Monkey Found Me

By Cliff Springs

I have always been a “dog” person.  In most ways on most days dogs are everything we human beings should be—excited to see our loved ones; always up for fun and play; forgiving; and great for just hanging out and being with our friends.  When I was about 9 or 10, we owned a cat for about 2 months, but our dog wasn’t a big fan and neither were my parents.  We found a neighbor who wanted the cat and never looked back.

I never had much interest in cats after that.  I’m an animal lover in general, so petting a neighbor’s cat and walking away was fine.  I just never had any real bonding experience with a cat—and frankly, their attitudes often reminded me too much of women.  Dogs were for guys.  Cats were for gals.

In the fall of 1998, Monkey found me.

I was a bachelor of 28.  Just me and my faithful bachelor dog, Bob (who will be 16 in July).  Bob and I had four years together at that point.  We had our routines and our styles down pat.  Everyone who knew me knew Bob.  We were that intertwined.  We were kind of like a tag team.  We were and still are the perfect buddies for each other.  But we were about to learn that there was room for more in our little gang.

When I was 28, I lived in a mobile home.  I had tired of thin-walled apartments and wanted a place with some space between myself and my neighbors.  Because the mobile home did not have a fenced-in “yard”, when Bob needed to go outside, I had to walk him.  On this particular day in September, I took Bob out by the woods behind the house to do “his thing”.  While in the middle of doing his #2 thing—all squatted down and in full “scrunch”—a half-grown kitten came trotting out of nowhere and stood right next to Bob, staring at him. 

Now Bob has never had an ounce of animosity in his body toward anyone or anything—but this strange cat had no way of knowing that.  And he certainly should’ve known better than to come so close and stare so hard at another animal in the middle of doing “his business”.  But stop and stare he did.  Bob whined a little, wanting so hard to be able to quit was he was doing and tell this cat to leave him alone, but there are just some things you can’t quite stop on a dime.

The cat didn’t flinch.  Literally, sitting about two feet from a pooping dog, just staring at him.  When Bob finished, he quickly got into the cat’s face to sniff him out.  Didn’t faze the cat at all.  The cat just sniffed back.

I took Bob back inside and returned to the yard to pet the cat.  I admired his brazen desire to make a strange dog feel awkward.  Without even so much as a “here, kitty kitty”, the cat was in my lap the moment my butt planted on the steps outside.  He immediately started licking my neck like it was catnip.  I sat there and petted him for about 5 minutes and went back inside.

The next day, he was there again.  We began a routine over the next couple of weeks where he would come visit about the time I would come home from work and let Bob out.  Sometimes I would have to call out to let him know I was home, and inevitably, he would magically appear from some unknown hiding place.  One afternoon, I came home and he was nowhere to be found.  I called and called, but couldn’t find him.  Suddenly, I realized that I was getting used to seeing my little friend each day.  Then just as I was bringing Bob back inside from his walk, the cat showed up.  If I didn’t know it already, I would know it later that evening:  I was about to become a “cat” person too.

I went to the grocery store that evening and returned home with my goods.  As was usually the case, I would prop the storm door open as I carried the bags in from the car, and remind Bob not to try to sneak outside while I wasn’t looking.  This night, however, Bob was particularly antsy about the open door.  He stood at the door whining—like he just HAD to go out immediately.  I scolded him to stay put until I was done with the groceries, but he kept whining.

Then… WHOOSH!  A flash of tabby fur flew past Bob into the house.  He darted over to Bob’s food bowl and cleaned it out in about 10 seconds.  Bob wasn’t sure what to make of the situation.  Apparently, I was a little slow in getting the point.  Monkey had already made up his mind that he was moving in and that I now had me a cat.

I named him Monkey.

And a Monkey he was.  Spunky, crazy, and sneaky.  Monkey was the perfect foil for Bob.  Bob is a long-legged Jack Russell and Monkey was a 20-pound behemoth of a cat.  They would chase each other ‘round and ‘round the house and stalk each other around corners.  I would often watch Bob come walking around a corner unaware that Monkey was lying in wait.  Monkey would pounce and the chase would start all over again.  The coldest soul would be hard pressed not to laugh at their fun.  I always did.

I remember one evening when a couple of friends came over just minutes after a power outage turned out all the lights.  They stood in the doorway for a few minutes before coming inside.  I soon realized that Monkey was nowhere to be found.  I turned the house upside down looking for him—and verbalized my concern that one of my friends had unknowingly let  Monkey escape the front door while standing there in the dark.  Finally, with nowhere left to look, I located him in a cabinet.  When he emerged, my friends—who had never met Monkey previously—were incredulous at the idea that I thought a cat that size could’ve sneaked past them without them knowing.  I believe the exact words were, “I’d have known if a dang cougar walked past me!”

Monkey soon proved himself to be exceptionally smart like his counterpart Bob.  In no time, I had taught Monkey to sit, shake hands, and jump through a hoop I would make with my arms.  You could sense the defeat in his face as he executed each of the tricks—somehow dejected at the idea that he—a cat—had succumbed to the trick-for-treats tradeoff that a dog so willingly enjoys.

When my wife and I married two years later, Monkey demonstrated to me perhaps his most brilliant feat of cunning.  At the time, we kept the cat treats in a drawer in our master bathroom.  Like many master baths, our setup consisted of a his/her cabinet on the outer sides of the vanity and three drawers up the middle.  We came home one evening to find that he had sniffed and located a bag of treats in the middle drawer—and devoured the entire thing.  So we moved the remaining bag to the top drawer where we assumed they would be safe.  We went out again the next evening and returned home to find the middle drawer—the one where the treats were previously stored—pulled open. 

I bragged to my wife how smart he was to remember that the treats were there even though they were no longer available to tempt him with the scent.  For some reason, my wife pulled open the top drawer—where we had moved the treats—only to discover the real fiasco.  Monkey had found the treats in the top drawer, EATEN THEM, then closed the drawer back again to cover his tracks.  We surmised that he left the middle drawer open to throw us off his tracks so we would assume he had come up empty in his search.

Like any other cat owner, I learned the truth about catnip too.  For those who may be unaware, catnip is sort of like kitty crack cocaine.  When Monkey’s favorite mouse toy—an ugly, stuffed rodent with an inner pouch for catnip—ran dry, my wife bought a huge bag of catnip refill.  We stored it in our junk drawer in the kitchen. 

Coming home one evening, we entered through our garage and kitchen door—which we never ever do—only to immediately realize something was wrong.  The kitchen floor was a mess, strewn with dirt or something in seemingly circular patterns everywhere.  We quickly looked up to notice that the catnip drawer was wide open… and over to the side was Monkey—standing over the catnip bag, busted like a drug addict—his lips quivering with jittery delight.  In my mind I could picture what the scene must have been before we came home—a fat cat, swirling on the floor in a frenzy of catnip euphoria.  I wish I had witnessed it in person.

And he loved rubber bands.  He would pull one in his teeth and fling it with his foot across the room so he could chase it down and start all over again.  Despite his girth, he was quite the leaper too.  I would take his rubber band and put it on a high perch with just a tiny piece peering over the edge.  He would stare and stare and stare until he summoned the energy to jump as high as he could to swat the rubber band free, then play with it as if it was a long lost friend.

Perhaps best of all, Monkey was a warm, vibrating 20-pound pillow of fluff who was content to just lay next to me or on top of me for as long as I would allow.  Sitting at the kitchen table working on my computer as I’m doing right now, he was often straddled across my lap, purring contently.  At night, he would jump onto the bad and come nestle right beside my chest until the morning.  And he still to this day likes to kiss my neck like he did the very first day we met.  His rough, bristly tongue was always a sweet little reminder of how quickly our friendship formed.

Several months back, Monkey developed a strange growth on his paw.  We had it removed and biopsied.  It turned out to be a mast cell tumor.  They occur when normal mast cells go haywire, often striking cats some time after 10 years of age.  In dogs, they are usually cancerous; in cats, less often so.  His was not.  But apparently, the removal of the tumor on his paw flipped a biological switch that triggered hundreds of these tumors to pop up all over his body in a very short period of time.  They varied in size and would swell, burst with blood, then shrivel a bit before starting the process all over again.  Technically, I don’t know if these had become the cancerous kind or not, but they invaded his body both internally and externally to a degree my vet had never seen.

Monkey was a trooper.  He purred, and ate, and drank, and peed and pooped despite the unsightly growths and oozing sores.  In other words, he was determined to be as normal as he could as long as he could—easily outlasting the vet’s expectations.  But this week, his appetite finally started to wane.  I could tempt him with treats now and then, but it was becoming clear to me that he was finally giving me signs that the time was coming to spare him from completely starving himself.  I’ve come to realize that they almost always let you know when it’s time.

I told my kids last night that Monkey’s time was short.  I then realized that I had never shared with them the story of how Monkey and I met.  They just laughed and laughed as I recounted the story of that fateful day walking Bob.  Their laughter reminded me why Monkey and I bonded so well—he was crazy and didn’t care.

We put Monkey to sleep this morning.

This is the part I hate about getting older.  Our loved ones die.  I’ve learned well enough that the hurt of losing our loved ones is the price we pay for the privilege of loving them in the first place.  No, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Because Monkey literally barged his way into my home and my life, my attitude about cats has been changed forever.  I’m sure I’ll get another cat at some point.  I doubt I’ll ever find another cat like Monkey though, but then… I didn’t find him either.  Monkey found me.

–CS

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