arethaAretha died this morning. She was 20 years old. 19 years ago she decided to adopt me. I had moved back to California from New York and was renting a small apartment on the beach. She lived next door; the man who owned her was busy and gone a lot, so she started coming to me. She made her intentions perfectly clear — we belonged together and she would not take no for an answer. The humans would simply have to accept her will…so we did. She came to me as a cat who knew how to navigate the outside world safely, with her own boundaries, a cat who wanted to come in at night and be held. At first she would sleep curled around my neck, just in case I hadn’t gotten the message that I belonged to her now. Once she decided I understood, she gave me a little more room.

The first gift she brought me was on Mother’s Day — a large already-dead rat which she hauled through the newly installed pet door. I came in to find her sitting proudly beside it, announcing her gift with loud meows. The second gift will forever remain a mystery. Somehow, she dragged a large dead seagull up the stairs, through the pet door, and through the living room into the bedroom without leaving a trace. I came home, walked into the bedroom and screamed in shock, which was a very ungracious way to treat a gift. The bird was as big as she was, and I will never know how she accomplished her mission.

She was my savior in so many ways. I was divorced, I had gotten into an abusive relationship following my divorce, fled to the east coast, and then returned to California after my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I felt broken and alone. I didn’t feel as if anyone would want me. But then a small eight pound cat chose me and made it very clear that she loved me. In 19 years, we went through so much together, and always her green eyes watched me intently, reminding me that we had each other. When I brought Gracie home — a tiny Pug smaller than Aretha — she calmly accepted the little newbie after letting Gracie know that she was the boss and always would be. Gracie is convinced that cats are at the top of the evolutionary ladder.

I have marveled at Aretha’s dignity the past few weeks as her health declined. Walking was difficult, but she insisted on walking out to the yard on her own to lie in the sun. Until yesterday, when she looked at me and wanted to be carried. I made an appointment to send her home to God today, midday, and I told her I was going to help her, that  it would be okay, she’d be free soon. I will always believe she understood me because at 5:30 this morning when I got up, she was undertaking the journey herself. She was limp, barely breathing; when the vet’s office opened at 7:30 we were there. She tried to make it easier for me, but there is nothing easy about losing a companion of 19 years —a determined little tiger who chose me, followed me around, slept beside me, and even at the end when her breath was faint and barely audible, purred one last time.

My father believed in filling up the space left by the death of a pet sooner rather than later. He used to say that you will still miss the animal who is gone, but your heart will be filled up by the new animal you’ve brought into your life. I will get another cat, even though I know there will never be another Aretha. She was bossy and loving and wise, and I will miss her forever.



21 Responses to THE BEST CAT EVER

  1. Erika Griesemer says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. Thoughts and prayers go out to you and Gracie.

  2. Gigi Shapiro says:

    What a beautiful life Aretha had and what comfort you were to each other. I too believe what your dad said! But in the meantime just remember how much she loved you. Hugs.

  3. Michelle Montgomery says:

    I am crying a bit as I write this-you put into words what I never could, but my heart has often said. I too have made that bittersweet journey, and I understand. Your father was right about his advice-it does not seem possible, but it is true. Bless you for sharing so many years with Aretha and for the years you have shared with Gracie.
    I still have the signed copy of “Two Cats and the Woman They Own” you gave me. Thank you, Patti, for everything…

  4. Maureen says:

    Beautiful story. Her spirit will always be with you.

  5. Rodney Wilson says:

    I am so glad to read your father’s wisdom. He is right. I can’t bear the thought of my two kitty girls leaving me, but when they do in their honor I will quickly rescue another one who will also rescue me from great grief. They same will be true for you. I will be thinking of you as you mourn this great loss. Our animal friends carve their lives into our hearts and we never forget them. They don’t forget us, either. God bless Aretha and God bless you.

  6. Carla says:

    I’m so sorry – I know Aretha was special. But, your dad got it. You’ll soon have a new friend. In the meantime, hug that little Gracie of yours extra tight – she grieves, too.
    Thinking of you….

  7. What a blessing for both of you that Aretha adopted you. Much love. ❤️

  8. Marta Kepes says:

    Oh Patti! What a lovely and heartfelt tribute to a very special soulmate… ❤️

  9. karen thomson says:

    Aww so sad

  10. Eve says:

    Oh Patti I feel your loss. Love and prayers.

  11. David Marks says:

    Forgive my flowery response, Patti, but I am not ashamed to convey the memories you harbor like an eternal homesteader, caring for those of us (and yes, I include our animal friends) with the generosity of an angel. You reminded me, as if you knew you would, of a cold and bitter walk I took 25 years ago. While walking three canines in the brisk wind of a November morning, one of my pups spotted, then pulled me to a small, ratty creature, nestled in some dead leaves, nearly lifeless. I was pulled so hard, I just had to trust my Dusty, and there, motionless, was a near-dead cat I later named Bellina. I swung her over my shoulder, gave her a small portion of food and water, took her to the vet, where they said she would have been dead by the next morning, and warmed her, while she returned the favor, for 12 years. She never physically grew much; a tiny thing, she was gentle, thankful, and part of me. You send for our nostalgia, and your words and style allow for the culture of love and purpose, about our babies….our cats and dogs, and about that feeling your dad had about what to do when death takes them away. I agree with Suzanne, and those of us who love and loved our little friends, well, we never forget. This has been a year of taking away, Patti, of loss, and I don’t know quite how you do it. For the rest of us, the magic of your emotions to words, caresses of pain. I am so sorry for yet another loss. On the one hand, you do more than anyone I have ever known to cuddle with the best of them, and care and nurture like no one can; on the other hand, you express your losses and the identity of your loved ones, with an almost mutually dynamic grace. Sending love, always, Patti.

  12. Edward Jenny says:

    Thank you for sharing your friendship with Aretha, I always was baffled by my Bengal dragging a possum in out of the woods, too. Maybe an anti-gravity skill comes with that 9 lives package 🙂 Be well, Peace.

  13. Patti, My wife, Terri, and I send our hearts and thoughts and prayers to you.

    We too are avid cat lovers. Have six currently as we do our best to provide a safe loving sanctuary for cats we have rescued. As a writer, here’s a thought to another writer. Terri had a male Siamese she’s had for 5 years when we married, at the time I was driving a semi cross country and allergic to cats, love them but thought I could never live with them in a closed space. Long story short, she was going to give him to her neighbor, but he wasn’t having it. He had been cared for and loved by the neighbor for nearly all the five years of the his life. However when Terri took Ptolemy over to the neighbor the cat wasn’t going to stay there, he immediately hissed, growled and snarled at the neighbor (something he had never done before). Terri called me in tears, as she had no other options other than the local shelter. I said Ptolemy would not be happy with any other option but to stay with her, and my allergies were just gone to have to deal with it.

    She and Ptolemy joined me on the truck for the next three years and that cat was the guardian, proctor and boss of that truck until I retired from trucking in 2003.

    Jump forward to 2005, I was now working for ABC Radio Networks and was in Walcott, Iowa at a truck show to do a live remote for Sirius’s Trucking channel. We had boarded Ptolemy at our local vet because the cat wasn’t feeling well. They discovered a cancer in his intestines and he passed on the operating table. Sadly Terri (and me) were unable to say our goodbyes as he went over the rainbow bridge. This very much weighed heavy on Terri’s heart as he’d been her companion for 11 years.

    I’ve told you all this to explain how she handled her grief. Terri a writer and journalist and a friend of ours Harold,who is a poet and a cat lover too teamed up and wrote a book in memory of their two beloved cats using Ptolemy and Harold’s cat (name escapes me at the moment) that he had also recently lost along with three kittens we had living with us and availing themselves of our servant services Midnight, KiKa and Ebony Ninja.

    The book is Three Wise Cats – a Christmas Story which we published in 2006 under our own publishing company, however in 2009 Berklely Penguin picked it up and published in November of 2010. The book is still in Print today with Berkley Penguin. What a cool way to remember and immortalize a beloved pet.

    Just a thought. With your skill as a writer, your story telling skills along with the passion for your pets, it would be one I would love to read.

    Peace Love and Grace
    Tim Brady.

    • Patti Davis says:

      Tim Brady,
      I wrote a book years ago called Two Cats and the Woman They Own. About Aretha and my other cat Skeeter, who passed years ago. It’s available on Amazon.

  14. Patricia Hibbett says:

    Beautifully written Patti. I am so sorry for the loss of your pet cat, Aretha. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  15. David Laurell says:

    God love her… and you for being so loving and kind to her. Cats, like dogs, only have one fault: they don’t live long enough.

  16. Wendy Wilkinson says:

    What a beautiful tribute. I am so glad you two found each other and shared a terrific 19 year adventure. A part of Aretha will be with you forever.

  17. Joan robbins says:

    As always, Patti, your words bring all of us who have done what you just did, solace and peace. In my heart I believe God has a cat who needs you now and as your Father said, will bring you new love.❤️

  18. Darcy Braddock says:

    Thank you for sharing with us your tribute to Aretha. What a wonderful,warm friendship you shared with her. When an animal,or a small child shows love, it is for real.

  19. Brenda Reeves says:

    I also fill up the space that is left by a passing animal sooner than later. Some people have to wait and others never can because it’s like losing a child. My philosophy is that there’s always a precious animal waiting to love us and waiting to be loved.

  20. Kevin Berry says:

    Hi Patti,
    I just read about Aretha. I think most people who have been adopted by a cat have at one time or another had the best cat ever. Cats do that to us. Mine came in 1993 as I was going through my divorce. He (small, feral, grey, tiger tabby) showed up in my driveway one day and when he noticed that I noticed, he vanished. He was gone so quickly that I could almost feel the air get sucked into the space she had occupied a heartbeat earlier.

    I put food out for him. I expect that was what he had intended. The food was gone next morning. No surprise there. I put food outside the garage every evening. If I waited for him he didn’t show though the dish was empty in the morning. One evening I put out the food and waited just inside the door from the garage to the kitchen. Thirty seconds later he showed and dove into the food.

    The next day I sat in front of the kitchen door. He came by, noticed where I was sitting (no threat but plenty of time to run if threat materialized) and dove into the food. Each day I moved a foot or so closer. This continued until I was five feet from where he was eating. Next day I brought out a can of Whisker Lickin’s. I offered him one he looked at it in my hand and decided “in your drams” and walked away. Next day I shook the can and dropped one snack onto the ground near his dish. He checked it out and looked at me for more. I offered one from my hand and he walked away. This went on for months. As winter approached and nights got colder I moved the food into the garage. It is noticeably warmer in the garage and out of the wind. When I closed the door he bolted. That night was cold and windy. The next day when I closed the door, he noticed but kept on eating. He became a night-time garage cat. I started feeding him in the garage to keep the food out of the weather. I also folded up an old blanket and placed it on the floor near his dish. At he back of the garage I gave him a litter pan.

    I had set up a worktable in the garage. It was a door set on saw horses I’d made to accommodate my wheelchair. I’d gotten Greystoke (grey tiger tabby) comfortable taking treats from my hand but he still wouldn’t allow me to ouch him. One day just over a year after we “met”, he wandered into the garage, walked over to me, climbed over the wheel of the chair, curled up in my lap and went o sleep. I’d never touched him before that. I found myself stroking a purring mass that I was reasonably sure was going to stick around.

    His routine became: wait for the door to open; go do kitty things; come back and get fed. He showed up every night at five to get fed. One Sunday afternoon he showed up around three with a nick on his ear and a limp. I expect he had a discussion concerning property rights to the backyard. I picked him up and took him into the house. we went to the vet next morning. The vet cleaned up the wounds and test him for FeLV. He tested positive. I was devastated but he was totally asymptomatic. I figured I would revel in his company until he showed symptoms. That was December 1995.

    I ran a small mail order business out of my home. I had a set of CDs that had millions of names and addresses of people who had purchased something via mail. The lists were searchable by any parameter on the list. I was “cruising up a street I used to live on and spotted a familiar name. The phone was listed so I called…and got her boyfriend. I was in CA calling NJ while she was visiting he daughter in CA. We eventually got together and married in 1966. We sold the house, bought a motorhome and hit the road in early 1998. We covered a lot of states and eventually found ourselves n OR visiting her daughter who had escaped CA. She couldn’t afford to liv in Berkeley anymore. We spent time looking at houses in the area but nothing hit our fancy. We got back to the rig one day and Greystoke hadn’t touched his food. I decided to keep an eye on him and get him to a vet if that continued. It continued and after a month of trips to the vet and several hundred dollars in vet bills we decided it was time. Greystoke was a big cat. He weighed in at 16 lbs. when we made the last trip he weighed 8 lbs 2 ozs. He died with both of us holding him. I hope he knew how much we loved him.

    Every once in a while, each of us is fortunate enough to bond with another life. The other doesn’t have to be another person, though that also happens. I consider myself to have been graced with the presence and the affection of a being who returned as much love as I could give him.

    Patti, I’m sorry to be so long-winded. I’m afraid that happens when I think about my boy even now nearly twenty years later. I’ve had many cats since but he still stands out as the one I would like to have back if that were ever possible.

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