A TRIBUTE TO PASHT
18-May-1988 - 7-Apr-2002Once again I find myself sitting down to write about the loss of a much loved cat, but this time it is particularly hard for me because it is about Pasht, our first cat. However, unlike all the other stories I have written so far, this one is a cause for celebration as much as heartbreak, as he lived until 1 month off his 17th birthday. Also the fact that I thought I had lost him way back in 1991 means there is even more cause for celebration, because we had him for another 11 years, although I do not feel much like celebrating as I write this.
In fact I find it quite strange writing this particular story, because I actually began writing it almost 11 years ago to the day! He went missing on the 24th April 1991 and when, 8 days later all our searches and enquiries had revealed nothing of his whereabouts, I was lying in bed anguish couldnt sleep. I lay in bed virtually willing him to come back and various thoughts about him were rushing through my mind, so I got up and started writing them down. It was as though I was scared that if he never came back I would forget all the funny things he did. I wanted to call that story "A Tribute", so I looked it up in the dictionary and read "a formal declaration given as a testimonial of respect, gratitude and affection". As I felt all of those emotions towards him it seemed a very apt title then. Instead it appeared in the Somali Cat Club Journal of that year under the title "The Happy Ending". Now it seems even more fitting that I pay tribute to a cat who has left me so many happy memories and so much to be grateful for.
He was my first cat since my early childhood and quite simply he walked into our lives and took us over! From leaving my parents home I had always had dogs, but in 1985 when we were down to only Leo our German Shepherd, I persuaded Barry to let me have a cat instead of another dog. I'd always liked the mountain lion look of the Abyssinian, so it was a usual Aby that I searched for and, following a visit to Ivy Birts, Barentu Thomas entered our lives and changed it forever. For almost a week he hardly moved from the back of the settee, a spitting, growling, but beautiful kitten, watching us all with increasing distrust, especially the dog. Eventually, however, he came around and joined in the family, which at that time also consisted of a budgie and a tankful of tropical fish, both of which he found most interesting. Leo had the most gentle nature one could imagine and he spent the next few weeks being tyrannised by this strange creature whom he could have almost swallowed in one bite. However, they soon became great friends and Pasht often accompanied Leo and I on our evening walk, but if it was wet Pasht stayed in and when we came back, he would lie beside Leo and wash his feet clean.
I was obsessed with this beautiful and intelligent animal and when he was a kitten he and I played endless games of hide and seek at bedtime. I would hide at the top of the stairs and peep around the banister at him, then hide again. He would creep up the stairs so quietly that when I peeped out to see where he was, he would be inches from my face, eyes like big black saucers and I would get a bigger fright than he did! Each evening when we went to bed we would have a "training session" on the bed. We progressed gradually from the "sit", to "lie", to the "roll over" stage, but he was just too intelligent to fall for that routine. In no time at all he had worked out that when I showed him a treat he had to sit, lie and roll over and he just did it all without even being told! We called it his party piece and I could show him a treat at any time, months or even years apart, and just say "do your party piece" and he would just do it.
Looking back actually, we nearly lost him three times. The first time was about 11:30pm on New years Eve, when we had only had him for only 2½ months and hed never been allowed outside except with us. We suddenly realised he wasnt in the house and no-one had been outside since about 8:00pm. In a panic we all rushed outside to find him lying in a small curled heap by the side of the house, cold and unhappy, but there.
The next time was when we were on holiday in Dumfriesshire when he was only 2 year old. We were staying on a chalet park containing about 40 identical chalets and so I impressed upon the family that he had to be kept in for at least 2/3 days, to make sure he got the scent of our chalet, because if he went out, how would he know which chalet was ours to come back to? I soon realised what an insult to his intelligence that was! On the first night I woke up at about 2:00am in terrible pain from a tooth abscess and went downstairs to take a painkiller. By the time I'd put the kettle on I realised that he hadn't materialised - very odd when anyone was in the kitchen! A thorough search of the house revealed that he was missing and the open window in our bedroom revealed how. In a state of major panic I searched and called outside the house, waking everyone in the process, but there was no sign of him. My son, Iain and I sat up for over an hour worrying and calling him, but then we gave up and went back to bed, finally falling asleep. I was woken shortly after at dawn by the sound of a crow squawking. I rushed over to the window and there he was on the window sill waiting for me to open the window fully to allow him to jump back in. He had been in the chalet less than 8 hours, had gone out in the dark for at least 4 hours, if not more, obviously travelled far enough away not to hear my voice calling him and found his way back, seemingly without any problem.
The last and most traumatic time was in 1991. He was missing for 10 days and they were 10 of the worst days of my life that I never wish to go through ever again. We were so lucky though, because he came back, painfully thin, filthy dirty and covered with healed scabs. I think it was most likely that he had been run over and had been too sore and frightened to come home sooner. Needless to say his return (at 4:50 in the morning) was greeted with great joy by the whole family, not least my son and I who were jumping up and down in the street trying to get him to jump down from the garage roof where he had climbed to reach our bedroom window. That was when I decided to cat proof the garden and never allow the boys out again. I just couldnt bear to go through that all again and, with hindsight, it turned out to be the best thing I could have done for him. He was so nervous of strangers in his youth that he would only go out when it was dark and only out into the garden in the daytime when we were there with him. Once the fence was re-built and solid and he couldnt see the outside world, he spent absolutely hours out there, loving it, so it was well worth it.
When I bought him Ivy Birts asked me if I was interested in showing and I said absolutely not. I had shown my dogs years before and had the attitude, "been there, done that, got the T-shirt never again" and so Pasht was pet quality. In my opinion, with the knowledge I have now, he was a very good Aby, he had wonderful type, a good well-ticked coat and not a grey root in sight. However, not for him a simple locket or a white belly spot, he sported a full bikini! Disqualifiable - that was why he was pet quality! I did, however, take him to a show when he was about 2 year old. It was a local exemption show attached to an agricultural show and I was asked to take him because they were trying to get as many different breeds as possible. He came second out of 1 in his open class and 2nd out of 2 in his side classes, but he won lots of rosettes and we came home very proud of him. The rosettes still hang in the hall beside his picture. However, he did not relax for the whole day, lay at the back of his pen and never moved, ate nothing (most unusual!) and when Val Kilby took him out to judge him he was so tightly wound up, like a ring doughnut, she could hardly straighten him up to find the bikini!
As I have said he was a very nervous cat with strangers and as soon as our doorbell rang and the dog barked he would rush off upstairs until our visitors left, usually peeping through the banisters watching them go before he would come back downstairs. Very few visitors to our house ever saw him. However, with us he was always a hugely affectionate cat, especially with Iain whom he absolutely adored. As soon as he came home from school Pasht would follow him upstairs to his bedroom and just lie in his arms as he did his homework or played computer games.
He inherited many nicknames throughout his life, my favourite of which was "The Abyssinian fanged nose ripper". He was an incurable kisser. If you simply bent your head towards him you were guaranteed a vigorous nose rub. However, as he got older and his teeth fell out, his mouth shrunk slightly and his one remaining canine tooth stuck out, so when he gave you an over-enthusiastic nose rub, it often inadvertently caught the nostril of the chosen one, (usually me who suffered many a nose rip!) He was also called "the Klingon", "Velcro" and "the slitherer", because strangely enough when he reached 6 or 7 he "found his bottle" and discovered how good it was not to hide from strangers, but to climb on their laps instead and have lots of attention. His modus operandum was to inveigle himself onto visitors knees by "slithering". He would start off sitting on the arm of the chair or beside them on the settee, then he would begin his "slithering", sliding slowly under their elbows onto their knee, up their chests until he got his forearms around their neck and then he would just hang on for grim life, even when they stood up, he would hang on in there!
To celebrate this new found confidence, I took him to Northern Counties show in 1998 when he was 13 year old and put him in an exhibition pen with Harry to illustrate to everyone that a Somali really is an Aby in an overcoat and he simply loved it! Unlike his first show, thistime he was absolutely fascinated by all the people and sat at the front of the pen staring in wide eyed wonder at what was going on, only moving when Harry went into his "piano playing" routine and pushed him out the way! I was really proud of him that day and it just proved to me how a personality can change with age. This year at our club show I won the photographic competition with a picture of him lying in his customary position flat on his back, all 4 legs in the air on the settee.
The only time in 17 years that he "blotted his copy book" was the Christmas he was 3 year old when he ate the budgie. It was Boxing Day morning when Iain woke us up to tell us we had a problem. It wasnt a problem it was a disaster! Pasht had been accidentally locked in the living room all night, the budgie cage was on the floor, there were feathers absolutely everywhere and absolute no trace of any remains. It took me ages to pluck up the courage to come downstairs, as I had assured Barry that what had just happened would never happen if we got a cat, because I would teach the cat to accept the bird (big underestimation that one was!). Barry was furious and in his frustration had put Pasht in the budgie cage! The look on his face that morning was pathetic, as though he expected that I would save him, but that was the only thing he ever did wrong that I found very hard to forgive.
He was quite a seasoned traveller, accompanying us on 16 years of annual holidays all over Scotland. The furthest he travelled was to the Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides when he was 3 year old, which was a 5½ hour drive, followed by a 6½ hour ferry journey arriving on the island at 9:30pm. I gave him a strict lecture to beware of low flying eagles before I let him out at that cottage - there were a lot of golden eagles and buzzards in that area and literally hundreds of rabbits in the local fields and I did worry that he could be mistaken for a rabbit! Except for visits to the vets for annual boosters and his holiday he hardly ever left our house, but he was always an extremely relaxed traveller.
He was probably the only cat in our household of 10 who got on with everyone. We obviously have hierarchy problems, usually the young boys trying to take over from the old bag (Sorcha!) and sizing up against the entire queens, but Pasht got on with everyone. Our Somalis do not take too kindly to the dominant character of the Siamese and Orientals. Neither do they take too kindly to the "heat seeking" trait which causes Siamese and Orientals to seek out warm "objects" to lie beside. Our Somalis do not cuddle each other very often, they prefer to cuddle humans not other cats and only the very "soppiest", in other words Harry, tolerate this particular characteristic of the Siamese. Pasht, on the other hand tolerated everything. This picture of him is a perfect example. He had been happily lying sleeping in the bean bag when along came (probably one by one) three generations of Siamese and Orientals who just climbed on top, made themselves comfortable and fell asleep, completely swamping him in the process.
He loved all our kittens, whereas the other young males are terrified of them most of the time and it was his mission in life to pin down and wash every kitten that crossed his path. Luna our Siamese is the odd one out of our present cat family and really doesnt get on with any of the Somalis, mainly for the reasons given above, but she just loved Pasht - mainly because she thought he was a special heated cushion provided for her comfort. Wherever he was sleeping we would find her lying on top of him or crowding him out and they both slept in bed with me competing for the place nearest to me. Nowadays she has to make do with Harry, as he is the only other cat in the household who will indulge her need to be warm and comfy, usually at the expense of the comfort of the other cat.
This is the last picture I ever took of him, with Chloe, my 2½ year old granddaughter, which was taken in March. Apart from Luna, who as a Siamese has the attitude that there is no such thing as bad attention, Pasht was the only cat in our household who was not frightened of Chloe's extreme enthusiasm to stroke and cuddle the cats when she comes to visit. As she lives 350 mile away from us her visits are quite rare and so she is still learning how to "handle" the cats without frightening them off! Pasht would sit next to her, climb onto her knee, and allow her to cuddle him and kiss him and she just loved him to bits!
He was a robustly healthy cat all his life and apart from a recurring bout of cystitis, which a 2 year diet of c/d sorted out permanently when he was about 5 year old, he never ailed, so he surely earned himself the title of "cheapest cat in the house to keep", certainly as far as vets bills were concerned. However, it was his kidneys which finally gave up on him. He had been on "borrowed time" for about the last 3 months, as his kidneys were shrinking fast. Since September of last year he had been having regular anabolic steroid injections in a bid to "trick" the body to store protein to give the kidneys less work to do. However during the week before the Easter holidays it became apparent that time was running out for him. It is ever my obsession to "give in" sooner rather than later to avoid putting my pets through any unnecessary pain and I knew that the time had come to say goodbye to him to avoid any further suffering. Again I find it such a strange coincidence that it was almost 5 years to the day that we had Merlin put to sleep and that our 3 original boys have all gone now. What a dreadful loss they all have been to us!
I brought him home (the first time I have ever done this), as 17 years is a such a long time I just couldnt let go. He was my longest living pet ever and I was just so extremely proud of him and the fact that he lived such a long, healthy and trouble-free life, that I simply couldnt leave him behind. My vet is very understanding of my love for my cats and was very sympathetic of my feelings for this very special cat. Pasht would have had no idea what was going on, which is my comfort. He lay in my arms and was given an injection, which no doubt he thought was just another one of those injections he had been regularly having. He fell asleep in my arms, he was completely relaxed and without fear, a so much "kinder" way to die than in pain or fear. That was my last gift to him. We brought him home and buried him in the garden where he spent so many happy safe hours in his life.
He leaves us with such a wonderful legacy. He is the reason we have so many cats in our household now and so many good friends in the Cat Fancy. He had absolutely no nastiness in him whatsoever - apart from the budgie incident! He never spat at another cat, he loved all our kittens (the only cat in the household who did!) and if it hadn't been for his fantastic personality he would have remained our only cat with Leo and when Leo died, we would have just got another dog. Instead Pasht came into our lives and in his quiet, unobtrusive and loving way changed it forever. Now our house is filled with cats - 8 of them long haired Pashts and that is the wonderful legacy he has left behind. However, Im going to let my oldest and very non-animal loving friend finish this story with an extract from the e-mail she sent to me in response to the one I sent out telling everyone that he had been put to sleep, which I think says it all.
"He was a lucky cat and had a wonderful family and lifetime, so I suppose you can be comforted by the fact you, your family and friends gave him a happy time as he was content with being stroked by everyone and he gave back as much comfort as he appeared to receive. As you know I did not used to be a great cat lover but he learned me how beautiful cats can be and I have often thought I would like a cat myself, but only if I could have one like him."