Abbie the Cat: January 1989 - February 10, 2009

Today Abbie the cat died, most likely of a heart attack. He had just turned 20.

I acquired Abbie back in 1989, along with his brother and litter-mate Louis. Louis died not quite two years ago. To quote the beginning from Louis's biography:

"My then-boyfriend Bruce had just lost the cat he grew up with and he had a fierce desire to have another cat. I did not want a cat. We were college students. How would cats fit in with our college lifestyle? We'd have to find apartments that allowed pets, and those were a bit hard to come by. But Bruce was insistent. He found a couple whose calico cat had just had a litter of kittens and we went to look.

"Anyone who has ever fallen under the spell of a tiny kitten knows what happened next. All thoughts of not wanting a cat were vanquished by the powerful magic that is a kitten."

And so our life began with Abbie and Louis Wu. Together they were a terror -- a very friendly terror. They attacked life with all the energy that two fearless kittens bring into the world. As kittens they were nearly identical. Louis's tail was a touch longer, and Abbie's eyes were more gold, and you had to look close to know who was who. After Bruce and I broke up, he kept them for a few years and then when he moved out of state he gave them back to me and they moved out to the house with me and Joe and he had the challenge of learning how to tell them apart. Even many years later as adult cats they could fool visitors (including Joe's mom) into thinking that we had one gray cat that could teleport himself around the house.

Over time Abbie became the stockier of the two, with a thick muscled body that topped out at 16 pounds. He also grew into a very mellow cat, with the occasional expression of devastatingly evil feline humor.

His brother Louis loved to play with water, and he would sit on the edge of the tub when our housemate Michelle was taking a leisurely bath. One day Abbie snuck up behind Louis, stood up on his hind feet, and lifted a paw. Louis sensed him and quickly looked over his shoulder. Abbie sat down and did the "nothing happening here" thing that cats are so good at doing. Louis turned back to the water. Abbie stood up again with paw raised. Louis looked over his shoulder. Abbie sat down. Louis turned back to the water, and Abbie quickly stood up and whacked Louis into the tub. Apparently Louis had hardly a drop on him, but Michelle had claw marks running down her body.

But he was also a very patient and forgiving cat, always willing to give fair warning before retaliation. When our friend Kris was petting him, she noticed that he started "wagging" his tail. So she petted him some more, and he "wagged" his tail even more vigorously, and she petted even more. Finally, since the human clearly wasn't getting it, he grabbed her hand with a paw and pulled it into his mouth. Biting just enough for her to feel his fangs, he looked up at her with a stare that clearly said "you're going to stop petting me now, or I'm going to have make you stop." Kris later explained that she thought he liked the petting since he was wagging his tail so much. (Dogs wag with happiness. Cats flick their tails with annoyance. I'm sure there's a cat that wags its tail when happy, but we can't help it if that cat lacked proper cat socialization. Kris has since gone on to own cats, armed with an understanding of their non-verbal signals)

Abbie also had an uncanny ability to communicate with humans without using his voice. Joe first noticed late one night. We had a futon on the floor at the time, and one afternoon he brought a large mug of water up and took a nap, setting the mug on the floor next to the futon. He woke up with the uneasy feeling that something was wrong. In the dim light he saw Abbie staring at him at face-level. When Abbie saw that Joe was awake, he folded his ears back and carefully stuffed his head into the empty mug. He pulled his head back and patiently looked at Joe. Joe got up, filled the mug with water, and set it back down on the floor. After a moment, Abbie stuffed his head into the mug and began to drink.

If Lou was our scientist, Abbie was the linguist, expert at expressing his wants with minimal effort. Hed sit himself next to a water bowl, or a door, or next to the couch and give you a single pained yet pointed look, and you knew that he wanted fresh water, or to go outside, or that his blanket on the couch needed fixing. After Lou passed on, he began to use his voice more often, and for the last year if I was still on the computer at 11pm he'd come to me and meow very loudly, clearly telling me that it was Time To Go To Bed.

Abbie even had an oddly firm apparent grasp of certain complex abstract ideas. He learned to plead to lesser "crimes" in the house in hopes of a lesser "punishment." We have several spider plants in the house, and when the cats were younger it was quite a challenge to keep them out of reach. I used to keep the plants in the "library" and keep the door closed. The library is also where I used to spend my evenings writing. The cats did not like being locked out of a room where one of their humans would sit and ignore them, preferring instead to stare at the glowing box. (Remember when monitors were giant "boxes"?)

So we trained each other.

Abbie and Louis trained me that it was futile to shut them out of the library as they could claw in exhaustively at the door until I gave in. (And we have the holes in the carpet to prove it.) I trained them that if they touched the plants, they were tossed out of the room. There were also lesser crimes that would get them yelled at but not kicked out of the room, such as clawing at the door to Joe's office. So they got to lounge peacefully in the library as long as they abided by the rules.

Abbie was generally better at keeping the rule than Louis, and so he spent much more time in the library. But he also learned to manipulate them to his desires. If I was too engrossed in my writing and he wanted to leave, he learned to claw at the door and I would open it for him to let him out, but should I fail to notice him he would migrate over to the plants and that would instantly get my attention. Somehow I was never too caught up to not notice that my spider plants were in peril.

One day, after some time spent lounging in the library, I caught Abbie heading toward the spider plants and heard the first rustle of a leaf going into his mouth. I spun around in my chair and Abbie immediate dashed over to Joe's office door and began clawing. Look! See? I'm only clawing at the office door, and that's just a yelling offense. What? Those plants? Way over there, far from this door? Never even noticed them.

Yeah, right.

(Joe had a separate but very similar experience with Abbie.)

Abbie could surprise us in other ways. Some years ago he was walking through the living room, and one of us wondered aloud whether Abbie was too fat to jump any more. As soon as those words were spoken, Abbie bounded into the air, doing a beautiful leap, landed and continued walking as though it is perfectly natural for a heavyset cat to leap into the air for no apparent reason.

We had other incidents of startling comprehension of English that had us really wondering at times, but we've been told that we're not allowed to discuss those incidences. Classified information.

Abbie and Lou were none too happy when we acquired Rodriga the African Grey parrot, but they adapted. One of the new household rules was that the cats were not allowed to be near Rodriga. (Cat bites, even scratches, are extremely dangerous to birds.) Oddly, though, they never acted like she was prey. Perhaps they were taking a cue from our behavior. Now both cats and Rodriga loved to sit in the open living room window during the summer, but of course not at the same time. One day, while Rodriga was enjoying the window, Abbie, completely frustrated with the lack of window access, pushed himself past Joe and into the window. Very pointedly he ignored Rodriga, as if to say "I know the rules, don't touch the bird", and stared fixedly out of the window. As cute as it was, we really couldn't let it be because Rodriga herself attacked the window interloper, and there's no way that could have turned out good for anyone.

Abbie had a favorite blanket. Well, two, really. But there was one that was the true "cat blanket". He was gifted the cat blanket by Michelle. When she lived with us, that blanket was on her bed and Abbie and Louis loved to sit on that blanket. He spent so much time around Michelle that she knick-named Abbie "fluffy butt" because, well, she got to see that end a lot (along with the rest of him) and it was fluffy.

After Michelle moved out, the cat blanket moved on to our bed and Abbie and Lou took to sleeping at the foot of our bed. The cat blanket's position on the end of the bed was a necessary condition for the cats joining us, and if the cat blanket slid off the bed during the night Abbie would wake us up so that one of us (usually me) could fix the blanket.

After Lou passed away and with no one else to bother during the day, Abbie became very assertive about his cat-wants, and pretty much lead the grand life of a cat served hand and foot by his humans. On the warm days (and sometimes the not-so-warm days), he would demand to go outside immediately when Joe or I got home from work, and he spent many happy evenings wandering around the backyard (with human trailing him closely) and sniffing the air and eating plants. Sometimes he'd lie on the sun-warmed cement outside our backdoor. He also liked to lie down by the lilac bushes, and sometimes I'd bring a book and we'd lie on the grass together. With Spring on the way, we were truly looking forward to letting him out again, and just two days ago sensing warming weather he even requested to go out I took him out for just a minute. Thinking just how much he'll enjoy Spring, when the grass is green again.

One of Abbie's favorite spots on a cold night was to sit on Joe's chest. When this winter turned bitterly cold, Abbie had been eschewing the upstairs, the cat blanket, and Joe's chest in favor of camping out in front of a heating vent. Yet on this unusually warm morning, he made his way upstairs and woke Joe up and sat on his chest one last time.

We love you Abbie. Say hi to Lou.

L & J

Here are some pictures...

Abbie taking in the view.

Abbie likes to eat peas.

And you thought I was kidding.
(The pea is at the far left, right next to his nose.)

Abbie used to be named Abbie Hoffman (given by a former SO), but after someone quoted to me an extremely anti-woman Hoffman remark (I really should look it up myself), I dropped the Hoffman. However, in the spirit of the 60's, Abbie is one of the most mellow and trusting cats I know.

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