Back in 2002, my oldest daughter, 17 at the time, brought home a little ball of fur, a long-haired kitten that she named Sugar. Sugar became an outdoor cat, and when she was a year old, I suggested that she should be spayed. But my wife got the idea that we should let Sugar have a litter of kittens so our daughters could see the miracle of childbirth. She had a cat when she was a young girl, and she assured me the first litter usually consisted of only one or two kittens.

So Sugar had her first litter, of SEVEN cute tiny kitties. We discussed the obvious, how many to keep. I voted for one, the only male (since I was already out-womaned four-to-one). I won that argument, too; we gave away five and kept two, the male which I named Norbert and the female runt of the litter, named Cookie (are you seeing a pattern here?). So now it was five females versus two males, me and Norbert, an orange tabby.

Being the only two guys in the house, Norbert and I became best friends. I worked from home, and he spent a lot of time in my office, sleeping near my desk. I could tell him my deepest, darkest secrets and he just listened and smiled the most endearing kitty smile…true unconditional love. He often slept on the bed at night, positioned between my legs. Many mornings I woke up with one or both legs asleep.

When Norbert was about a year old, I went on a business trip. When I got home that Friday night, Norbert didn’t come rushing out to meet me like usual. The ladies were strangely quiet at the dinner table. I asked where my buddy Norbert was, and finally my wife admitted that while I was gone she had taken him to the vet for the old snip-snip. When she told me at the dinner table, my first inclination was to pass out. My second inclination was to get angry, since when I had requested that Sugar should be spayed, I was ignored.  With poor Norbert, the conversation never even came up, just hippity-hop off to the vet first time I was away. Then the guilt hit. I couldn’t look poor Norbert in the eye for at least two weeks.

We lived in the country at the time, and Norbert became an outdoors cat. He took great joy in catching chipmunks, taking them onto the cement pad in the driveway, turning them loose and pouncing on them when they tried to run away. He never killed or ate them, just played with them. One time he was carrying one up the hill towards me, holding it by the tail, when it swung up and bit him on the nose. He let that one get away. He used to catch baby moles too, but they must have been tasty, because he always ate them.

When I had to go on a business trip for a week, he would shun me for a couple of days when I came home, as a display of his disapproval at my abandoning him. One time I went on a two-week business trip to Europe, and he was especially unhappy when I returned. This time he expressed his disapproval a little differently. The night after I returned from the trip, I brushed my teeth and went to bed, to find a pile of cat poop on my pillow. Not on my wife’s pillow, not anywhere else in the bed, but smack dab in the center of my pillow.

Anyone who says cats aren’t smarter than people has never been owned by one.

Watching the cat family, Sugar the mom, Norbert and his little sister Cookie interact was way better than TV. The story was always the same, Norbert, the larger of the two, would tackle Cookie, flip her on her back and nip her on the belly. She would yelp and mamma Sugar would come running and swipe Norbert on the nose, claws out, sending him packing. Once in a while Cookie would get in a lick or two, and on two occasions she left one of her canine teeth imbedded in Norbert’s chin.

I lost Norbert several years ago when my wife and I went to Florida for a week of vacation and left the cats in the care of a local veterinarian. Three days into our trip, we got a phone call that Sugar was dead, Norbert was very ill and Cookie was sick too. We drove all the way home, and when we arrived Norbert was too far gone to be saved. I went home, got his bed so he’d have something familiar, put him in it and held him on my lap while the vet put him to sleep.

That is one of the hardest things that I have ever done, watching my best buddy move on to kitty Heaven. It’s been several years, and I still think about him and miss him, especially his sweet kitty smile.

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