Two weeks ago, I heard that you went missing, and last week end you were found. I already knew that you wouldn't come back to us. It was the logical thing to think. You never ran away, rarely got yourself locked up anywhere and you were old. So old in fact, that those past years, when I saw you sleeping somewhere, I was always somewhat scared that one day I'd find you dead some day. So you would assume I was prepared for this. But I was not.
People say cats are less attached to their human "owners" than dogs, less loyal, less protective. They obviously never met a cat like you.
You defended your territory against other cats, dogs five times the size of you and even martens. Many an injury you got from those battles. A marten's infected bite almost killed you - twice. Once you beat a cocker spaniel bloody because he dared to come near our entrance door. Your battered bones and teared ears told the stories of many a battle. Even during these last years, when the young neighboring tomcat attempted to take over your territory you defended it fiercely. Without any injuries - the other cat was half your mass and new better than to attempt to fight you, so he limited himself to screaming at you from his side of the garden fence.
When new people came to visit our house, you'd first have to check them out very thoroughly. "Did they come from a good neighbourhood? Where have they been?", you thought, perhaps, when you sniffed at their car and inspected every nook and cranny of it. "Are they good people? Are they to be trusted?", I imagined you thinking when you watched their every step around our house. Sometimes you followed my mother everywhere she went for no particular reason. You weren't hungry or seeking attention. You just followed her. I wonder if it was because you thought she needed your protection, or if you simply wanted to stay in her company. Anyway, it got you the reputation as our "watchdog". Protecting not just your territory, but us.
I still remember when I was 15 and my boyfriend came over to sleep at our house the first few times. The way you ignored him almost seemed a little passive-aggressive. And when he wanted to go to bed, he found you, curled up by my side, taking up the space that was supposed to be his. I wonder how you would have liked my boyfriend's cat Amelie if you'd known her - she showed the same attitude toward me in the beginning.
I remember the times I was sick, feeling horrible and unable to sleep. You rarely spent the night in my room, because my bed was small and I'd move around too much, but when I was sick, you were by my side, kept me warm and helped me fall asleep.
And I even remember the time before that. Before you lived with us, and still belonged to my sister. I sometimes wondered if you'd remember living in an apartment with no way to go out as you wish. Half a year in Vienna, half a year in Altenberg in the gardens, every year. Back then my sister's old cat still lived at our place and it was her "territory". Back then, when I was still terribly afraid of all kinds of animals. Especially you, because you were fierce and would sometimes claw at people passing by too close for your taste. I was kinda afraid of our old cat too, and I remember how one night she decided to sleep on my blanket, and I ended up sleeping without it because I was too scared to pick her up and get it. When she died, you claimed her territory, back when we were building our new house, you were there, sleeping in several meters height on the scaffolds. And then, in 2002, when the flood came, you were trapped right under our house. Mum loves to tell the story how she found you, the confused look on your face - apparently you had fallen asleep in a higher place and when you woke up you were surrounded by water. She took you in - and never gave you back.
I remember, back in the times when our neighbors and me still had our guinea pigs, we'd let them out in the garden in a cage so they could eat the fresh grass in summer. We put up a parasol, and together with the guinea pigs you'd lie in the shade, backs-to-back, separated only be the thin wire mesh of the cage.
Back then you sometimes climbed the apple or cherry tree next to our house to jump onto the balcony. Once you startled my mum so much, she was completely taken by surprise. We then decided you should get your own door. And my step dad built you one. My step dad, the one who had always said that you can stay in the house as long as you behave but he would definitely not build a stupid cat door. Well so much for that. Now we have that 30-something cm PVC tube going through the wall of our house next to the entrance door, because our walls are so thick. I remember how at first you refused to go through when somebody was around, possibly watching you. When I caught a glimpse of you, elegantly dive-crawling through that tube, I could kinda understand why. You were an agile, ferocious predator, not worthy of such a ridiculous move. But it looked cute, how you had to pull your hind legs after you through the tube. I didn't laugh, though, I never would.
You were a great hunter, indeed. The most proud you seemed to be when you caught birds. They say only stupid or sick birds get caught be cats, normally they're too fast to fly away. I think you tried to prove that wrong when one night you pulled a half dead, full grown blackbird through your door. I woke in panic when I heard the screeches, because I thought it was you, but it was just the bird, flying around in the house, desperately trying to find a way out. By then, my stepdad and mum weren't even mad at you anymore for bringing half living or dead things to our house. They were supposed to be gifts for us. And we surely appreciated them.
When you came to live with us, you were already 4 years or so. We couldn't be sure because even my sister hadn't been your first owner. When you were found, everybody was assuming sooner or later somebody would come and look for you, somebody would pick you up and take you away again. We called you "Kater" ("Tomcat"), mabye because we thought it would be rude to impose some other name on you. Clearly a beautiful cat like you must belong to someone, we thought. They will eventually come. But they never did.
I don't know who it was you lived with those first years before you came to us, but it must have been a pretty dreadful experience. Your mood swings were legendary. One moment you'd let someone pet you, purring and rubbing against their legs, only to lash out and claw at their feet the next. We will never know what happened to you, wherever you had been before, but considering your inherent fear of and hostility towards human feet and big shoes back in those days, we could make an educated guess.
Nevertheless you grew more and more docile over time. Maybe growing older just made you more peaceful and calm. Your little "attacks" became less and less frequent until they ceased completely. With time you became cuddly and affectionate, especially in winter. But I guess age alone can't account for it. In your heart, you were still a little kitten, and every spring, when the first warm rays of sunlight hit our garden, and especially when you thought you were unseen, you could be observed in a fierce attempt to catch your own tail, locked in battle with that damned sneaky thing, that always got away from you before you could get a grip on it - resulting in your rolling all over the grass.
When you got older, one after one, you lost your canines. It wasn't a big deal at first, but I noticed it when you yawned. When you had not a single one left anymore, eating became a bit difficult for a while. Your probably hat to get used to eating slower because you couldn't tear your food into smaller pieces anymore, so you wouldn't barf it all up again. That was also when your attempts at hunting became less and less frequent. Once you brought a little baby mouse, and our neighbor was joking that you probably sucked it to death. I hope you didn't take that to heart. We were still very proud of you.
And one day, I looked at you and realized how old you had grown. I had grown pretty old myself in the meantime. After moving out I still was around pretty often at my parents' place, so I never really felt like I left you or "lost" you. When I came home you were still around, waiting for me. Even if I only came by for a few hours, almost every time you came to at least greet me. One part of me always took it for granted that you are there and wait for me, that you will sleep in my bed when I stay overnight, and the next morning mum would be "jealous" because you didn't come to her bed that night. That part of me thought it will go on forever like this. But another part of me knew, of course, that you were old... Older than most cats probably get, at that time already. When you were found in 1998 (?) or so, you were already grown up. Even assuming you were still very young at that time it would make you at the very least 16 years.
We kinda grew up together, you and I. You were there for a large part of my life, and even after I moved out, the mere thought that you would still be there when I came home to my parents was... comforting. It was just one of those things you don't spend a lot of time thinking about, but surely if you do give it a thought, you'd wish it would never change. But things change, we grow old and die. And last week end my siblings found your body in their garden. You probably just feel asleep, cuddled underneath that pile of wood, and I hope you were at peace and without pain. They brought you over to be buried in our garden, I wasn't there, but I hope they picked one of your favorite spots. Under the lilac bushes maybe.
It is strange how those past days after you went missing, when part of me was already so convinced that you most likely went away to die, I never cried. I thought I was handling it all pretty well. But now that I know for certain, I sit here, typing this sentimental rubbish while crying my eyes out. I guess some other part of me still believed you'd just come back and wait for me, to come and greet me when I visit my parents' house. I ask myself why I cry so much. I bet many people will think it's stupid. How can you be so attached to an animal? It was a cat, your probably needed him more than he needed you. Right? But that's because they didn't know you. They didn't know how you comforted my without any words, how you were there when I needed you, how you protected your family from your enemies, and gave us the greatest gift you had to offer: your company, trust and affection. They didn't know before, but know that I told your story they do.
I don't care if I'm being silly, if I overreact or if they call me a hypocrite. I don't care if people will say that you never really cared for us, because you were just a cat. To me, a solitary, weird and socially awkward little girl who grew into a solitary, weird and socially awkward young woman, you were most of all - a friend.
And thus I want to say thank you. Thank you for everything, and farewell.