This was back in the days when we lived in the Mountains, so I used to let the cats out during the day. I did this gradually once they were a few months old, and always supervised until they were big enough to have enough sense to look after themselves.
One day when Cleo was less than a year old, I heard her crying from near the back door, so I came out to see what the trouble was – and realised the crying was coming from above the back door. She was standing on the edge of the roof, looking down, and clearly had no idea at all how to get down. I knew how she’d got up there, from the embankment by the shed to the shed roof, and then it was just a short leap from the shed roof to the roof of the house. She’d come around the side of the house and explored the roof, and then realised that she had no idea how she’d got there, or how to get down again.
If you’ve ever had a cat, there have probably been times when the cat has managed to get up somewhere high and then decided it couldn’t get down. So I did what most of us do in that situation: I held out my arms and called Cleo’s name. Usually, in this situation, the cat just looks at you, and eventually gets down by itself. But in this case? Cleo actually jumped, and I caught her.
It was probably around that time that I first started calling her my silly woolly, and little miss fluffy brain, with much love.
When Harry and Cleo were almost five years old, Harry died from kidney failure. It was a terrible blow. He was a lovely, sooky cat, and I was his special human. So then of the two short-haired male kittens I’d intended to get that day back in 2002, I only had the accidental fluffy girl left.
And the accidental fluffy girl grew into quite a big cat. I’ve had fluffy cats that were very dainty underneath all the fur, but that wasn’t Cleo. She was a solid cat, around 6kg in her prime.
She also grew up to be a real character. She was the most talkative cat I’ve ever had. If you said anything to her, she would almost always reply. Repeatedly. And she would often tell you how she felt, whether you wanted to know or not. In her later years, she took to meowing at me non-stop, regardless of what I was doing or if I was in the middle of talking to someone, if she was determined to have some attention Right Then. She got used to me telling her not to yell at me. You can see and hear a video of her talking… and talking and talking here
She never really got on with the other cats. She did try at first - as you can see in the pics above, with Ebby, who was going through flea allergy problems right then - but I think her body language looked wrong to the short-haired cats. It wasn’t that she was speaking a different language, but it was definitely a different dialect, and in the end she gave up and decided to be solitary. By the time Sasha – a short-haired male ginger kitten at last! - came to us in 2008 and tried very hard to make friends with Cleo, she simply ignored him. However, they both coveted my lap on winter nights, so they would both get on my lap and pretend that the other cat wasn’t there. When I was going through pictures to use in this post, I found a lot along these lines:
Cleo always loved going outside in the daytime. We had a huge, beautiful garden when we lived in the Mountains, and she never went very far. She was an excellent border guard if an intruder!cat happened to come visiting. She liked sitting under a bush opposite the back door – even in the depths of winter, when the short-haired cats didn’t want to go outside. Her woolly coat was perfectly designed for her to live in the Mountains climate.
Less than a year after we moved from the Mountains to where we are now, we lost Ebony, our old black cat. She was almost nineteen years old, and we’d got her as a kitten when we’d first moved in together, so she’d always been the senior cat of the household. And now, suddenly, Cleo was the senior cat. It didn’t suit her. She’d always been a silly, bouncy woolly, and she just didn’t have the gravitas of Ebony. But after a while we got used to Cleo being the oldest, and realised that she was actually starting to get old.
Cleo was also a huge sook, and absolutely adored a cuddle. A few years ago – five? More? I can’t remember for sure – she discovered that I was willing to baby her in ways that D wouldn’t, and she switched her allegiance. Suddenly, I was her favourite person. I would cradle her like a baby and she would purr like a chainsaw – she had a great loud purr. She liked to fall against my chest and tuck her head under my chin. In recent times, her favourite thing was to climb up onto my shoulder when I was sitting in the recliner and flop with her back legs hanging down my chest while she purred in my ear.
She would also sometimes flop right across my collarbone, and just lounge there as if she really was a feline Cleopatra. I’d usually be chatting to Nym on IM when this happened, and I often couldn’t see the screen properly, or use more than one finger on the keyboard, so Nym would get messages saying things like, “A, tyuping fro undrt woo;;y.”
Cleo used to follow me around, too. A couple of years ago, after never being a Bed Cat – our bed always belonged to Ebony, because she was Top Cat, and then Indy, the grey boy we got after Harry died, inherited it from her when he became Top Cat – Cleo suddenly decided to be brave and stake a claim for part of the bed. But she would only sit on the bed if I was there. I tend to go to bed very late, so Cleo would wait up too, sometimes making pointed comments to let me know that she’d like to go to bed now, please. I often woke up to this view:
She LOVED being the Special Cat, and being allowed to go out onto the patio in the daytime, after several years being an indoor only cat after we moved to our current house. As I said, she was getting old, and she didn’t want to wander. She just wanted to be outside in the garden, and not just in the cat run where Those Other Cats had to go. It’s not the Mountains, but it’s still sub-alpine here, so her thick, woolly coat was perfect for being outside in the winter here, too. And of course it was nice out there in the shade in the summer, too:
And that was our Cleo, and our life with her, until those two pit bulls turned up in our backyard the other day. You can’t possibly blame me as much as I blame myself for letting her outside when the new front fence was being installed, but you just don’t EXPECT a pair of marauding dogs IN YOUR BACKYARD, particularly when you are right there yourself.
This got awfully long, but I’m utterly heartbroken about the way Cleo left us, and I wanted to write down just who she was.
I’ve been talking to dog people recently, in the course of preparing for and getting our new puppy, and one of them mentioned that they thought cats weren’t as individual as dogs, and that cats were all pretty similar.
That hasn’t been my experience at all. D and I have had ten cats over the last – god – 23 years, and they’ve all been absolute individuals. Every cat has been as different as different could be from every other, and none more so than my dear old woolly.
She was with us for fourteen and a half years. Her not being here just feels wrong. I miss her so much. She could be annoying, and I even miss that. I miss her flopping on my shoulder and making my neck hurt from the weight (on my herniated disc – thanks, cat). There is an empty space where my Cleo should be, and nothing will ever fill it.
Goodbye, dear Woolly. We will always miss you.