When we first saw Garfield, or Kunta, as she was quickly nicknamed, she was about two steps from death. She was no bigger than a softball, her eyes were mattered almost shut and she had no voice left to meow with. We took her in, believing in the beginning that we were going to lose her right away.
She fooled us all, however. From that first morning 16 years ago, when she sat silently and pathetically meowing on our front step until this last week, that cat was a part of our family. We called her Garfield, after the big orange cartoon cat, but Roy soon nicknamed her by mis-pronouncing the name of the main character on “Roots.”
“She’s a Kittee,” he would tell the girls. “She’s not Kunta Kintae; she’s Kunta Kittee.”
And so, Garfield, or Kunta, or whatever you wanted to call her, moved into our house. Sometimes when you take in a stray, they can never be a part of a domestic setting, but Kunta was determined to make a place for herself from the moment she came wandering to the door, so of course, she set herself to be a useful member of the family.
Useful she was. We were newly moved into a more rural setting and we were having major mouse problems. It took very little time for Kunta to decide that this job was made for her. Even when she was so small herself, she was soon the terror of the mouse population and they packed up and moved along.
When she had the house secure, she turned to the garden. Sometimes, all you could see of her was the top of her swishing tail as she moved among the plants, down the rows and vanquished every rabbit she found. It took very little time for her to decide that her favorite thing to do was to lie out by the garden and wait for a hapless wild animal to roam by.
She was a nocturnal thing; she loved nothing better than summer nights when she could go out and stay out the whole night, hunting. She would turn up on the front steps in the morning, calmly indulging in a thorough bath, and beside her would be the results of a night’s hunt. That part, I admit, I could have done without.
Sometimes, I thought we should have put a bell on her, because she was also hard on the birds. She would wait in the spring for the new hatchlings to get old enough to fall out of the trees and then she would pounce. The birds would retaliate in the only way they could; they would scold at her and when possible, try to dive bomb her with poop. She would stroll nonchalantly around the back deck, openly displaying her scorn for their efforts. Unfortunately, during her best years, my deck would frequently resemble London during the blitzkrieg!
As happens to every living thing, Kunta began to get old and slow down. There was another cat by then, who had wandered in like she did, and she turned over some of her hunting duties to the newcomer. Her most recent days have been marked by discomfort for her and this last year has seen a failing in her habits, always so clean throughout the years.
I always worried over the years that some night Kunta would go out scavenging and not come back, like the noble hunter she was. As she grew older and slower and more incontinent, I began to think it was a shame she hadn’t been allowed that dignity. It was hard to make the decision to put her to rest; she deserved better than that.
We put her remains near the end of the garden where she loved to laze away the summer days. We miss her quiet dignity and giant green cat’s eyes. But somewhere in the great beyond, I know there is a place called Mouse Hell, where all bad little mice go. This is where Kunta is, on the eternal hunt in her own version of Cat Heaven. Happy hunting, Kunta!