Thursday, February 5, 2009

Oolie, 1995 - 2009

Raul, aka Oolie the Black Freighter

The smartest, most dominant cat I have shared a home with in the past 50 years died yesterday. How he went was the last, greatest demonstration of his strength and will.

Even at the relatively advanced age of 14, he was still sleek, strong, and massive -- and, at least in his mind, the dominant member of the pride. Diane and I can't remember him ever being sick, even with a sniffle.

But, two days ago, he just seemed to stop. He didn't eat all day, and, more ominous, didn't groom himself. When the lethargy continued into yesterday morning, we called the vet, and she wanted to see him as soon as possible in the afternoon.

When we arrived, she was noticeably concerned immediately with the tautness of his abdomen -- and by the fact that he hadn't fouled his carrier on the half-hour drive to her place. He always did that. She took him directly to x-ray.

You wouldn't have to be an expert to read the film. His lungs and abdomen were crowded with tumors. His lungs, particularly, were so full of them that I am astonished that he could still breathe. He was miserable, there clearly was no path to amelioration, so the vet gently ended it for him then. Like his friend Max before him, he exhaled his last breath against my wrist.

While his last general checkup in October showed nothing awry, the cancer must have been developing for quite a while. Toward the end, it must have been severely weakening and painful -- and yet he never showed any outward manifestation. Until it overwhelmed him two days ago, that is, and he just stopped. There was never any shortage of strength and will in that cat.

His portrait above (taken in 2005) makes him look fearsome and menacing, and I'm sure that's how he thought of himself most of the time. But his favorite pastime of all, for his entire life, was to rest on his back against a human chest, purring:

Diane and Oolie on a peaceful winter day. (Max is there, too, on a pillow at the top.)

Oolie disdained almost all of the other animals in Ft. Harrington, far preferring his own company most of the time, but he made exceptions. The most noteworthy exception was Max, the quirky gray Burmese, who was his lifelong buddy until Max died two years ago. Max was three years older than Oolie, and took to him right away on the summer day that we brought Oolie into our house in Sunnyvale. After Max disappeared from his life, Oolie seemed to become even further withdrawn from the four-footed society.

The temptation to say something treacly at this point is nearly overwhelming, so I'll just say that this is probably how I will remember Oolie most frequently, and leave it at that:

Oolie (left) and Max in Summer, 2003

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18 comments:

ronnie said...

Oh, Sherwood. I can't find the words to express how much sympathy I feel for you and Diane now. I know Oolie was a very special cat for you, even among your menangerie of very special animals.

Please take comfort in knowing you gave him the best life any cat could've possibly had, and that you did right by him right to the end.

Brian Fies said...

Aw, I'm sorry, Sherwood. Cats can be magnificent, sensitive companions, and it sounds like Oolie was one for you.

Xtreme English said...

Heartfelt sympathy, Sherwood. We know so little, really, about cats, but that seems to be how they like it.
He lived a full, happy life.

Mike said...

One of the great unforgettable animal names, and thus one of the great unforgettable animals. Pirate Jenny sheds a tear somewhere. Those of us who know each other only on-line have these attachments to names and images, and the Black Freighter was certainly at the forefront. And as I watch my own dearly love Destry going gently into that good night, I must add a commendation for your ability to hold a friend, and make the right decision, and let him expire among those whom he loves, and who love him.

Sigh. So, now who's going to run the menagerie???

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

What a huge hole that amazing guy must leave. I am SO sorry!

Adam said...

So sorry Dad. I'll break it to Gracie tomorrow. She talked about him all the time. Second only to Emma. Please pass my sympathies on to Diane.

Sherwood Harrington said...

With thanks to all who have responded so far, and with gratitude for helping Diane and me through this shocking event, I've gotta respond to Mike's comment first.

I hadn't thought about the consubstantiality of pets' names and their places in our hearts before, but your comment forced me to do so, and I absolutely have to agree. "Old Dog," for example, wouldn't have sold a single ticket. "Dark Grey Pretty Horse" wouldn't have launched anybody's career.

And I absolutely agree that Oolie's exisence would be 'way below the radar if that were the only name he had.

But it wasn't, and he not only grew into the defining nickname, he forced it on us by the sheer momentum of his personality. We didn't choose that name, he did, and he held to it even after it was no longer anywhere near accurate.

And, as to who will "run the menagerie"... that's been settled for several years now. It's...

Alnitak.

More to follow.

Dann said...

Dang, Sherwood. I'm sorry to hear that.

Like everyone else, your descriptions of Oolie have left a lasting impression. Lives lived with such force, such resolve refuse to be forgotten to the passing of time.

My condolences to you and to Diane.

--
Regards,
Dann

liliannattel said...

I'm sorry about Oolie. Beautiful pictures. It makes me remember my own cat, a big guy who was shy and very affectionate.

Jessamyn Smyth said...

Oh, I'm so sorry, Sherwood. What presence he had, even in photographs. I know you and Diane will miss him horribly, but I'm so glad he had Ft. Harrington for his home.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Thank you, Dann. If Oolie knew what a Marine is, he would have been proud of that.

And, Ms's Nattel and Smyth, if he could read and knew that the creators of The River Midnight and Hedda Gabler Has Left the Building had noticed his departure, he... would have demanded to know what the heck is wrong with all the other authors and playwrights. I thank both of you for the kind words.

Space Kitty said...

Oh, dear - I'm just so terribly sorry.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Me too, Ms. Kitty, me too.

Just today, I wasn't bothered at dinner by shrill demands for tribute, or scratched when trying to administer beneficial pills, or yelled at for paying just a little attention to another animal.

I can't tell you how much that dismays me.

kathy a. said...

very sorry to hear of your loss, sherwood. oolie sounds like a heckuva cat -- very like our friskie, whom we lost in the same way.

Arvind said...

Hi Sherwood,
Extremely sorry to hear about your loss. Oolie seems to have lived a full life of regal majesty - ruling over the Harrington kingdom with an iron fist and leaving you subjects distraught in his absence.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Thanks for dropping by, kathy and Arvind. Some of us don't appear to be all that distraught, though: the cats are now happily sorting out the new swatting order.

Vicki said...

Sherwood, thanks for your kind comment on the loss of our little Winter-bird, and condolences on the loss of your Oolie. (Why do cats get all the good names?)

It's hard to lose a family member.

Sherwood Harrington said...

I don't think that cats start out with the best names, Vicki, since those are the ones we apes give them. They steal the really good names later -- or grow into them or make them otherwise inevitable. I've lived with (... counts on fingers and toes ...) almost a dozen cats in my life, and fewer than half of them have maintained their "original" names throughout their lives.

Oolie was a classic case in point. When Diane brought him home from the shelter, she named him "Raul" after a dog on a soap opera. It quickly became apparent that he did two things when really, really happy: drooled and farted. I called him "Artie" for a while in honor of the latter, but Diane insisted on "Oolie" both for the former and the second syllable of Raul.

And then he matured. And he developed his take-no-prisoners imposing dominance over all he saw (or so he thought) -- and "The Black Freighter" was inevitable.