Saturday, August 15, 2009


Scamp was a little too young when I got her. For our first couple of days together, I fed her baby animal food from a bottle. She gnawed the rubbery tip to shreds. At night I slept with my hand draped over her body like a blanket. She wasn’t much bigger than a guinea pig.

Because of the early weaning, and the bottle, I think, Scamp lived her whole life thinking I was her mother and that my body was covered with nipples. At every chance, she’d nuzzle up and lick and bite me, usually in an unbearably ticklish spot, like under my arm or where my neck meets my chin. Sometimes I’d lick her face to tease her, and she’d cock her head and think it over for a second before diving back in for another try. One time when she was real little I put her whole head in my mouth.

Yesterday morning, on the last full day of her life, she sat for about four hours in the window by my desk looking out over the yard. Off in the distance a neighbor was mowing his yard. Leaves waved gently on the breeze. Every once in a while a bird flew by. I sat at my desk with my feet up, writing. We listened to sad and lovely music together.

In days past, she would’ve gotten up and inched her way onto my lap as I sat back, but she was too tired for that now. I wished she would one last time, but I felt grateful she was in the sunlight and not cowered behind the file cabinet. The image of her there all relaxed and taking in the colors and sounds of the world will stick with me for many years to come.

There are lots of images, of course, and a few stories. The one I kept going back to last week was the time I loaded up everything I owned into a Toyota minivan and put Scamp and Jazz together in a carrier on the front seat and headed west to Kansas. As with any move, I was most concerned about how the cats would take it. I’d never driven with them for more than an hour in the car, and I feared more than ten hours of cats crying in anguish. Especially Scamp, who completely freaks out in cars. And, true to form, she was a complete wreck as we made our way through Denver, screaming and fidgeting back and forth until we were finally flying down the highway through open landscape, when she suddenly took a massive dump that filled the car with a stench so godawful I can still smell it today. I pulled over and took the pad out of the cage and tossed it into the prairie and Scamp and Jazz were quiet as can be for the rest of the way.

She lived up to her name. She never saw a glass of liquid she didn’t want to knock over, including the glass of water that fried my laptop late last year. If she wanted something I was eating, she would prance right up and try to take it out of my hand, or off my fork, or out of my mouth. She looked part alien, with a classic alien-shaped head and those yellow, and part monkey, especially when she jumped up on the sink every morning to drink out of the faucet. She purred loudly.

At my old house in Denver, I had a wall unit with staggered shelves that she liked to climb. For a while, I had a bowl of Hershey’s kisses on one of the top shelves. I had a friend visiting and we sat there amazed as Scamp leapt from the back of a chair and onto a shelf, and then up a few more shelves to the bowl, where she’d fish out a kiss with her snout and drop it all the way to the floor. Then she’d climb down and bat the thing across the floor into some corner or behind a speaker. Then she’d climb up and do it again. Over and over until the bowl was empty.

I was almost 30 when I got Scamp. She was my second adoptee. Jazz, the first, came right after I got my first one-bedroom apartment, right after I landed a graphic design job that paid $24,000 a year, which seemed like an awful lot to me. And Scamp joined the family as we were getting ready to move into the first house I owned, and as I was about to take a job for $36,000 plus overtime. She was barely a year old when I decided to take a pay cut, a big one, for my first writing gig.

If Jazz was my first tentative claim at total independence, Scamp was the exclamation point. Independence isn’t the right word, though. Family is better. My family. Not the family I was borne into, but the one that I set out to create, or that I was meant to create. Now that family is big indeed, eight of us in all, counting Scamp – two humans, two dogs and four cats.

I’d be lying if I said it was all happy. It wasn’t. There’ve been tough times for all of us, but especially, I think, for the cats. For one, the feline Millers and Johnsons fought viciously for months, maybe years. They couldn’t be in the same space together, and for a while each pair suffered a stint in the basement. And the adoption of Gobo made it much worse, because he not only wanted to kill them – he actually could. One time he snagged Scamp off my desk and had her locked in his fangs until I ran in screaming for him to drop her.

So Scamp and Jazz have spent most of the last six years of their lives in my office and the upstairs bathroom. And during times when I was really busy, they were stuck there in that tiny space all by themselves, with little more than brief pettings from me in guilt-ridden moments every now and then. I felt so bad about it that on more than one occasion I suggested to Allie that we find a better home for them. “They just seem so unhappy,” I’d say.

But we never did, and I’m glad because there were a number of stretches where I worked full-time in my office, so Scamp and Jazz had me around more than at any other point in their lives. One such time was the last nine months. Since I quit the mayor’s office, I’ve been in this office nearly every day, and on each of those days Scamp has climbed into my lap several times. Sometimes I’d take a break and lay down on the coach and both she and Jazz would run over and leap up to be with me, Jazz nestled in the nook of my arm and Scamp on my chest, sniffing my chin, inching her way in to find the teat she just knew had to be there.

Scamp’s always been a little frail. She never grew out of that lanky post-kitten stage, when cats look like they’re wearing pajamas. I can’t remember a time when she didn’t piss outside the box, and I’ve taken her in for urinary tract infections several times. And she and Jazz both seem to cough up an awful lot of hairballs. Hell, now that I think of it, all of our cats puke a ton. Every square foot of our upstairs floor is marred with splat marks from when we couldn’t wipe it up quick enough to prevent the acid burn. So I didn’t notice at first when Scamp started throwing up everyday. Took maybe a week, give or take a day. Then once I started noticing that I could tell that she was skinnier than usual. One day I picked her up and saw that she was a lot skinnier. You could really see her hip bones jutting out, and feel her spine when petting her.

That was back in February. We took her to her vet. And then an internal medicine specialist. And then a holistic vet, who suggested we start feeding her raw food. And thus began what might well have been the best period of her life. Several times a day I’d come marching up the stairs with two bowls of raw chicken, lamb, liver, or her favorite, beef heart for she and Jazz to scarf down. She’d be up at the top of the steps waiting for me. I always cracked up at her standing there with her tail standing tall and twitching, her head pivoting back and forth as she looked from bowl to bowl with a look of instinctive blood thirstiness and true connoisseurship.

She started gaining weight. Spring settled in and I fixed the screens she had shredded years ago so I could have breeze and she could reclaim her perch at the top of the world.

And you know what, I’m going to stop there for today. I’ll recount the last few weeks some day soon, I’m sure. But not today. Scamp passed away today.

1 comment:

Amy Trollinger said...

I'm sorry about Scamp's passing, Joe. It sounds like she was a sweet (albeit lactation-prone) soul.