I’ve had a lot of pets throughout my life. Dogs, cats and a mouse. They have all held a special place in my heart over the years.
Troubles, Debit, Credit, Leo, Brutus, Baron, Godzilla, Godzuki, Edwina R Burrow (formerly Edward R Burrow until we discovered he was a she), Chicken Man, Cappuccino, Dan, Mabel, Sebastian, Kirby and Charlotte.
One pet stands out among all of these pets in my life and that pet is Shaman. My Bengal cat.
I was introduced to Shaman by my friend Shirli nearly 15 years ago. She and her friend had a Bengal (domestic cat) breeding program. Let me tell you these cats are amazing. Intelligent and beautiful.
Shirli invited me to meet some of these cats at their cattery (yes, it’s a thing). Their cattery is located in her friends’ home, where she and her husband redesigned an outside deck spanning the length of their home. It was enclosed and individual kennels were set up to separate their breeding pairs of queens and sires away from each other. In addition to the remodeled cattery, they had also turned two of the main downstairs rooms into spaces for their queens to nurse and train their kittens. It was basically a cat palace.
Shirli led me to the cattery, put booties over my shoes, warned me of the smell and walked me into Cat Haven. To the left were two separate kennel areas, where she walked me through to meet some of their older breeders. As she locked the kennel door behind her, I heard this loud and obviously unhappy meow. Shirli turned around and said “In a minute Shaman, we’re visiting Merlin first!” Shaman wasn’t satisfied with that answer and continued his verbal assault the entire time we were with Merlin.
Merlin, by the way, was fantastic. A very large male, with a marbled pattern in black and grey and he possessed the deepest cat voice I’ve ever heard in my life. He truly was the Barry White of the cat world.
After visiting with Merlin, Shirli led me back to the main kennel area and that is when I first met Shaman. A brown, spotted boy approximately one and half years old. He had the sweetest face I’ve ever seen on an animal in my life. He walked right up to me and meowed. Loudly. Demanding my attention. Then jumped up on a counter to the left of me to get a better look and check me out.
Shirli said I could pet him, that he wasn’t the usual Bengal and was very socialized and loved attention. I walked over and he immediately head-butted my hand and indicated he wanted me to pet him. Forever. He purred. He preened. He stretched. He turned from left to right to make sure I pet him from nose to tail.
I’m not going to lie. He was disgusting. As an unaltered, breeding male his fur was beautiful but very oily and oh my good Dog……the smell. Shirli explained male cat urine is the Aqua Velva of the cat world. Male cats would literally pee on the floor (or ground) and then roll in it. I can pretty much guarantee Shaman did this. Probably right before I arrived.
Despite the overpowering smell of Eau de Cat Urine, he made an impression on me. Especially when Shirli told me there were a few more cats in another part of the cattery and started to lead me away. That is when Shaman reached out and batted at my arm. When I turned back to him, he climbed up until he was resting on my left shoulder. Basically hugging me, with his nose in my ear and muttering in some sort of cat language.
Shirli started to laugh, came over and untangled Shaman from my body and put him on the ground. He followed us to the next kennel and once we were inside, he jumped up and hung onto the chicken wire door. Meowing his distress over the fact we weren’t paying attention to him but to the other cats.
Shirli explained Shaman always felt people were there to see him.
To Shaman’s delight, his voice tactic worked like a charm at annoying us and the other cats. We walked back into the main part of the cattery again, where Shaman decided I didn’t do a very good job the first time and demanded my attention once again.
And he got it. By the time I got back upstairs to the main part of the house, I was covered in a combination of cat hair and cat hair oil and Kitty Aqua Velva (cat pee if you weren’t paying attention before).
I went home that night and immediately showered (after being berated by my own cats for cheating on them) but I couldn’t stop thinking about Shaman.
Over the next several years I had several visits to the cattery. When I would have really bad days, I would call up Shirli and say “It’s been a shit day, would you mind if I went out and got a Shaman hug?” The answer was usually yes and the second I had Shaman in my arms and resting on my left shoulder (like a baby), I immediately felt all was right in the world.
In June 2010, my boy Sebastian died from lymphoma and mast cell tumors (apparently common in all white cats). He was a sweetie pie and it was the first time I had to be an adult and make the decision to euthanize one of my pets. I was devastated from the loss and swore up and down, no more pets.
In August of 2010, while visiting a new set of Bengal kittens, Shirli and Sandi informed me Shaman needed a new home. He had been retired from the breeding program and was now neutered. They had a couple all set to adopt him but were no longer in a position to do so. They felt he belonged with me, since we had bonded so well.
I said no. No way. No how. I just lost Sebastian and I still had Mabel. I would have to make another tough decision for her down the line and that was bad enough. No more pets.
Shirli explained they wanted Shaman with someone they knew well, who would care for him and make a good home for him. She reminded me that he was very much bonded to me already and would be a perfect match. I brought up the cost and said there was no way I could afford to buy him from them. They looked at each other and said no problem. We were planning on giving you a discounted rate of $100.
I said I’d think about it. They led me to the upper deck, where Shaman was being transitioned from breeding cat to pet. He walked right over to me and meowed loudly to make sure he had my attention. Then he sat on his brisket and waited for me to pick him up. Which I did.
I took a few more days, but Shaman had already made up his mind. I was his human and he was going to come live with me.
I told Shirli I would adopt him and they set me up with a kennel and instructions and papers. Their instructions? It would take a while for him to get used to living with me and to keep him in the (large) kennel until that happened. I guess no one consulted Shaman on these instructions because the little jerk had other plans.
I brought Shaman home. It had been a long work day for me. It was a near hour long drive from my house to the cattery. And another hour home. I was tired. I was hungry. I had a mouthy cat in the back of my car, in a pet carrier, yodeling all the way home. For. An. Hour.
I got him home, set up the kennel, got him comfortable and ate some dinner. Mabel was less than thrilled with the intruder. They touched noses through the kennel. She hissed. He looked sad. She turned her back. He tried to charm her with flowers and candy. She walked away. He realized he’d have to use booze the next time.
At that point, it was bed time and I was ready to hit the sack. I said goodnight to the new member of my family and walked to my bedroom, with Mabel following in my tracks.
Twenty minutes later.
All. Night. Long.
I got up several times to calm him down. He would quiet down for a while. I would just fall asleep and it would start again.
The next morning I had about two hours of sleep and a full day of work ahead.
I didn’t make it. I went home at noon to get some shut eye.
Fuck it. I ignored the instructions. Opened up the kennel. Grabbed the opera singer and brought him into my room. He walked around the bed, walked around me. Sniffed every inch of me from hair to toes. Sniffed every millimeter of my bed. Then turned in three circles behind my knees and promptly fell asleep.
I took down the kennel that night.
For the next ten years Shaman alternately drove me up a wall, made me laugh, made me happy and made me grateful to have him in my life. He ate any flowers that had the audacity to show up in a vase. He chewed on my plants. He sat on books I was reading. Lay across the laptop. Batted anything he could find across the floor. Stuck his head in my water glasses. Tipped over my water glasses. Strolled across my counters. Hogged my bed during naps. Hid on top of the fridge. Sat in our washbasin in the basement and yodeled at 2am. Stood in front of the cable box , rendering the remote completely useless. Don’t get me started on his endless games of race-car, especially after a meaningful trip to the litter box.
One time, he purposely knocked over a large mirror on our mantle. You know…..just to see what would happen. Or possibly he wanted to know what kind of a noise it would make. Or maybe he didn’t like the mirror.
Sadly, those days came to an end earlier this week. He had been losing a bit of weight for the last several months. The vet on the mainland suspected thyroid issues. I took him to the vet here after we moved to be tested, only for negative results. Concerned, we had a second set of tests run and those were inconclusive as well. I was instructed to keep an eye on him and if he lost any more weight, they would schedule an ultrasound.
The week after his second vet visit, Shaman caught a virus. While it took a week for him to recover from it, once he was feeling better, he was his old self again. Running around and being silly. He started eating again and my husband and I made weekly trips to the pet store to find new foods with which to tempt Shaman. He gained some weight and I breathed a sigh of relief. Things were back to normal.
For a few weeks.
Then he stopped eating again, became more and more finicky. I discovered he liked a certain brand of food and was able to keep his weight up until a week ago. He literally became skin and bones overnight. His eyes lost that sparkle. He slept a lot, but it was fitful sleep telling me he was uncomfortable.
I knew. I knew at this point he was ready and the only thing I could do was let him go. I sat my husband down and tearfully told him Shaman was ready to go onto his next life.
We called the vet and scheduled an appointment. My husband and I drove our sweet boy to the office and we held him while they administered the drug that would stop his heart. He went quickly and peacefully.
While some reading may believe this was just an ordinary cat, I can only tell you he was not. He made the world a brighter place for everyone he met and I will think of him every day for the rest of my life.
No one ever owns a cat…you share a common habitation on a basis of equal rights and mutual respects…although somehow the cat always comes out ahead of the deal.
― Lilian Jackson Braun