It was only a few weeks
later that I discovered by chance the true nature of the job of the two
good-looking young men who lived nearby (which also explained their erratic
One enthusiastically helped look for her; the other couldn’t
understand the fuss but promised me he “could find another cat, just like
And that is, perhaps, part of the problem of Israeli cats. There
are many, many cats just like Yummy and Phoebe living as strays. Both of them,
as it happens, are adopted street cats. Yummy, to be precise, adopted
She was a three-month-old, sickly furball with a tremendous yowl who
rushed up to me as I walked down the street the day after the (premature) death
of Puccini. She was such a “nudnikit,” I couldn’t ignore her. And that is how
she remained – the sort of cat who only wanted to give and receive affection. No
wonder so many of the neighbors, their children, and even their visiting
grandchildren have offered condolences.
The disappearance of a favorite
local character leaves a legend and a void.
My family has been
susceptible to stray tabbies (and opera-related names) ever since the night of
our aliya more than three decades ago when (and this is another long story) we
were locked outside the absorption center in the cold night air and the only
friendly face we saw was the furry one belonging to the incomparable
Israel actually does have a movie involving a neighborhood cat.
In one of the three short films that make up Sipurei Tel Aviv (Tel Aviv Stories)
a journalist, coincidentally called Liat, risks her career when on the way to
conduct an interview she discovers a kitten stuck in a drainpipe. The movie
shows her turning the world (or at least the city) upside-down in her efforts to
save it. I can relate to that, without incriminating myself by relating specific
incidents. Preventing a cat-astrophe might not bring me a Pulitzer Prize, but it
grants me satisfaction of a different kind.
And permit me at this point
to add a personal plea to spay your pets (and street cats, too). As environment
reporter, I covered many campaigns to encourage the neutering of animals.
Consider this: All those strays that you either love or hate are the result of
unspayed female cats. Domestic cats do not live naturally in the wild. The fact
that new towns and neighborhoods are quickly populated by strays is a sign that
someone let out an unneutered pet, for, as Abraham Lincoln put it, “No matter
how much cats fight, there always seems to be plenty of kittens.”
the Post’s current environment reporter, Sharon Udasin, sought stories of
traumatized pets in last month’s Operation Pillar of Defense, she fell victim to
such invective that she had to close her Twitter feed.
It wasn’t the cats
that people hated, it was “the Zionist dogs.”
It only goes to prove Mark
Twain’s adage: “If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but
it would deteriorate the cat.”
How to get our pets into a safe area
during a missile warning is, unfortunately, one of the questions with which
Israelis have had to contend over the years. I don’t think it demeans us. On the
During the First Gulf War, I had a cat who got so used to the
sirens she automatically ran for home when she heard them (a fact I didn’t
realize until a few weeks after the war when the siren marking two minutes’
silence for Holocaust Remembrance Day was sounded and she raced home and wrapped
herself around my legs as I stood in silent contemplation).
Yummy’s death, I reread a book by the American Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Animals on pet bereavement (for bereavement it is: a loss no less
painful for being inevitable). One point in particular struck a chord: The death
of a pet usually also marks the end of a link to a different period in our
lives: pre-college, pre-marriage, pre-kids, etc. Hence, we are left also
mourning the end of that connection: In my case, Yummy became part of my life a
year before my son was born.
A few days before her accident, I found her
asleep on his bed and took photos of them together. I’m pleased I took the
opportunity to record their special relationship.
Yummy, I’m sure,
believed that the only reason I had a child was to provide another human being
to love her.
Yummy, you had your non-human failings – nobody’s purr-fect.
But for all those whose lives you touched – all those you begged to stroke you –
you will remain the cat’s whiskers. May your memory be for a