I can only imagine how scary this was for him, but true to his form he took it head on. He was just as pissed as he was frightened, and he showed his opinion each time we came near him with a loud his and a growl. I can only imagine that he came from an unhappy home, but at the time I wasn't aware of this. I don't know why, but I responded to each growl with a hiss of my own.
Surprisingly, it worked. After a long day, I fell asleep on the floor, and I woke late that night to find Ash curled up next to my feet. This was his spot for the rest of his life, and despite being my mom's gift this young cat had declared me as his master. I was his new “daddy.”
The first six months he was with us were rough, but not in a particularly bad way. Rather, Ash wanted my constant, undivided attention, and he did his damnedest to get it. Even taking a break to wash dishes was too much for him, and such a task would quickly become hazardous for me. Feeling horribly neglected, he would sit behind me bawling his eyes out for as long as he could take it, and when he could not longer stand being ignored he would attempt to leap onto my shoulder, only to fall short by a few inches and grab on with his claws. Each time, he would dangle from my skin as I danced out of the living room while flailing in a futile attempt to remove him. And each time he let go would would find contentment in the fact that he had grabbed my attention, and retreat into a nearby corner with a purr.
After a while, he began to settle down, but he only truly mellowed when my mom's health began to deteriorate. When he met her, she walked with a limp in her right leg, propped up on a black metal cane; after a number of terrifying falls, her doctor felt it was better for her to use a wheelchair, and this sudden shift in her ability to move was not unnoticed by Ash. He began to focus on her. Each time she had an infection, he gave up his spot a my feet for a spot at hers, and if she so much as tried to take a few steps without that chair he would loudly protest until she gave in and took a seat. That same demanding, relentless meow would be used to force me to keep up on hygiene, as he would sit in the bathtub room and demand that I bathe every night. It was clear Ash was smarter than the average cat, quite possibly the most intelligent one I'd owned in many years, rivaling even my longtime companion Batcat. My mom would begin joking that I was Ash's pet.
From the very beginning, Ash had another friend. Buddy's old pal Shakes was still with us, and this tuxedo alley cat, though very young, soon had her first heat. We were initially unaware that she hadn't been fixed, though her behavior made it clear to us, but before we could act Ash had managed to impregnate her, and on Father's Day 2002 the first litter was born. Though most of them shared a variation of that tuxedo coat, one kitten stood out for her silky black fur. Sabbath, named for the classic rock band, inherited most of her traits from her mother, but her eyes were clearly her father's, and her affectionate nature was most definitely his. Her siblings Twitch, Twister, Bermuda and Butterball also shared his inquisitive nature and intellect, but Ash hated the kittens like male cats usually do.
It didn't last long. Over time, Ash began to grow to love the little fuzzballs, and became especially fond of Sabbath. Sabbath herself had latched onto my mom as a surrogate mother; Shakes was little more than a meal ticket for her, and she spent most of her time snuggling with my mom on the couch. He merely allowed the other cats to exist, tolerating them but rarely showing attention, but Sabbath became his little princess. When the time came to adopt out the fluffers, we could not part with Sabbath, who was as close to Ash as she was to her human mommy.
The milk had not begun to dry out when Shakes became pregnant again. Even though only two of the next litter would survive, we could not afford the growing number of cats and we were forced to adopt all of them, except Ash and Sabbath, to families who could. Such a small, quiet house took little adjusting two, but it was become clearing that my little badass Ash was beginning to become social. To prevent the situation from repeating, Sabbath was spayed, and when she came home half drugged, you could see the anxiety in his eyes. His daughter would wobble around the house, visibly worrying her father, and when he could no longer take it he climbed next to her and began to snuggle, the beginning of a tradition that would never truly die.
One day, my Grandfather came to visit, and with him he brought an animal from my past. His old pet cocker spaniel Daisy, who by the time must have been pushing at least ten years in age, followed him in on her chunky legs. She seemed more blob than dog, and was well adjusted to cats. Sabbath however did not like her, and responded by arching her back atop the living room chair and puffing out every single strand of fur. For a cat that may never have seen a dog, Ash was strangely indifferent, but while Daisy was eager and well adjusted, it would later become clear that Ash was not.
It wasn't until a neighbor bought a small black chihuahua that we realized something unusual about Ash's attitude toward dogs. Whenever the animal would be seen through the sliding glass door, Ash would begin stalking him, the same way he would stock birds and squirrels. On one of his rare ventures outside, he had his first direct encounter with the little Yapper, and while Bono was eager to play, Ash had something more sinister on his mind. The chihuahua approached him, wagging his tail and yapping, but as soon as he got within range Ash lunged at him as if he were going for a kill. The dog escaped, but clearly had no idea of this hellcat's malicious intent, and had the owner not retrieved the pup he would have continued the game he thought he was playing.
I never did figure out what it was about dogs that set Ash off. It was clear he didn't like them, although whether this was from experience or bravado I could not be sure. After Bono's owner and my mom became close friends, Sabbath did manage to come to accept the dog, albeit with a rivalry based on jealousy; Ash eventually grew to tolerate him, but he still had no issues with swatting him if the little dog got too close. Bono eventually gave up his attempts to play, and the two did get along, but only to the extent that Ash would ignore Bono whenever he was around.
Sometime after Ash met Bono, poor Daisy died. My Grandfather got a new dog, a golden Labrador mix with a rather playful personality. Unlike Daisy, Charlie's default response to seeing a cat was to bark and chase, but when he attempted this with Ash it backfired spectacularly. To be fair, Charlie did manage to chase Ash into my room, and Ash did retreat to high ground on the back of my chair, but as soon as he did he whipped around, dropped his jaw and pulled his eyes wide open. The expression was the stuff of nightmares, and I can only imagine the terrifying thoughts Charlie had with that face lunged at him and chased him back into the living room.
Charlie was not a small dog. He wasn't as round as Daisy, but he was far bigger than Ash, easily six or seven times the cat's size. Yet the emotion the dog had on his face was one of pure terror. He yelped and whined the entire way and took shelter behind my Grandfather's legs, and while he kept up his habit of chasing strange cats, he did not ever try it with one of mine again.
In late February 2007, I decided to move in with my father. I didn't hesitate to bring Ash with me. Ash handled the cross-country drive from Kansas City to Jacksonville about as well as a cat would; he lay huddled in a makeshift litter box behind my seat for most of the drive, fearful and uncomfortable. He didn't emerge until we stopped at a rest stop to spend the night, when he came out of hiding to explore the packed sedan and search for the best spot to sleep on top of my restless body. He noticed the roads outside the window, and became comfortable with the car, and during the remainder of the drive he lay curled at my feet, watching the cars and trucks beside us and enjoying himself immensely.
My stepmom and stepbrothers reluctantly welcomed him into the house. Because of allergies, Ash was forced to be confined into my room, watching through a makeshift screen as my brothers' army of ankle biters roamed the house. Thankfully Ash never had the pleasure of coming in contact with them, but he did meet my new family, who slowly came around to him one by one.
My stepmom Betsy was the first to cave. She felt sorry for Ash, who was doomed to spend his days in my bedroom; every time I left the room, he voiced his desire to leave his prison and join me, and that attachment struck her as adorable. Eventually my brothers would grow close to him, Josh first as Ash took an immediate liking to the young man. Andy took longer to come around, as his experience with cats wasn't very good, but soon he became just as enamored with Ash as everyone else.
After less than three months, I left back for Kansas City, and Ash once again followed me. When he arrived, he ran straight for Sabbath, who hissed and growled at him. He was clearly hurt, but to his surprise this didn't mean he was forced to be alone. During those three months, a new kitten had been brought into the house, one whose energy and loving nature would quickly rejuvenate his personality. He seemed to watch Smokey with equal awe and admiration, and before she was grown he had already become very fond of her. This new relationship didn't do much to repair the one he had with Sabbath, as she was nowhere near as fond of Smokey as he was.
Slowly, however, Sabbath and Ash began to grow close again, and within a matter of months the two were inseparable. Smokey and Ash also continued to grow closer, much to Sabbath's dismay, but before long the three had a complex relationship, with Ash playing with Smokey and snuggling his his baby girl.
But to say Smokey and Sabbath ever got along would be a lie. Although the two slowly grew tolerant of each other, every attempt to get them together led to an inevitable cat fight. Ash often found himself caught in the middle, with Sabbath taking each play session he had with Smokey as a personal attack, and even until the end he found himself perpetually the casualty of a never-ending catfight.
As Smokey grew older, she enter heat, and it took no time at all for the old cycle to start again. While her kittens grew inside her, she found a new playmate in the form of a rescued stray called Casper, a gorgeous Siamese mix that was never meant to stay with us for long. He left us about the same time Smokey gave birth, the void formed by him filled by her new children, and while Sabbath watched them grow with disdain, Ash quickly found himself drawn to his new brood. They left for homes after just a few months stay, leaving him heartbroken. When the second litter was born, he spent their early life watching over them, only to distance himself from them as they grew older.
Not wanting to bring another litter into the world, we decided it was time for get both of them fixed. They spent the night at a pet shelter, with each other's company, and when they came back, Ash and Smokey were closer than ever. He was even more playful and affectionate than before, frequently trying to coerce Sabbath into joining in his games. He became a lap cat, fond of snuggling to an extent well beyond his old ways. And he became closer than ever to my mom, taking his already dutiful watchfulness to the next level. He quickly developed the ability to detect infections before she even showed symptoms and became an important aspect of her care; whenever he abandoned his place at my feet for hers, we knew it was time to seek treatment.
Many talk about castration as more than a simple surgery, as if removing the genitals was figurative as well as physical. This wasn't the case with Ash, who remained as headstrong as ever. After a bout with an infestation, we had the apartment fumigated, and I took our cats to my Grandfather's house for safekeeping. Although his dog Charlie had not seen Ash in years, he had to be coaxed into approaching him, a mistake that I wouldn't forget. No sooner than Charlie entered the living room did Ash attack him, ripping at the poor pup's face with his claws and teeth. Though Charlie tried to defend himself, the fury of Ash's assault left him unable to fight back, and I was forced to pull the flailing cat away with my bare hands. My Grandfather understandably thought Charlie had instigated it and scolded the dog, so when I told him that Ash had attacked on his own he simply turned back to the phone and said, “That cat's not playing with a full deck.”
You know those thrillers where a stalker attempts to ruin a man's life? The ones where she slowly takes away everything he held dear? For the remainder of his visit, Ash did exactly that. With the unwitting help of Smokey, he conquered the food bowl. The next to go was the prized spot on my Grandfather's bed. The living room was now Ash's domain, so much so that Charlie refused to even try to enter. Eventually he climbed to the back of my Grandfather's office chair while the old man sat in it, laying confidently by his head and staring down the poor dog as Charlie sat there with a look of devastation identical to the man who just watched his wife take everything he loved.
While we did end up coming back after a follow up treatment, Ash was not nearly as aggressive that time around. Sabbath seemed perfectly at home in the small house, and welcomed Charlie as if he were an old friend. Charlie was so used to torment that when Sabbath pressed her body against his with affection, he could only imagine that she was perfecting a malicious plan. The poor dog must have been convinced that our cats were horrible monsters intent to destroy his will and claim his soul; thankfully, Charlie never had to see Ash again.
Ash was growing old. The following years were as boring and uneventful as a retired cat would hope for. Even Smokey had begun to mellow out with age. Sabbath returned to full-on cuddle mode, frequently snuggling with her father as he spent his days in lazy bliss. When he wasn't sleeping or eating, he would attempt to badger my mom into giving him milk and hamburger, with plenty of time spent cuddling his owners and curling up on their laps.
On July 6, 2012, my Grandfather suffered a major stroke, forever ending any chance that Charlie and Ash would meet again. He died ten days later, casting a shadow of grief over the household. These months were stressful for Ash, who could only watch as his owners began to fall into depression. He dealt with it the only way he knew how, by snuggling his sad masters and soliciting tummy rubs.
It was about mid November when things began to go south. Ash had managed to catch a small spider as it crawled across the floor, and after spending a few minutes batting it he picked the little bug up in his jaws. The spider sank its fangs into his upper cheek, forcing him to drop it. Over the next few days, the hair around the bite began to fall out, his face swelled and a red streak could be seen on the now-exposed skin. Ash had been bitten by a Brown Recluse, a spider dangerous to humans but potentially fatal for cats. With no antidote for the venom, we could only keep the growing wound clean, but he pushed through it with the same stubborn will he'd always had.
I'm not sure when he started to lose weight. Around December, my mom had taken a turn for the worse, and regretfully I wasn't able to pay much attention. I first noticed his weight in January, when my mom was in the hospital, but by the end of the month he had already begun gaining back the weight he lost, putting my new fears at rest.
Then on February 20, he stopped eating. We contacted a vet immediately, but we were unable to pay. The vet gave us the number for the Great Plains SPCA, but due to an incoming winter storm they informed us that they would not be able to see him until that Friday. Unfortunately, the storm was far worse than expected, and we spent that day coaxing him into eating leftover turkey while waiting for them to call.
Ash began to act strangely. He began to follow me outside, staying out in the foot-deep snow even when the door had shut behind him. When inside, he began to try to climb into the bathroom sink, where he would curl up and sleep if given the chance. He was prone to fits of weak meows, calls so pained they broke your heart each time. Eventually even the turkey was too much for him, and he would only drink milk and water, which we gave him out of desperation.
By Saturday afternoon, Ash was blind. He was no longer making those pained meows, and he could barely walk more than a few feet. Milk, which for most of his life was a forbidden drug, no longer appealed to him. It seemed his kidneys had stopped working.
It was on Sunday the 24 that we accepted that he would die. It was a horrible birthday for me, as I watch my cat grow weaker and weaker. In a desperate move I called the SPCA. I managed to get the same person I had spoken to that Wednesday. They hadn't called on Friday because the weather had forced them to close, and as another monstrous storm approached our area, there was little they could hope to do. They gave me a number for a mobile vet, and we reluctantly made the appointment to have him put to sleep the following day. Tired, horrified and depressed, I wrapped my nearly lifeless friend in a warm blanket and placed him beside me on my bed.
At around 11:30 that night, I woke to a horrible sound, a sound halfway between a wheeze and a cough. At first I thought I had crushed Ash, but as my mind became clearer I realized my cat was seizing. Suddenly, the noise stopped. His bladder emptied. His chest had stopped moving and his heart had stopped beating. I knew that my cat was gone.
We showed Sabbath the body, and she sat beside him, staring mournfully at him. We took the blanket he had been wrapped in and covered him completely. With nowhere to put him, we were forced to store his body in the freezer, a move which gave my mom nightmares.
The next morning, Ash's absence was already felt. Smokey searched the house for him, visiting his favorite spots over and over. Sabbath lay curled in the office chair, watching us with eyes filled with worry and sadness. My mom could not sleep, and I was restless. I wanted by buddy back.
I talked to the SPCA and arranged to have his body cremated. A communal burning, we were told we wouldn't get any ashes. My former caseworker offered to take me, and we headed out for the long drive into Merriam. Upon arrival, I met the same kind people I had talked to over the past few days. Recognizing our financial situation, they agreed to defer the rather modest charge until that Friday, a move that was as touching as it was a relief.
I will never forget Ash. For over twelve years he had been a major force in my life. Though his death was not as pleasant as I would have liked, I am at least comforted by the fact that he is no longer suffering. Still, I would love to have him back in my life, and I miss him as dearly as I miss any other member of my family. There is nothing I wouldn't give to get him back.