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Best Friends

Dateline 4/27/97

We grow older, my "best friend" cat and I. Shannon, at 15, is about 75 in cat years, and I am old enough to qualify for AARP. We both have a little less spring in our steps, I from hours on end (literally) sitting at a computer, Shannon from too many leaps from high places.

One of his favorite perches is a stereo speaker mounted on top of a seven foot bookcase, across a six-foot span from a catwalk on our second floor balcony. He sometimes sleeps on the catwalk, which is all of eight inches wide. It accommodates him nicely lengthwise, and only his tail or a hind foot sticking out give us a clue that he is there. In the past, Asa and I have watched with heart-stopping awe, as he made the leap from catwalk to speaker, and then back again. The drop to the floor below is ten feet. One night he was apparently chasing birds in his sleep and fell, missing Asa's head by a whisker's width. Fortunately for both, he landed on a soft cushion of the sofa where Asa sat, gave himself a few embarrassed licks, and disdainfully walked away, as if he had intended to "drop in."

We decided it was time to put a ramp between the catwalk and speaker. Shannon looked at it in disdain, and to this day (to our knowledge) has neither strolled nor jumped to the speaker. As I am no longer inclined to dive into the cold waters of our bay, Shannon seems disinterested in the vault to his once favorite perch, and scorns the gangplank.

Our bond has strengthened of late. He has always been a fairly "low-maintenance" cat, content with an occasional brushing or ear-scratching, but, for the most part, previously preferred his own company or that of another furry quadropod to human companionship.

At age 13, he underwent several tooth extractions performed by the great folks at the U.C. Davis Veterinary School. Asa and I made the 160 mile round trip four times (once to visit our recuperating friend). Since then, I have been more conscious of his mortality; I sense the same unvoiced knowledge when we gaze into each other's eyes.

Last month, Shannon started acting very uncharacteristically--urinating in the house. When I discovered him passing a large blood clot, we made a hasty trip to the vet. Although a course of antibiotics cleared up the condition, the fear remains. A tumor? CRF (Chronic Renal Failure)?

I find myself fretting and fidgeting about him when he is not in my immediate sight. When he is sleeping, I study him carefully, to see that his sides are still rising and falling with life-giving breath.

Asa says, "Will you stop trying to kill that cat? He'll probably outlive both of us." I smile and nod, but even after 15 years, the memories of Tinker's passing are still too painful.

Shannon seems to also know that our time together is shortening. He chooses to sit on my desk, right at my left shoulder as I work on my computer. He paws me a few time with those huge pads of his, until I stop and nuzzle him, nose to nose. After awhile, I return to my work and he sits upright in a sphinx-like position, asleep, his head nodding as he dreams of butterflies.

He helps me read my newspaper, knocking over my coffee cup in the process. I worry more about him burning himself than the mess. He sleeps on the cushion behind me as I watch X-Files on Friday night, and on a stack of pillows above my head in our king-sized bed.

As I write, he jumps on the table, pushes my pen around with his nose, creating gibberish, then hums his throaty song as I throw down my pen and scratch his ears. I gaze into those green-flecked topaz eyes and know that tonight, at least...all is right with the world with my best friend beside me.

"Consider the situation. There you are, forehead like a set of balconies, worrying about the long-term effects of all this new 'fire' stuff on the environment, you're being chased and eaten by most of the planet's large animals, and suddenly tiny versions of one of the worst of them wanders into the cave and starts to purr."

-- Why humans like cats
(Terry Pratchett, The Unadulterated Cat)

Writer's Note: Shannon left us for the Rainbow Bridge on July 13, 2001, at the ripe old age of nineteen. He had a wonderful life and taught us much about life and love. Shannon took being a cat very seriously, you see, and these articles form the legacy of my faithful "GuideCat."

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