Real Israel: Eulogy for Yum-Yum

Eulogy for Yum-Yum, a cat who loved nothing more than being loved. A tribute to a feline friend.

Liat's cat 521 (photo credit: Liat Collins)
Liat's cat 521
(photo credit: Liat Collins)
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 undeceived, Know, one false step is ne’er retrieved, And be with caution bold.Not all that tempts your wand’ring eyes And heedless hearts is lawful prize; 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.
I’ll spare 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 closure.
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 calico, Phoebe).
Fans of felines and/or French movies might be familiar with the 1996 film by Cédric Klapisch, Chacun cherche son chat (literally, 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 hours).
One enthusiastically helped look for her; the other couldn’t understand the fuss but promised me he “could find another cat, just like her.”
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 me.
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 Figaro.
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.”
When 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 contrary.
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).
Following 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 blessing.