The Story of 'Bill' The Cat Who Owned Me
Bill The Cat
Cats tend to live longer than dogs under normal circumstances. My cat 'Bill' was one such pet. He owned me for twenty years. When thinking of our pets, what pet sleeps 12-16 hours a day and is only attentive when they are hungry or ready to play?
Yes, cats and along the way, we find out they own us. Cats are family.
Unlike a dog, cats won't greet you at the door, bring you the newspaper of fetch things thrown. Nor do they get excited about your return from a long absence. But in their own way, cats are special animals.
Bill is 19 years old and his biggest problem is that at times......(and just like humans) he forgets his age, thinking he is still a kitten.
We have a wood framed outdoor ice chest in our yard. A spot that "Bill has claimed" as his very own spot when no one is around. From there, he can survey his domain....our back yard. Plenty of lawn, two overflowing Esperanza flower beds, towering Red Oaks and a gigantic Austree tree to compliment his kingdom. But of late, he was struggling to get up and down from his perch on the ice chest.
It was not too long ago, that he was able to leap to and from the top of this ice chest with ease. Time creeps up on us all. So, without his knowledge, we placed a stool near the ice chest, and when he thinks no one is looking? He pops up on the stool, looks around indifferently (but really checking to see if anyone is watching) and then stretches up and climbs to his perch. Getting down just as carefully.
He may be getting old, but like all of us.......he is not adjusting well to it.
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The Story Of How "Bill" Came To Live With Us - We already had a pair of Black labs
Bill's story started out simply enough one Saturday afternoon after my wife and kids returned from the local grocery store and the weeks worth of grocery shopping. Like many stores, someone is out front giving away pets from an unwanted litter. My son spotted this tiny gray cat with enormous ears and convinced my wife we needed another pet. So, bringing him home, he was presented to me for inspection, all I saw was a bit of fur and two huge ears. He looked like a baby bat.
Appearing to be healthy, he was immediately given a bath and blow dried and fed, whereupon he fell asleep. Not just anywhere, but in a spot where he sleeps to this day. On the back of my chair. No matter where the kids would drag him off to, he would return to my chair back and fall back asleep. My son, decided he should have a name, so he was christened "Billy," and he immediately became a fixture in our house and one of the family.
Two black labs and a skinny gray cat with ears he hadn't grown into yet.
He's Becoming An Outside Cat
All the while, honing his natural hunting skills
Even our two black labs liked Billy, and tolerated his climbing around on them when he was outside. He had started out as an indoor cat, but it soon became apparent that he was more of an outdoor cat. More and more each day, he was allowed to roam outside for longer and longer periods. In those days, Billy always returned home to eat and sleep.
To announce his intentions of wanting to go outside, Billy would sit in front of the door and stare you down.
Once outside, his favorite haunt was a huge set of blackberry bushes we had growing on a slope out front of our house He could run through these blackberry bushes with ease, never even entertaining a scratch. While the rest of us just picking blackberries, came away looking like as if we had had an encounter with Freddy Krueger.
He relished being outside and learned to hunt on his own.
Billy Is Growing Into His Ears
In the beginning of Billy's 'hunting' learning curve, he would present us with leaves and bits of blowing paper he had managed to capture. Presenting ALL at our front door. As his hunting prowess improved though, to my wife's horror, the leaves and bits and pieces of paper were soon replaced with small mice and birds. He was becoming quite the hunter. After receiving a good scratch and a pet on the head, he would retrieve his prize and disappear off the porch.
As the years passed, he stayed outside more and more, night and day, winter or summer, still only coming in to eat, make the rounds of the family and then back outside. Our driveway then, was 1/4 mile long, so he never encountered cars except ours or friends, coming and going. Our friends all knew Billy and if he was lying in the driveway, they just drove around him. After all, we did live in the country.
The years quickly passed with Billy becoming a formidable hunter. Catching moles. When he was about 5 years old, one of our two Labs passed away. The remaining Lab stayed by her side and would let no one near her, except Billy. Animals grieve just like people I think and Billy stayed there until I came home and approached. He rose, stretched and stepped back as I approached the male dog guarding the now lifeless body of his pal. He looked up at me with the saddest eyes as I picked up my dog to bury her. Her buddy and lifelong friend, padding quietly behind with Billy purring beside him for support.
The years passed in a blur, the kids grew and left home until now, even I was alone. My two remaining pets gathered around me for support. I was now faced with a decision. What to do in a big empty house?
With my kids grown, my wife and one Lab gone, I decided we 3 should move to a warmer climate & off we went.
The Day of The Big Move - Starting life in a new direction
Once the decision was made, the house was put on the market, the inevitable garage sales over and Goodwill runs completed, a Gigantic (Diesel powered) U-Haul truck was rented and loaded. (Have you ever driven a diesel before? It is an experience not to be missed.....not!) After loading the truck, I made a space for my dog Ernie on the other front seat with food and water accessible on the floorboard.
Bill ( he was much too mature to be called Billy by this time ) had his perch on the back of the passenger seat, with a litter box, food and water for him, behind the seats. My Lab was excited for the trip, as he remembered the old days of going pheasant and duck hunting. At his age though, he was nearly blind and deaf but my close and constant companion wherever I went.
Bill on the other hand, was perturbed mightily about the trip and the disruption in his life. You see, the only other times he had ridden in a car, were to go to the vet. He hated shots and the smells of the vets office and yowled loudly for the first hour or so until he finally figured out we weren't headed to the vet. From that moment on, he kept a wary eye out the window as he settled in for the trip.
I only made it a few hours before the dog needed out to have a 'break.' Now, how to get the dog out without the cat bolting from the truck to the safety of the nearby trees the second I opened the door? Much to Bill's chagrin, I had anticipated this and had his cat carrier handy. As I placed him in it and closed the screen, he gave me a really dirty look. Man 'O man was he mad at me? But this forethought meant I was able to walk the dog successfully and return to the truck with no incidents. I released Bill as soon as the truck door was closed, but he was extremely miffed as he resumed his perch on the back of the seat.
As the trip progressed, both pets settled into the routine of rest and fuel stops as I drove through the night. We arrived in Los Angeles just before mid morning the next day. My friends (who were to be my temporary home until we could find a home of our own), greeted me as a long lost friend and took immediately to Bill and Ernie (the Black Lab) There was, I realized, going to be a slight problem. My two pets were country animals and we were in a city now.
A city with busy streets on three sides of my friend's house. My Black Lab was no problem, as at his age he just loved lying in the sun. But I could not let my cat outside, as here...he would have boundaries. Boundaries he did not understand. My Lab was no problem, as he was used to going for walks at night with me. I deemed that exercise was a good thing for both of them.
The next day, I stopped at their neighborhood Petco and explained my dilemma to the clerk.
A New Camo Harness
That should do the job
The entire problem had been solved with a harness and a lightweight leash for Bill. You must understand however, Bill had never even had a collar before and resisted quite a lot. But finally subjecting himself to this indignity, he allowed me to put the harness on him. Not just any harness mind you, but a camo harness because he was after all....the original stealth cat.
In a day or so, he was used to it and I decided to try the leash. His reaction in the beginning? Do you recall catching your first fish? He leaped and jumped and twisted, much like a fish on the end of your fishing line, but could not get free. I just stood there, kind of waiting him out, not knowing what else to do.
When he stopped, he just looked up at me like as if to say: "What are you doing?" I started to walk, and he of course did not budge and remained sitting there with an indignant look of superiority. As the leash reached it's end, a slight tug made no difference, he was not going to move.
Walking back and picking him up, I had an epiphany. While carrying him, I walked into Tom's house (my friend's house where we were staying) and I retrieved Bill's box of cat treats. Returning to the back yard, I put him back down on the grass. I walked forward then until I got to the end of the leash, he of course still had not moved. I placed a treat on the ground and as he walked up to eat it. I walked forward again, as Bill finished his treat . He then sat back down. I placed another treat down and again, he walked forward to eat it, as I kept repeating the process.
After four or five times of doing this with his treats, he was just walking with me on the leash and waiting for another treat which I gave him. He was eleven years old at the time and he was learning a whole new way of living. Once he was used to being on a leash, we would go for walks together and draw a crowd every time. I went back to the store and bought a long outside leash for the yard and would put him on that in the back yard and never fear him jumping the fence and getting run over by a car but he could access the entire back yard.
When he wanted to go outside, he would still sit by the door and stare you down. Never lowering himself to meowing as his stare was enough to burn a hole through you. Meowing just wasn't his way. Once outside, he would walk over to his long tether line, sit and wait to be hooked up. He always was an amazingly smart and adaptable cat.
We were in our own place by then and he grew quite close to my Lab. Often, they slept side by side in the yard. But, my beloved Black Lab of nearly 15 years died of old age during those years in L.A.
it was a sad day when we had to finally bury him. Bill sat by his grave most of the day every day, for almost a week. Then suddenly, he was done and it was back to chasing squirrels and birds.
Two years after my dogs passing, I decided it was once again....time to relocate...time for new adventures, only this time, Bill and I would not be alone. I had met an amazing woman and had gotten married again. With the house on the market, we rented another U-Haul (A gas powered V-10 this time though) With the house sold, I loaded my new wife and Bill the Cat and we drove east one morning, leaving Los Angeles and Southern California in the rear view mirror,
Bill proved the veteran traveler that he was on this trip by settling right in on the seat back as we moved eastward.
Bill May Be An Older Cat
But it doesn't stop him (too much)
Texas became our stopping point on our Eastward journey and where we live today. Bill took command of the backyard and his 'command post' perch is on our patio. The reason he sits on this perch, is that he is on the lookout for his favorite nemesis. A squirrel.
In all of the years we have lived here, he has never caught the squirrel, but that squirrel does carry two reminders of close encounters with "Sir William the Magnificent." Maybe Bill's plan all along was NOT to catch the squirrel, but play with it. After all, what self respecting cat doesn't like to play?
(In the picture, the squirrel appears as "taunting" but....it is really hot here in the summer's, so he is just stretched out cooling off.)
Bill's squirrel has two sets of reminders of his close encounters. One is a set of scars running across his forehead and down his cheek. (foolishly obtained during an attempt at Bill's food bowl). The other is a missing piece of fur on his back right hindquarter. Bill was doing what cats do, sleeping in the shade of the Austree when the squirrel came down to taunt him and then race back up the tree to safety.
This went on for about an hour, with Bill barely lifting an eyelid now and then. Each time, that squirrel would edge closer and closer as if daring Bill to jump up and chase him. Bill, ever the crafty one, seemingly slept away the time as that squirrel drew closer and closer and closer with each taunt Hearing the racket from the squirrel, we were watching from the house and I swore that squirrel had a death wish or maybe he thought he was an Indian and was gong to count coup.
At any rate, when he got near Bill's face on his last trip, Bill sprang straight up in the air and as that squirrel turned to run? Bill landed across his back, his claws raking a big chunk of hair from the squirrel as it raced away for it's very life. Bill didn't bother to chase him though. He knew victory when he saw it.
He just lay back down, cleaned himself all over and fell back to sleep. That squirrel didn't come around for weeks.
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Loretta the frog
Bill's Sometime's Pal
The French drain frog
In our back yard, we have a couple of French Drain pipes to drain water from the downspouts and carry it to the streets. This drain entrance as you can imagine, is close to the house, and a place of darkness and cool temperatures. To make a long story short, a frog took up residence in that drain pipe to survive the searing day time temperatures here in Texas. Appearing only in the evening hours to hop around happily eating bugs at random.
But, as we all know, frogs still like water, and once I noticed that frog living in the pipe, I took to dumping Bill's outside water bowl down that pipe every morning when I changed his water. The reason for it was obviously to keep the frog cool during the day. This went on for months, the daily water bowl dump down that drain pipe.
Well, wouldn't you know, one morning I was a bit late getting out there to dump that water bowl. As I came outside, this frog was sitting in the opening looking up at me as if to say: "Hey, where's my water?" I burst out laughing at the image and poured the water in the pipe very carefully around that frog. I did allow just a tiny bit to dribble on it's back. It was right then, that I gave that frog a name (That's a long story in itself) The name from that day forward, was "Loretta."
Now, to be clear...I do not know if Loretta was a male or a female frog, as they can change at will. But the name Loretta just had such a nice ring to it is all. (like I said, that's another story) "Loretta's" day to day existence in Bill's domain was tolerated only because she kept her distance and ate the many annoying bugs inhabiting Bill's backyard domain. A fragile peace existed until one evening. My wife and I were inside the house watching TV when there arose a commotion on the patio. Thinking the skunk had returned and Bill was at him again (Another long story for another time) I raced for the door.
When I threw open the door, there sat Bill, staring up at me and Yowling loudly. Something he had never done. He kept looking from me to his water bowl. I looked over at his water bowl to see what the problem was, and there, in the middle of his bowl, sat Loretta, only her eyes and her nose above water. It was so funny, I brought my wife out to see but Bill was NOT happy about it.
Imagine the indignity of a frog sitting in your water bowl.
Problem solved the next day though as we started putting a separate water bowl near the drain pipe every evening just for Loretta. Bill's water bowl remained sacrosanct. From then on. every evening, Loretta would emerge from her drain pipe, eat a few bugs and then sit in "Her" water bowl.
Bill was happy and the frog was happy, peace now reigned once again, but I still emptied the water in her drain pipe every morning.
Bill Today At 18
He may be gretting gray, but he's still King of the backyard
Hunting is just part of a cat's nature I suppose and Bill is no different. Although the years have dulled his once lithe muscles, he still shows every once in a while, that "He's still got it" by catching a bird. But mostly, he sleeps either on his perch or under his Austree. We go for walks in our neighborhood, but only in the evenings now, when most of the kids are inside. He doesn't seem to like all of the attention a cat on a leash draws anymore, but we walk just because. We have grown used to one another by now.
His "Room" in our house, if you could call it that, is the laundry room. He is very seldom there, but his food is in there, as is his traditional, giant scratching tower/bed and litter box. He has his own window to look outside if he chooses, but he doesn't sleep in there much as he still likes to be outside. But his "room" gives him a sense of personal space, which he reclaims from time to time just to remind us who really owns who. (Usually when we are attempting to do laundry).
However, with the searing summer heat here in Texas, I bring him in the house at about 10 in the morning and the rest of the day he is inside the house, sleeping either in his room on his tower bed or the back of my chair. By nightfall, he is ready to go back outside again. After his leash is on, he is off across the yard, inspecting his territory thoroughly. He smells each and every plant and bush, to assure himself there were no interloper's in his absence. Once his "rounds" are completed, he finally repairs to his perch on the ice chest.
It's been an interesting journey with Bill, and I would not trade those years for anything. He and I have shared much in that time. The kids still love him to pieces when they come to visit and he remembers them all, but he is after all, a cat and cats have their dignity.
So once the "mauling's" are over, and he has met each and every one of them again, he marches off with his tail in the air to the back door to be let out for the evening once again. Some things just never change and I for one, am glad of it..
He now endures the grand kids when they drag him about and handle all of his stuff. Secretly? I know he loves it.
In the nearly a year and a half since I wrote this story of Bill, many people have commented and sent well wishes about what a beautiful cat he is. I want to thank everyone personally who read Bill's story and left comments He was a great pal for anyone to have with them on their life's journey
It is with sadness that I write today to say that my grey cat Bill, my pet, my companion and my pal of the last nearly twenty years, the cat who owned me----has died today. It was a quiet affair really, but that was the way Bill was. Quiet. I still can't believe it, even now as I write this.
All seemed well this morning as he went about his usual rounds, sniffing each bush in his back yard territory, checking for interloper's before retiring to the shade of his Austree. In actuality, I should have recognized that something had changed, because he had not been climbing up on his ice chest perch these last few days, but I just wrote it off to Bill's prerogative of changing his mind as to where he wanted to sleep.
He awoke from his nap and came back to the patio for a bite to eat and a drink of water around 2:00 and then back to the shade of his tree. I was puttering around in the yard about 5:00, watering some newly planted peach trees, (he had now moved back to the patio) when I noticed him sit up and let out a bit of a yowl. This was completely out of character, as he never made a sound.
Our eyes locked and he had a strange look in his eyes as we stared at one another for those brief seconds, Then, with no other warning, he just sort of toppled over on the patio. He was dead before I could get across the yard to him. Holding his lifeless body, a million thoughts go through your mind. He was old, yes, but seemed in sound health. What had happened? In reality, I guess that was just Bill. That was the way he wanted to go out, while he was still on top.
Later, after my wife and I had gathered ourselves, I buried him right there under that tree he loved. The emptiness of our house tonight is deafening and the thought of having to remove his stuff from his room in the coming days will be hard.
Bill has made his last journey without me, but I know he is somewhere, keeping an eye on me----and his back yard.
Billy....R.I.P. 3 May, 2014
One Final Note To Share
The Rainbow Bridge
This was sent this morning by my daughter, in response to being told of Bill's passing:
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....