Our cat, Betsystar Mousebane, went to hunt with StarClan yesterday. I say ‘ours’ but she chose us. I don’t know if cats, like wands, always choose the wizard, but she did, along with everything else she ever did.
Betsy had, as we say now, serious leadership potential.
When we moved in 2004, we gave in at last to Paul’s ongoing begging for a cat. It turns out that when you go to animal shelters with a second-grader, a preschooler, and a newborn, most cats cringe in their cages. Not Betsy. She stood at the bars, watching Paul as he walked back and forth, the other cats skittering back even farther as he got close. “I don’t belong here with these losers,” her gaze said. “Get me out of here, kid. I’ll make it worth your while.”
Once she got home, it became clear Betsy did not think of herself as a house cat. God no. She was merely a very small tiger, who chose, for purposes of her own, to live with us. When she stalked through the grass (good luck keeping her inside, btw–she was a master of waiting by the door and bolting when it opened), you thought were looking at a close-up of a big cat hunting a zebra.
We didn’t realize this wasn’t the normal state for cats until two others came to live with us. They walk like house cats–pad, pad, thump, none of the shoulder-rolling stalking of Betsy. Who took her new job as in-house hunter very seriously. Good thing, too; our 110 year old house had lots of mice. She ate only the first one (not sure I’ve had to do anything nastier than clean up the mouse head and leftover guts. Ewww.). After that, she just brought ’em to us. According to my calculations, Betsy rid the world of:
dozens of mice
2 birds (which is one less our house windows have–she clearly specialized in vermin)
She was particularly proud of the squirrel:
Why is the dead squirrel in my house? Well. There was a broken screen in one of the ground-floor windows, which ended up working as Betsy’s cat door. ALL of the creatures she killed outside came inside…and once, a mouse that wasn’t quite dead. It was still alive enough to crawl behind my kitchen cupboards in an unreachable location and die. We called him Polonius.
Betsy tolerated preschooler Sam and sometimes crawled into the car seat with baby Kate (and later, Mark) but she loved Paul.
Nobody else could get away with holding Betsy like that.
She would sit on the back of the couch and lick his head, as if he were her kitten. So we thought she might like, you know, real kittens.
We were wrong. She hated Cloudstalker and Graytail every day from the time they came to live with us until yesterday. And she was boss. Betsy was, at her largest, only 8 pounds. Cloudstalker has ended up 16 pounds. About once a month for years, he convinced himself ‘I think now I can take her.’ Betsy would kick his butt and things would go back as they had been…for another month.
Cloudstalker is walking around right now nervously, as if she’s hiding and is going to spring out and kick his butt any moment.
Then there was the time she got caught in someone’s cat trap. She was missing. We were a mess. I had 4 kids under the age of 10. Betsy was my most common adult companionship. Different species, but at least she was a grown-up. We put up flyers. We sent her picture to animal shelters. Finally we got a call:
Animal Shelter: ‘We think we have your cat.’
Me: ‘Think? She’s microchipped.’
Animal Shelter: ‘She won’t let us close enough to check the chip.’
Me: ‘You have our cat.’
When we got to the animal shelter, she was sitting in the cage, making a noise I’d never heard before: HUR. HUR. HUR. I’m reasonably sure it translates to “I’m going to hurt you. Then I’m going to hurt your family. Then I’m going to hurt your friends. Then I’m going to hurt your family’s friends. Then–”
We heard that growl in only two other contexts: the drive to Maryland, and as she got older, vet check-ups.
Here’s how the four hours to Maryland sounded:
Gray (regular high-pitched meows): “I don’t like this. I really don’t like this.”
Cloudy (regular inquisitive meows): “So, what are we doing anyway?”
Betsy (HUR. HUR. HUR): “I’m going to hurt you. Then I’m going to hurt your family…”
The cats had to stay in a kennel overnight because we weren’t closing on the house until the next day. It wasn’t until I came back for them and saw Betsy’s posture that I realized she thought she’d been sent back to the pound. I’m not sure anyone’s ever been so happy to see me but I felt terrible she thought we’d abandoned her. Never.
We’d been told to lock the cats in the room with their litterbox at the new house and give them time to get used to it. Betsy was having none of that. She was out of her crate, scratching at the door, and had left to explore the rest of the house before Gray and Cloudy ventured out of their crates.
We loved our furry little badass, and we miss her.