Wednesday, June 8, 2011

R.I.P. Ben Putnam, 1999-2011

One of my two cats died last night.

When I was thirteen, my mom took me to an animal shelter not far from our house. We found a pair of seven-month old kittens curled up together. One was orange, one grey, otherwise identical markings. We were told that they were litter mates, and were due to be moved the next day.

We tracked them to their next location before the store could open. The orange cat sat in the back while the grey one ran to the bars to say hello to anyone who walked by. A lot of people just wanted the grey cat. I wanted both. We got both.

When they opened the cage, the orange cat, scared, backed into the furthest corner he could find before the handler could scoop him out.

We brought them home and kept them in the kitchen for the first day, teaching them where the litter box and food would be. We opened up the house to them, room by room. The orange cat wouldn't let anyone near him.

I found a stick and started dragging it on the carpet in the dining room. That got his attention. He stared at it. Then crouched, and then finally pounced. I wiggled it around a bit, hesitated, then tried to pet him. He didn't acknowledge it yet, but he didn't shy away either. It was a start.

My father was out of town, and got home very late at night, heading straight for bed. The grey cat, naturally very curious, hopped up onto the bed with him to say hello. Then she ran back downstairs, mowed a bit with her orange brother, and brought him back up with her to make introductions.

After a month and a coin toss, the orange kitten was named Ben. His grey sister was named Ashley. She grew out lithe, curious and social. He grew cautious, coy, and fat. He wouldn't let many people pet him. I was one of the only people he'd approach. Even I had to sort of chase him down a bit, until I finally touched his head, at which point he would suddenly remember "oh yeah, I kinda enjoy this," and rub his face and body hard against my hand.

Sometimes he'd get my attention and then lead me to a dining room chair, his favorite place to be pet. He would hop up onto the seat, and then rub against the back of the chair, back and forth, purring loudly enough to be heard across the street. When I wasn't in my room, my big desk chair was his throne. He shed so much that I had to put a towel down on the chair for all the fur. He had big paws, and the longest tail of just about any domestic cat I've met. He wouldn't snuggle the way Ashley would, instead hopping on my bed in the early hours of the morning to pace around me in circles, purring loud enough to wake me up, sometimes pouncing on my toes if I accidentally wiggled them under the covers.

They grew up snuggling together, grooming each other, occasionally getting into pouncing matches and territory fights. They went through a phase when they found a garbage sack of ski socks where they would drag them into the basement to make a nest. If they heard a can open, they were there instantly, and while they showed a surprising disdain for a lot of food (chicken for example), they inhaled canned tuna.

I remember so many moments growing up with Ben. How I accidentally got him to do a backflip as a kitten. How his claws would get so long that he'd get stuck in the carpet until one of us would free him. My late efforts to turn him into a lap cat, despite all his protests. They just keep coming to me when I'm supposed to be thinking about something else.

As Ben got older, he slowly opened up to strangers. First he waited until he could actually see the strangers before running and hiding. Then he waited until they tried to touch him. Then he just shied away if they tried to touch him. Then eventually, he let people he didn't know say hello. By the time I came home from my post-college travels, he was downright social.

I saw him of course when I came home for the holidays last year. I think they might have gotten a couple little catnip toys for Christmas. I left the day before New Years, making sure I said goodbye to both of them. They looked great, and were both very much themselves.

About three days ago I called home and found out that Ben had congestive heart failure. He'd lost at least four pounds. His backbone was clearly visible, and he was moving very slowly, wheezing at times. The worst though was when he stopped eating. That was about a week ago. Not even tuna did it anymore. Then he stopped drinking water.

Then he got to the point where he needed shots every six hours. After consulting with home visiting vets, my parents made the decision to put him to sleep.

Ashley was apparently more confused than anything else. She'd come up and nudge Ben. Poking at him a little.

They gave him a sedative, then the final injection. He passed away peacefully in his sleep. Afterwards, my parents went to my desk chair, the one he loved to curl up in, took the towel from it, and lay him inside its folds.

That was last night. Around midnight my time, my mom called to ask what she termed "an odd question." She wanted to know if she could dig out a couple of my old stuffed animals and rub some catnip on them for Ashley to play with. She said it seemed to be a good distraction, because otherwise Ashley was wandering around the house looking "distracted" and occasionally yowling.

I think I kind of know how she feels. She didn't know this was coming either. Just because we never knew how to explain it, she never really got a chance to say goodbye.


  1. Very sweet post and nice picture. Had forgotten about those red and yellow ski socks. I remember finding them all over the house....up the stairs and in the TV room. The funniest thing was their dragging the kitchen rugs to an obscure corner of the basement and our going into the kitchen and wondering where the rugs went! Thanks for the very nice ode to Benjamin.
    Lv, M

  2. Very nice post. I send you my heartfelt condolences.

    We had to do this with one of my dogs last year--and our other one had that listless wandering for a little while looking for her playmate afterward, too. One of my cats that we've also had for getting on ten years now is showing her age, so I'm afraid this day may come soon for her.

    I'm glad that you have such good memories, though. Take care.

  3. I am so sorry, Joel. Loosing a pet is never, ever easy.

    I love the photo and your post. It sounds like Ben had a very long, very happy life and that he was well loved by you and your family.