- Kirsten Bell
My accidental petition to canonise my cat
If you read last Monday’s article, I assume it’s abundantly clear that I’m a cat person, rather than a dog person. My deep love of cats dates back to CC The Wonder Cat:1 the blue Burmese we had growing up. So beloved was CC that my siblings and I frequently came to physical blows over him, when one of us decided that the others had spent long enough holding him and tried to wrest the cat away. CC received these attentions with remarkable equanimity. No slow top, he was careful to dole out his affections equally among us – every night he would move from bed to bed to ensure that we all got to sleep with him.
Sadly, CC’s life was prematurely ended by a cat baiter – the local name given to self-declared environmentalists who poison cats in the name of protecting native Australian wildlife.2 We were all devastated when CC died, but over time came around to the idea of another cat. Thus began a succession of disappointing felines who could never live up to the high expectations our beloved CC had set.
First came Louey, an oriental shorthair. The cat baiter got him too, although in all honesty that was sort of a relief for everyone, because he refused to be toilet trained – in his sole year of life he shat in every pot plant3 in the house, carefully digging up the soil afterwards to cover both his droppings and everything in the surrounding vicinity. Then came Annabelle, a giveaway Prussian blue foisted upon us in a moment of weakness by my father, because she ‘looks like CC’. She was grey; that is where the resemblance ended. Annabelle was an arsehole. A true misanthrope, she avoided human contact like the plague.4
Then, after I left home, came Dead Cat Walking – a stray tabby who turned up at my parents’ place one day having presumably been hit by a car. She was in such dire straits that they weren’t sure she’d last the night (thus the name), but Dead Cat beat the odds. She had a wonky jaw and was quite possibly the ugliest cat I’ve ever seen, but she liked humans well enough, although she wasn’t keen on being touched.
Then in 2004, at the age of 29, I finally got my own cat: a red Burmese named Spike. A friend of mine in Townsville purchased him from the same cattery where my parents had purchased CC all those years before, and from whence her own brown Burmese, Indi, had come. As I was now living in Sydney, it surely would have been cheaper to purchase a cat locally, but I wanted to ensure I got the right cat, which to me meant getting a Burmese cat related to CC The Wonder Cat and his cousin Indi (who was also indisputably a wonder cat).
I adored Spike. Named after my favourite Buffy character, he was similarly devoted to me. Great company, he could always be relied upon to accompany me for a Nanna nap and he used to follow me around the house and jump on my lap wherever I was – whether working at my computer, watching TV on the lounge, or sitting on the loo.5
When we moved to Canada in 2006, we brought him with us at great expense and he was a key part of our lives for the next six years. Then one day in 2013 he suddenly stopped eating. Concerned, I took him to the vet. I genuinely expected it to be something minor; after all, he wasn’t particularly old. But following some tests the vet informed me that it was lymphoma. I was offered the option of chemotherapy, which would potentially prolong Spike’s life for a few years, albeit at considerable personal cost for Spike, or I could let him die, although steroids would give him back his appetite and prolong the inevitable for a few months. I chose option B.
In that one visit to the vet, I transformed from someone who cried rarely and in solitude to someone who cried constantly and in public. Grief would hit me at any time and I’d suddenly start bawling, sobbing heart brokenly as people around me looked on in bemusement. My husband would have to explain that my cat was dying, which made it even worse. The way I was carrying on, the assumption was that a family member had kicked the bucket, or at least someone human. During this period, it became abundantly clear to me that people do not know how to respond to unrestrained grief.6
Spike lived for two months after that – I agonised over when to get him euthanised, not wanting to do it in haste, but also not wanting him to suffer unnecessarily, given that the steroids initially worked miracles (his recovery was almost instantaneous; his decline when they stopped working almost as sudden). After his death, I had a ton of cat accoutrements to give away, so I posted the following notice on Craigslist in their ‘free stuff’ section.
Craigslist posting, 27 July 2013: Free cat paraphernalia, including a litter box, cat carrier, scratching posts, etc.
My 8-year-old cat, Spike, has just died. Although this is unbelievably suckful for me, it has at least saved countless people from being permanently struck blind by his SHEER AWESOMENESS. It also means that I have a bunch of cat stuff I’m giving away, which would help to set up someone with a new kitten. If charisma can be transmitted through material objects, then these items will also ensure that your kitten will grow up to be a SERIOUSLY AWESOME cat.
Items include a proper cat carrier (travel regulation), not one, not two, but THREE scratching posts of various shapes and sizes (all rarely used, his preference being an ongoing art installation project on our stairs titled ‘Every Carpeted Step Must Die’), a high-end litter box, a special mat to reduce cat litter dispersal, stainless steel food bowls, a cat brush, claw trimmers, pet toys, and various assorted other bits and bobs (including my St Gertrude, Protector of Cats, statue – although she sucks balls at her job). I’ll even throw in some lint rollers and kitty cocaine (otherwise known as ‘Pitr-pats’).
If you want the stuff, here are the conditions:
You have to take the lot. If you’re just looking for a scratching post or cat carrier, I don’t want to hear from you. Don’t have room in your 500-square-foot apartment for three scratching posts? Sell two on Craigslist for all I care. The rule is that if you want one, you’ve got to take them all!
If the sight of a crying woman makes you uncomfortable, you’d best look elsewhere.
You have to agree to sign my petition to have my cat beatified by the Catholic Church. Just joking. (But not really.)
Admittedly, it was a eulogy as much as an advertisement for free cat stuff, but it was cathartic to write. After the ad went live, I received a bunch of lovely emails from strangers providing their commiserations and reminiscing about their own beloved pets. However, the ad was taken down a mere four hours later by Craigslist. Someone had flagged it as ‘offensive’ content and I received an email to this effect when it was removed from the site. I didn’t follow up with Craigslist, because the items had already been given away by then, but I remember being shocked about what on earth might have caused someone to take offence, and angry that Craigslist had taken the ad down. ‘What kind of arsehole’, I thought, ‘would take offence to someone clearly grieving over the death of a beloved pet?’
I can only assume it was my joke about getting my cat beatified by the Catholic Church that did it.7 You see, little did I know that this is something of a sore point for the Catholic Church, because people have actually lobbied to get animals made into saints. Perhaps the most famous example is St Guinefort, a thirteenth century French greyhound dog who, legend has it, protected his master’s baby from a snake only to be martyred by his owners, who thought he’d killed the child. The Catholic Church ruthlessly suppressed the cult of St Guinefort, but were never successful in stamping it out.
So instead of cursing the person who got my post taken down, I should really be thanking them. It’s now clear that with some creative thinking about Spike’s ‘martyrdom’, the help of a few well-placed TikTok stories of miracles occurring in his name, and a petition on Change.org, I might just get my cat beatified after all: Saint Spike, here we come!
1 CC The Wonder Cat was actually our second CC, which is one of the reasons for his title. His namesake was a short-lived kitten who made the mistake of jumping up on a chair just as my father was sitting down. So great was my dad’s guilt over the death of CC#1 that CC#2 was purchased from a cattery for $50 (a veritable fortune in the 1980s and an inconceivable extravagance on the part of my father). I was 10 and visiting relatives in South Australia at the time, and when I returned home my parents initially tried to pretend it was the same cat, although CC#2 was smaller, cuter, and much cuddlier.
2 In any other context, killing animals as a child would be considered a sign of psychopathy. In Australia, various self-declared environmentalists readily boast about killing cats as children (both pets as well as feral cats).
3 For the record, a pot plant in Australia is a potted plant; my parents weren’t growing weed. I remember this term being the source of some confusion when I first moved to Canada.
4 But isn’t that the beauty of cats? When I first met my husband, his parents had a cat named Molly. Although Andrew’s parents were fond of her, Molly was bone-deep mean. A cat you touched at your peril, she would sweetly present her stomach for rubbing when she saw you, and then rip your hand to shreds if you were dumb enough to touch her. I think it might have been her intelligence test for humans (one I repeatedly failed). Molly was so tough that one of her favourite pastimes was bringing brown snakes inside the house to ‘play’ with. For the record, common browns are the second most venomous land snake in the world, so not something you want to wake up to in your kitchen. Although she managed them with the adeptness of a professional snake handler, a brown got Molly in the end.
5 For the record, I’m not someone who leaves the door open when I pee, unlike other people I know (cough, Tim Bell, cough). However, Spike had some sort of fifth sense where doors were concerned. If it was not completely closed, he would somehow intuit this and force it open. Frankly, it’s a bit disconcerting when you’re sitting on the loo and suddenly a seemingly closed door has been opened by your cat, who nonchalantly wanders in, looks at you interestedly, and then decides it’s a perfect time for a cuddle. I have it on good authority that young children do this as well.
6 I mean, I kind of knew this myself, primarily as a result of Crying Guy. Locally famous in Vancouver circa 2006-2007, Crying Guy was a young guy who would cry on demand in order to solicit money from passersby. I assume he was unstable – both in housing and in mental health – but he had obviously realised at some point that people will readily fork over cash when confronted with someone sobbing inconsolably, because it quickly became his schtick. In winter, he would cry because of the cold; in summer, he would cry because of the heat, or hunger, or the crowds. The reason changed, but the crying didn’t. He would approach people for money, crying unabashedly, and they, in their turn, would give him money to stop – or at least to go away and cry somewhere else. While deeply disconcerting the first time you’re confronted with it, see it enough and you start thinking, ‘Oh, there’s Crying Guy, crying again’.
7 Although it’s also possible that the offended reader was such a literalist that they thought I was suggesting that St Gertrude had turned to prostitution and was literally sucking balls at her job.