Our cat Jupiter who held dominion over our house for nearly 20 years – a third of a lifetime — passed away yesterday morning.
Jupiter was born in the summer of 2001 in the Taft dairy barn in Huntington, Vermont. She had the colorings of a Holstein. And though small, and short of leg, her muscles were strong and her temperament was fierce. She spent her first days with us in a small bed in the kitchen of Jubilee farm along the Huntington River. And a few weeks later a stranger brought her to us in Seattle as a carry on.
Jupiter had more volition and more natural ability than some people I know. One evening in Seattle when she was still a kitten, we came home and found her locked out of the house. She sat on the porch and glared at us through the pouring rain. She turned, walked to the door, leapt up, looped her paw through the front door handle, hung there and stared at us while she swatted at the latch attempting to open it.
Each day she would awaken before the sun rose, climb on my chest and tag me in the face. Sleepily, I would crawl out of bed and follow her to the kitchen. She insisted on leading, yet would stop every few steps, turn and tag me on the foot, as if to say, stay in line and follow in step.
For two decades all animals and people that came into our lives would sit or stand in abeyance to her. The dogs would refuse to mount the stairs or go through a door until she had stepped aside.
She lived in Vermont. And Seattle. And Hopi where unlike many other cats she managed to survive. She came to California. She prevailed through fires and floods and moves and evacuations.
Seven years ago, a Thai hunting dog seized her in his mouth and shook her like a rag doll. Even then she held her own, rendering the dogs snout into ribbons of scratches. A few years later, her appetite waned and we took her to the vet. He looked in her mouth. She has cancer he said. He gave her one to two days to live. We returned home and fed her milk as a form of palliative care. So much for cancer. The two days turned into four years.
Our daily routines became more contorted around her needs and desires. We would evict the other cats so that she could eat in peace. At other times the dogs would sit and stare from a distance. She would eat a small amount, cast them a glance and then walk away so that the dogs could have the rest. This is how she held her power.
In her last few months she refused to give. Friends would call and through the telephone they would hear her meow loudly. Is that Jupy? they would exclaim.
And in the very last month family members begged me to put her down. But even in her weakened state, she would exit the bathroom where she slept and make her way down the stairs to be with people and all the other creatures. She spent Thanksgiving surrounded and stood over by friends and family. Jupiter, of all animals, if she had the will to live, then dang it, she deserved to live.
During her last two days we were in San Francisco. The daughter of a friend spent the days at our house and fed and bathed her. When we returned home, Jupiter could no longer stand. I picked her up, lay on the couch and placed her on my tummy – her favorite place to be when she was a kitten. She purred and fell asleep.
We buried her this evening with a foundation stone and some manure from that dairy barn (long since torn down) where she came into this world. Beside her we placed some Taft maple syrup from the sugar bush just up the hill from where she was a born.
That cat kept everyone in line. Get up, she would say. I demand to be fed. It doesn’t matter if you are tired or sad or disheartened. This is not your time. Get up, she would insist, and get with the program.