His name was Spunky, but it could just as easily have been Slasher the way he wielded those claws. My hands and arms and ankles were often threaded with tiny scabs back in the day, when my family owned this magnificent cat, from 2002 to 2004.
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Half Siamese and half Himalayan, beautiful Spunky had medium-length fur, soft brown points and blue eyes. We acquired him too young, though I didn’t understand that at the time. His owner told me he was weaned, eating kitten chow and using a litter box at 5 weeks. “He’s ready for a new home,” she said.
What I discovered later is that kittens use those critical last few weeks together with their litter-mates—until they’re at least 8 weeks of age, ideally — learning to pull their punches.
“Scratch me and I’ll scratch you” is the code of the kitten. Miss this early training and a wee one never properly learns to keep his claws sheathed during play.
Not that we didn’t try to teach him ourselves. My daughter, 7 when we adopted Spunky, would immobilize him with one hand while rubbing his forehead with the other. She called this method of taming, in her second-grader wisdom, “giving him a seizure.”
My sister Sherry, who lives nearby, loves to tell the story of the time she kitty-sat for us when we went away for the weekend. Spunky, then about 8 weeks old, slept in her guest bathroom with a blanket and litter box. In the morning, my sister brought him to her bedroom and shut the door to keep track of him while she dressed for work.
Feeling fresh and fierce, the kitten attacked.
“He’d hide under the bed, then dart out and grab my ankle, then race back under the dust ruffle,” my sister told me upon our return. “Makes it hard to get your lipstick on. I was almost late for work.”
“We use a spray bottle for that. I meant to give it to you,” I replied, lamely. “A quick squirt discourages that behavior.”
“Now you tell me!”
I don’t think she’s ever fully forgiven me.
Spunky calmed down as he grew older (and was neutered). He matured into a luxurious pet. He looked not like a house cat but a miniature snow leopard. His lovely coat, rabbit-fur soft and subtly shaded, made him practically an interior-design accessory. I called him my carpet ornament.
He exuded regal charm. He’d stroll into the room languidly, head and tail held high. We’d greet him accordingly.
“Hello, Your Majesty.”
He could be flirtatious. When he especially wanted attention, he’d draw close, fling one front leg around my lower calf and hold on, this time without the claws. He wanted petting. It was his way of saying, “Hey, baby.”
I remember thinking I needed to quit work and clear my schedule so I could devote full time to adoring him.
We had him just two years. In July of 2004, a feral cat and her kitten took up residence in our garage. It took us a while to figure out how to catch them. In the meantime, Spunky — lacking proper feline socialization — felt traumatized with these cat strangers under the same roof.
Though he always came in at night, one night — while the feral cats were still in our garage — he didn’t. I’ll never forget calling him forlornly from our back deck, under the light of an ill-omened gibbous moon. Awake off and on all night, I listened in vain for the slight sound of the cat door downstairs, opening.
When he still wasn’t home the next morning, I knew he would never be back. Too many predators out at night that would notice my light-colored snow leopard.
Grief consumed me. It seemed so cruel that a creature you loved so much could be right there with you one day, but — poof! — gone forever the next.
Then one night a week later I felt him land lightly on the foot of our bed and work his way quickly up between my husband and me. I bolted upright and threw the covers back to discover…that it had been a dream. A fervent wish-dream.
A nightmare in reverse, actually.
More time passed, softening the edges of my grief. In the fall of that year, we acquired the two cats we have now, littermates Locket and Leo. They were fully socialized “teenagers” when we adopted them, and neither has ever so much as shown us a claw. I love them both dearly, my gentle black cats, yet still I sometimes dream of my fierce snow leopard. My savage love.
Jennifer Forsberg Meyer, a biweekly columnist with the Mountain Democrat, has owned more than a dozen cats in her lifetime, though generally not more than two at a time. Reach her with your own cat stories at email@example.com.