Commentary: Bottle-feeding a weeks-old kitten creates a special bond. Your smell and lap and hands are his earliest memories. They are home.
In July 2007, three related cats, feral, had litters in my backyard in Oakland. We brought one little family inside. Then that mother's sister deposited her five two-week old kittens on the back stoop, for us to raise. Their extreme youth made it tough.
One was a long-haired Tuxedo with white on his paws. The hair made him seem solid. I called him Bear.
Something in his yellow-green eyes suggested we knew each other. I wondered if he was my mother, reincarnated. I can't say I really believed this; but I outlined a short story in which a man was convinced a kitten was his mother in her next life. Of all the kittens, only Bear truly became part of our life.
When Bear was four, we moved to Las Cruces. Bear hated the long drive.
Home now was a vast expanse of desert near the Organs, not a lush garden. Solitude, not a crowd of siblings and cousins. Strange and dangerous critters. At first, he never went out. Then he did, and stayed out later and later. Instinct told him not to approach rattlesnakes. He survived seven years without becoming some coyote's supper.
Everyone's pet is special. Bear was a pal. We took midday naps together. He appears in many of my poems. He never harmed the birds we loved watching. Often, acting more canine than feline, he lay on his back, untroubled by his vulnerability, inviting some hand to rub chest or belly.
Which of us was entitled to possession of the desk chair was never clear. Sometimes he was on my lap, sometimes scrunched against the back while I sat up straight on the front. Eventually he started climbing up onto the chairback to perch there, just behind my shoulders.
He shared our joys, and comforted us in sorrow. During discussions, we consulted him and each translated his sounds, expressions, and tail flicks in ways that supported our own view. (Turns out, he had surprisingly frank comments on our foibles.) I speculated with him on which of us would die first. I didn't want to leave him. He expressed no opinion.
When we moved into town, he took weeks to settle down, but quickly told the neighborhood cats whose turf the garden was.
A month ago, he went off his feed. We took him to Jornada. We learned he had a huge, aggressive tumor in his guts. Without surgery, he had weeks to live. With surgery, the prognosis was still grim; “success” was unlikely, and at best might gain him another year or two.
What to do was a decision where emotion and pocketbook intersected. Also heart and conscience: we loved Bear, but if we could afford an expensive operation, we could afford a handsome donation to Camp Hope to house a homeless person.
If Bear was leaving, we wouldn't draw out his departure, to retain his company longer as he grew miserable.
So we took him home and gave him as much love as we could for two weeks, treasuring his every meow, then returned to the wonderfully caring folks at Jornada to set him free.
Maybe he has another life coming soon. He acquitted himself pretty damned well in this one. I hope he's earned a good rebirth. But, damn, we miss him!