Diana came to us on the day after Christmas, in 2004. Our niece was leaving to return home and we were standing in the driveway with her, doing the chat one does, and the subject somehow turned to her desire for another cat. As she was speaking, this small brown and gray tabby came strolling up our sidewalk with the proprietary air of one who had just taken ownership and knew exactly what she was going to do with the property. Whitney declined to take her home, since the cat was obviously pregnant, deciding that this was a bit more than her casual wish had entailed.
We tried bringing her into the house, where there were two other cats in current residence and it did not go well. Diana had claimed this place and all its environs and her only policy was one of destruction and ejection. She tried to run off the other two, with lethal force being clearly on her list of options, and then proceeded to pee on anything they might have touched. This was not going to work.
She became an outside cat, her preference anyway, with quarters established in the garage for weather and coyote protection (though in her younger years, I think a single coyote would have found more than he bargained for in trying to take her down), including heated beds on the upper and lower levels and a heated water dish for winter. Later, we heated the whole shop area for her all winter, though she still preferred to be outside most of the day.
Prior to Diana’s arrival, we often were covered up in cats as strays got dumped or just found their way to where the suckers lived. At one point we had a total of sixteen on the property, with four inside. Pregnant cats seemed to know where to arrive just before or just after producing a litter.
Diana however, after producing her progeny (more on that later) decided that this five acre property is only big enough for one cat and she kept it that way from then on, running off any others that dared intrude. I came home from a trip to find in the garage, where her food and water are kept, what looked like the results of someone shearing a calico cat. There was no blood or even much sign of a struggle, but a cat had left a lot of its fur on the floor. Diana just sat on the workbench, unscathed, calmly licking her paw like a gunslinger blowing the smoke off of a .44.
She produced 7 kittens in that first litter and we immediately made the appointment with our veterinarian to have her spayed when she had completed nursing and kitten care. She was an attentive mother, conscientious about raising and educating her young. Often I would open the door to the root cellar she had selected for her nursery to find a neat tidy row of recently deceased rodents and birds, all laid out with heads in the same direction, as if on display at a shop for sale. These were offered to the kittens with instructions for dismembering and consuming, skills they would need as grown up cats.
Homes were assured for the little ones and Diana was hustled to the clinic for spaying….but she was already pregnant again. As we would come to know, Diana always did things on her terms, as she wished. Another 5 offspring made their appearance, homes found, and we now have friends who blanche and run if we bring up the subject of kittens. Spaying was successful on this go-round and she returned home infertile but no less in control.
For fourteen years she ruled this place, patrolling daily, ever vigilant. Two resident dogs have tried their best to control her with no reaction from her but bemusement and mild irritation. She treated both, who were bigger than her, like pesky younger siblings. In my shop, her headquarters, she supervised every motorcycle repair from a perch on the seat, looking down at me and occasionally sticking a paw in to make sure I was doing it right. On the bench, she often would scatter small parts I had laid out then look at me as if to say, “That’s why you put them there, wasn’t it ?”
She was affectionate, but really only with me. Others could pet her for a minute or two, until she decided she’d had enough and emphasized her displeasure with a swat or a quick bite. But wherever I sat down, to read, to work on something in the shop or just on a bench to catch my breath, she was there beside me. Never a lap cat, but always right there within reach of my hand to scratch her head or to give me a quick rub or two with her face against my cheek.
When I would be upstairs in the tiny little room where I did what passed for exercise, I would hear a quiet meow and look to the window. Diana would climb a nearby tree, jump to the roof and make her way to this window and ask for entry so she could sit and watch my feeble efforts. I don’t know how she knew I was there nor whether she did it for companionship or amusement.
We didn’t know how old she was when she arrived, assuming hopefully that she was young. A couple of years ago, she began losing weight slowly and her pace and range diminished. Veterinary exams showed no illness, just the expected decline of aging. Still she kept up her appointed rounds. A year or so ago I found her limping a bit and discovered she had a bite mark on one paw. While the vet was treating her, I remarked that in all her years of protecting her territory, this was the first time she had come out second best. He arched one eyebrow, looking at me aside as he tended her wound, “You don’t know what the other cat looks like.”
Diana acknowledged no superior of any species or type. Not even time, though it eventually got her anyway. As she steadily declined this last year, she continued patrol, continued supervision as if she was the magnificent younger self she had been. Finally I found her more often, sitting in the grass looking lost and tired. We got special foods and prepared so she could lick what she wanted, but eventually she just stopped eating and I knew it was time.
Now she is gone and has left a hole in my life far larger than her cat-sized body. I will move on, but I cannot leave her behind. Mark Twain once wrote, “A home without a cat — and a well-fed, well-petted and properly revered cat — may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title?”. He was correct, but for me, not just any cat. Diana.