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by Vicky Chapman, NSW, Australia


Dear Snoopy,

Cat of my youth, big and grey, much like Shmoggleberry, you passed without me saying goodbye. I'm sorry I didn't take the time to get to know you as I should. I thought I was a dog person back then, and well, I thought chasing boys was infinitely more interesting than playing with a cat. But Shmoggleberry has taught me many a lesson that I should have learnt back then with you, one being that boys can come and go like a big storm – they start by showing you lots flashing lights and make lots of noise, and they can leave just as suddenly with water streaming down your cheeks, but a cat will always be there when you need comfort and a soft warm body to cry on.

You were really my sister's cat, or should I say my sister was your human? You were old and had seen may an adventure. Relegated to the outside because of your constant supply of fleas that preferred my mother's ankle's to you, I still look to see if there is a grey form waiting to patiently to be fed outside the glass doors of my parent's patio. You weren't the worlds most talkative cat, but you still managed to communicate your needs with your family.

I remember the day we first met you – I cannot clearly recall all the events like an adult does, but can remember impressions, feelings, odd snatches of the day. We were with my Aunt at the time, I remember us looking at houses, although I don't know where or why. You were just a kitten, but chose to follow us anyway, delighting both my sister and I with your kittenish behaviour and your natural beguiling charm. We begged Mum to let us take you with us, I still don't know whether we stole you from another family or not. If we did, I am sorry, but children don't think of things like that. Naturally, my mother said "No" to keeping you, but we snuck you into the back of my Aunt's car anyway, and was "surprised" by your appearance in the car when we got home. Looking back, I'm sure Mum didn't believe us when we swore blind we didn't know you were there, but we got to keep you anyway. I remember Mum being horrified that Aunty lifted your tail and announced that you were a boy. That kept me wondering for a long time – I didn't know how she could tell the difference between the tails of boy cats and tails of girl cats. I spent a long time annoying your tail for that reason. Sorry about that but it was purely out of childish curiosity, I didn't mean to annoy you.

You were named "Snoopy", not from a Peanuts cartoon character, but because you were so curious, you snooped around absolutely everything. You spent the first night mewling in the bathroom, annoying my sister and making me want to cry. Eventually my sister crawled in with you, we found you both asleep in the bath tub. Perhaps that's why you had a bond closer to my sister, but maybe you knew Shmoggleberry would come my way, and I would learn about cats later.

You weren't desexed for a very long time, and you ruled the neighbourhood. Many a time I would wake up on a fine sunny morning to see your night's work scattered across the garden, some other poor tom's fur lining the lawn like colourful snow. I can't remember the fights, but I'm sure Mum and Dad remember the noise – you liked fighting under their bedroom window. We knew you were the king of the area because you would follow us to the library with the full confidence of a king surveying his kingdom. The library was a good 40 minute walk away, your territory must have been huge. But I don't remember thinking how large your "turf" was, all I can remember how nice it was taking our cat for a walk!

One week, there was a terrible smell in the backyard. We hunted high and low for the cause of that smell, had the drains flushed, had the sewerage guy come with his smoke to check the system. I can remember smoke bubbling out of the loo, which my sister and I thought was hilarious. "A big steamy poo" we thought. What we didn't know until two more weeks had passed was that the horrible smell was coming from the carcass of another cat hidden behind the pool fence. As an adult, I understand that animals defend their territory with everything they have, but at the time I was horrified, completely mortified, and could not comprehend how such a placid, purring creature as yourself could possibly kill another animal. Thankfully, I guess Dad always cleared away your little "gifts" before us girls got to see them. Dad now says you were a ferocious, incredibly efficient hunter, but I think he was saving us from the realities of owning an outside tom-cat.

My parents decided that it was time to get you neutered, although I didn't know what that meant at the time. But before they could, you got into another fight and got a huge smelly patch on your neck. Mum said it was an ulcer, but I didn't know what it was. I just hoped you'd get better, but you didn't. I can remember your whole neck being yellow and pink and awful, but you wouldn't let anyone catch you to have a closer look until it was so horrible that I guess even you though a trip to the vet was better than the sore on your head. Dad put you in a box with some holes in it, tied it up, and started walking to the vet, as we didn't have a car, and we couldn't afford the taxi. You of course managed to escape from the box in no time at all, it was after another four successful escapes made from increasingly well secured boxes before Dad eventually took you in his arms and carried you to the vet himself. Strangely, you didn't put up a struggle after that. We left you at the vet and my sister and I cried and cried all the way home because we wanted our pussy to get well.

The vet wisely neutered you while he was stitching up your neck. Mum always said your meows always sounded like "meowsy-wowsy" after that. You had to wear a funny looking cuff over your head for ages longer than the vet said, because you always managed to escape from it and rip out your stitches. Eventually we had one made from leather and it was sewed onto your neck so you simply couldn't get out of it. I'm sure you nearly choked yourself to death before you resigned yourself to wearing that funny thing on your head. I know I laughed at you. I'm sorry, I now understand about cat dignity and how important it is, but I was only a kid back then. After the cuff finally came off, you had lop sided ears, because your skin had to be pulled so tight across the wound. I always thought it gave you a very distinctive look, but I'm not sure what the other cats thought about you.

I remember on the cold winter mornings, when Dad got up early for work, he would let you in the house anyway, despite the fleas that Mum had to suffer with. It turns out I have the same tasty blood as my mother, but I guess kid's blood tastes different to fleas, either that or I just didn't notice. But it was just so wonderful to have you jump onto my bed in the wee small hours of the morning and have you curl up in the crook at the back of my legs. This was long before I shut my door at night, before I was embarrassed about the changes that were happening to my body. Shmoggleberry has learnt that I'm a restless sleeper these days, and that I will unintentionally kick him in my sleep if he beds down there, so I no longer have the simple pleasure of a purring cat gently warming the back of my knees. I really do miss that, you know.

Your territory was lost along with those bits of you that stayed at the vet, so now our garden was overrun with other stray cats taking over your turf. You became friends with a cat we called "Nermal" and you even let Nermal eat of your food bowl, something you'd have never have done before the operation. You seemed to become firm friends and were always together. At least you weren't in dire danger any more, well, so we thought.

Nermal was next door's cat, and like all cats, both of your wandered where you pleased. We never really saw eye-to-eye with those neighbours, but we certainly weren't going to come to blows about it – we just remained cool but courteous towards them, as there is nothing more stressful than a "front line" marked out by a backyard fence. Unfortunately, their adopted son (who is now in an institution) was not so mild. He had an obsession with guns, and was often caught practicing with a BB gun up in the local forest, dressed up in army fatigues and shouting (and shooting) at various imaginary enemies. Although never proved, we strongly suspect it was he that shot you.

We came home one day to find you in an unusual spot for you, being very quiet. We didn't think much more of it until the next day, when you were still there. You hadn't moved, and by this time you were shivering, and mewling softly. Dad picked you up and you bit him savagely, because he had touched you back leg. It was hanging off. Some of your lopsided ear was missing. I'm thinking of it now and I feel sick in the stomach – that image has never left me. There was a trail of blood in the garden, but not on the road. Once again you were taken to the vet in the arms of my father. The vet said conclusively that it was not a road accident – there were no crush injuries, for a start. If your leg was so badly damaged by a car tyre, you should have also suffered damage all over your body, and besides, it didn't explain why some of your ear was missing. The wounds were clean – there was no gravel in them. There was also no evidence of blood of any type on the road. His conclusion was that you had been shot at at reasonably close range by a small shot gun or BB gun. It was obvious who had done it – the neighbour's son was always yelling at you to get out of his yard, but he never admitted to shooting you. He even produced two witnesses (his mates) to say that you had been run over, but we knew very well what had happened. We pleaded with Mum and Dad not to have you put down, we begged, we cried, we made promises regarding room tidying and pocket money, we cajoled, we prayed loudly, and would not let up until they promised not to. You came home a week later with only one toe on your back foot, no lopsided ear, and another one of those terrible cuffs (the vet, being wise to you, went straight for the leather one). I still believe you to be the toughest cat in the world, because you could still climb the flyscreen without most of your toes, and you still hung on grimly no matter how much water was shooshed at you through the screen door. You even stayed stubbornly out in the rain, because you didn't seem to like admitted defeat. Snoopy, you still inspire me.

I finally caught one of the young men I had been chasing, and eventually brought him to meet the family, you included. My parents were very gracious to accept him as part of their family, because I have found out recently they never like him at all, they thought he was a horrible person that treated me terribly. They had one of those parental feelings about him from day one. But I was in love, and didn't notice how you would never allow him to touch you, and how you would hiss and back away if he came towards you. When we sat outside and necked, you came and watched, but made sure you stayed well enough away from him. I thought you were just being strange, but now I know that you were trying to tell me in your own way that he was no good. I realise now that you were trying to protect me from him when you came and watched us. I should have listened, but I wasn't fluent in cat back then. Although it took me a very long time to figure it out, I did eventually get away from him. My parents were spot on about him, and so were you.

I moved out of home early to be with that man, and left you and the rest of my family behind. Years passed, and you lost your teeth, one by one. Mum took pity on you and started to wet your biscuits with milk and feed you canned food. Slowly your eyes clouded over, and you stopped answering to the sound of your food bowl moving. You still got around reasonably well, and compensated for your loss your hearing by developing an incredible sense of timing. We always knew it was about 6pm because you suddenly appeared at the patio doors. Unfortunately, you never did figure out day-light savings.

You developed a great fondness for just staying where you were and sleeping, and weren't bothered by other cats any more. You still enjoyed a good patting, and a good skritching just above your tail always sent you into flights of ecstasy. You must have had an incredible sixth sense, because despite being blind and deaf, when that boyfriend and I came to visit, you still avoided him and him only. I don't quite know how you did that without being able to hear or see, but it was quite amazing to watch. When my sister began to bring men home, you did pretty much the same thing to them as you did to my boyfriend of the time, until she brought home Steve. He was the first man we had brought home that you deigned to wipe your now very thin fur on, so I am glad he got your approval at least. They've been together for over 10 years and they're still happy, so I know you were right about the men we brought home.

One day the phone rang, and it was Dad. He said that he had come home from work, and when he gave you his usual rough-house greeting, you just fell over. He picked you up and put you in his shed so you out of the cold and rain, and let you sleep on his sleeping bag. When he went back there after tea, you were curled up on the bag, looking warm and peaceful. He thought you were asleep, so he left you, thinking that you'd take you leave of the shed when you felt the need. Sometime in your sleep I guess you did take your leave, you took that long and pleasant journey to Rainbow Bridge. You looked so content on that sleeping bag it took a long time for anyone to figure out that you had passed on. It was the first time you had come in from the rain.

You never did get a decent burial. Neither my parents are the sentimental type, so the body that fought so heroically against other cats, humans, and Mother Nature herself for 17 long years was hygienically disposed of in the trash. But I guess that doesn't matter so much, because although I have no physical location to visit your incredible spirit, I can visit my memories of you whenever I like.

I can never thank you enough for sending your carbon copy, who is now my beloved Shmoggleberry, to teach me all about cats and cat attitudes. I didn't realise until then that a cat can teach you so much about yourself and how to view the world. Shmoggleberry approved of my current beau, Joel, and I'm not ever going to ignore my cat's opinions about my lovers, or anything else for that matter (well, maybe about food) ever again. Shmoggleberry is a very special cat in his own right, but sometimes I swear I can see you in his eyes. I trust I've learnt my lessons well, if a little on the late.

Although I think you'll be waiting for my sister and not me at Rainbow Bridge, I still want to thank you for so many things. Just being yourself was more than enough. You were truly an amazing creature, one of a kind. My dear, sweet, Snoopy, I'll never, ever forget you. Although Shmoggleberry is my "special" cat, there will always be a place in my heart that is warm and comfortable, soft and dry, just for you.

Take care of yourself, my little friend.



Editor's note:

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