Winston died suddenly on Thursday night. He had just been leaping around our living room, no doubt having spotted some creature outside, when he laid down and quit breathing. The vet had run some tests on him just a few weeks ago and pronounced him in good health, so I have to assume he had a heart problem. We are glad he didn’t suffer. We are sorry we had no chance to say goodbye.
I picked out Winston from an animal shelter when I was in grad school. Greg and I had taken in a lost kitten for a day, and Greg was devastated when we had to return the cat to its owners. I went to the shelter wanting an adult because I knew everyone else chose the adorable kittens. I also wanted a big cat because I thought as long as I’m doing this, I’m going all the way.
Winston was 4 years old, and his cage was at the back of the shelter, past all the large, loud dogs. I knew few people even looked back there. As soon as we opened the door, he leaped past us and raced over to a cage of rabbits. That ended up being the perfect summary of his personality. We were just here to serve him on his lifelong quest for adventure.
At the shelter, he was called Butter Rum. We chose the name Winston because he seemed regal. He wasn’t quite the cat we expected.
He disapproved of cuddling, though he was happy to snuggle up with my sweatshirt or any other article of clothing I left around. He loved the outdoors. We couldn’t open the door without him leaving. And then we had to carry him back into the house while he snarled with such vengeance that we were certain he would kill us that night while we slept. He liked cantaloupe, French bread and eggs. He was never full.
Mostly, he loved to hunt. He swished his tail with excitement when he spotted a bird or squirrel. I was never safe at night. He hid behind doors and corners, leaping out to sink his teeth into my thighs as though he was taking down a gazelle on the Serengeti. Sometimes he would run ahead of me after this, waiting for me to pounce in return.
He and Abe loved and hated each other. They often played chase. Abe was faster, but Winston was more skilled, hiding behind furniture and pouncing when Abe least expected it. After these antics, we would sometimes find them collapsed in sleep beside each other.
Winston was endlessly loyal to me, even after I had grown weary of his ankle-biting and talked of finding him a new home. When we had Eleanor, Greg became Winston’s primary caretaker, and still that cat would only listen to me. He came running when I called his name but acted deaf when Greg spoke. He let me scratch under his chin, but he never let me hold him.
Until Thursday night. For the first time in my life, I got to cradle him in my arms. It was terrible. I didn’t even like Winston, and yet, I loved him. He was part of our family. Now I open the closet, expecting to find him napping in back. And I open the windows to let in the warm spring air, waiting for Winston’s joyous bound onto the sill.