Nine Lives, Well Lived
By Kim Mayhew
He arrived at the shelter like so many others, surrendered by his owner. The reason he was no longer wanted was because of “litterbox issues.” He saw the world as his litterbox. But he was a beauty. A flame point, ragdoll kind of cat. Blue eyes, never mind that they were crossed. Named Gunther, he was soon sent to be neutered so that a new home could be found for him.
That was when it started. Humane Alliance called and reported that Gunther had a serious heart murmur, so bad that he might not make it through surgery. It was decided to try. He made it through just fine. Perhaps using up one of his allotted nine lives. Back at the shelter, they decided to keep him and let him be the official shelter cat, since his health was questionable at best due to the heart condition. Dr. Stewart advised that he not be put on heart medication and just keep a check with regular bloodwork. Gunther agreed, ready to get on with his life.
Gunther took to his new position with gusto, at least when he wasn’t napping. He showed how creative he could be with finding new places to “go,” such as the desk calendar or bathroom sink. But his charm got him out of trouble every time. He made sure that no pens or other materials would clutter the desktops, preferring that they went to the floor instead. He feared no dogs and initiated all the cats who were guests at the shelter. He worked tirelessly at his job, right down to the detail of testing out every empty box for appropriateness as a napping spot.
Not content to admire the great outdoors through the window, he would make escapes on occasion. During one such visit outside, he managed to get all the way to the highway and was hit by a car. A board member happened to pass by and recognized him. She took him to REACH for emergency care. They called and said they didn’t think he would survive his injuries due to his serious heart condition. Awake but unresponsive, a full body x-ray was done and they found that his only injury was a broken tooth. Another of those nine lives gone. But he soon was back to his own unique self and back to work.
After a few years at the shelter, it was decided that Gunther should retire to a regular home. He came to live with me and my pack and pride in Green Mountain. Patricia said they sent him off to a home full of German Shepherds and never worried for a minute, at least not for Gunther. Gunther went right into retirement like a pro. He established his place in the household and the others knew to respect his space. Even Thor, an unruly rescued German Shepherd, would just run circles around him when they played but that was close enough.
A few weeks into his retirement, Gunther decided to check-off an item on his bucket list, wilderness camping. He took off into the woods and didn’t tell anyone where he was going or when he would return. We searched for him for days. The land here is rather rugged and steep with so many great kitty hiding places, it was worse than looking for a needle in a haystack. We found nothing. No Gunther, no fur tufts from a fight, nothing.
A couple of weeks after he left, he reappeared back at home. A bit thinner due to his lack of experience hunting in the wilderness, he was otherwise no worse for the trip. There are coyotes and large wildcats in our area that aren’t typically very nice to domestic cats. Not to mention the stress of living in the wild with a serious heart condition. We have no idea how many of his nine lives were used up during his walkabout. But after that, he never ventured out of the sight of the house!
Gunther continued his retirement for almost four years, napping in the sun beside the creek, occasionally having conversations with the other cat family members, and writing a column for the MCAR newsletter. His MCAR friends would send gifts of yummy canned food and kitty treats, which he enthusiastically devoured. He would always escort me up the driveway when I arrived home, forcing me to drive at cat-with-a-heart-condition speed. Sometimes he even chatted with friends on his Facebook page.
He had gotten into the habit of hanging out on the back porch in the evening so that he could smack the faces of the dogs as we brought them in after their last walk of the day. One evening, Phoenix, a German Shepherd who is a MCAR graduate, was the last face he smacked goodnight, and as usual she just looked at him with that, "What's your problem?" look. Gunther had three favorite boxes, one on the back porch, one on the front porch, and another under the dining room table, where he would sleep and take naps. That Saturday night, after he smacked all the dogs goodnight, he made way to his front porch box, which is where he had been sleeping most nights since the weather got warmer. That's where we found him Sunday morning, just looking like he was asleep in his box, but apparently out of lives.
What a special kitty, who went from being unwanted one day to being known and loved by many in the years to come. Even the crematory that provided his final care recognized how special he was and donated their services because “he was such a celebrity.” Animals offer us so many life lessons, if we just pay attention. Gunther taught us to live life to our fullest, whatever that is. Don’t let a limitation hold you back, do what you can with what still works. Whenever the going gets tough, take a nap. If that doesn’t fix it, take a longer nap. And perhaps the best part of his legacy is the demonstration that even imperfect animals can be perfectly wonderful companions.
Nine lives, well lived.