Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Just a cat: Farewell to Towser

He was just a cat, when I first met him. He sniffed round me, unsure of me, then warmed to me when I offered him peekaboo fingers round Jude's gatepost, which he vigorously attacked with his little paws. I noticed then how the tufts of white hair poked out from between his toes, kept immaculately clean by his constant grooming. With his pointy fur 'sideburns', he looked like a cartoon cat, like Sylvester or Tom or Top Cat, but was funnier than all three.

He was just a cat, but never a big cat, or a heavy cat, even at 13. His long soft fur hid the lightness and smallness of his frame. Towards the end though, he felt hollow, like a bird, as his muscles wasted away and the flesh fell from his bones. I picked him up and stroked him, just five days ago, the day he stopped eating, and I felt each rib, and the knobs of his backbone, still hidden beneath his deceptively fluffy coat. The picture of him under his fur was no longer a pretty one. I worried then. I worried that he was going, like Barney back in May, wasting away until his spirit left his body like the last wisp of smoke from a dying candle.

He was just a cat. He was just a cat, but he was much more than that. "Just a cat" is what soulless people say. I have no time for people like that. Say that to me and I'll laugh in your stupid face.

He was just a cat, and he was my friend. He knew me as well as I knew him. We understood each other, each in our own way. We trusted each other. He knew I'd never hurt him. He showed it in so many ways: in waiting for me to come up the road on my bike after work, just so he could roll on the ground and purr and stretch whilst I rubbed his sheepskin tummy; in the way he'd be there sometimes, on the pillow next to my head when I woke on a morning, sleeping softly, or the way he followed me down the garden and sat vigilant on a rock, defying the Big Toms of the neighbourhood to come near, because I was there to scare them off.

He was just a cat and I worried about him, when the vet named his illness, his reason for wasting. When he stopped eating and just lay there, eyes dull, I already missed him. I missed my friend, missed his mincing walk and his feather-duster tail and his constant need to sit on my knee whenever I sat down. Missed the way he used to sit on the table and reach out with his paw when it was feeding time as if to say "just give me the tin, I'll open it". I forgave him all the times he deftly flipped a piece of food off my plate as I ate, and ran off to eat it under the table.

He was just a cat, and I could see him waiting for death to come and I knew he was going, even as I muttered unfelt words of hope. The operation which would save his life was already planned, but he was never going to reach it.

He was just a cat, but yesterday I woke up and he wasn't there, and he wasn't just a cat, he was an empty space, an absence of cat, and a gentle fear in my mind. I looked and looked and found him, lying amidst dead wet leaves in the back garden, under a bench. He was cold, like he'd lain there for hours in the rain and dark. I carried his weightless body in as he purred gently against my chest.

He was just a cat and he's gone now. A last straw was clutched at with a night spent in a vet's cage, fed by a tube. Poor small, soft Towser, in a cage, without his friends, alone, would never see his home again. I can still feel his paw against my lips, waking me just days ago, to tell me it was breakfast time. I can still feel it, warm and soft, with the faint trace of claws. Yes, I can feel that and I always will, even though I'll never feel it again.

He was just a cat, but he was himself, his own being, unlike all other cats. He was Towser, and I wanted him to stay Towser and carry on being just a cat. I wasn't there when the needle went in. I never got to stroke his fur and hear his last purr. I never said goodbye to my friend.

Goodbye Towser my friend. You were just a cat, but I'm just a man.

Below: Jude with Towser as a kitten

Below: a distraught and tearful Jude cradles Towser's body, 5th December 2007

Below: Towser in typical repose

Below: Towsers "sheepskin tummy"

Below: Me relaxing with the cats in our back garden, after a bike ride; summer 2004

Below: Towser sitting on Barney's coffin; April 2007

Below: returning home for the final time


  1. Not much to say, 'cos you've said it all. RIP Towser.

  2. unbelievably moving tribute, brian.
    it takes a real man to crack up in public.

  3. "Not much to say, 'cos you've said it all. RIP Towser."

    Thanks, Irk. It's when a pet is ill or dying that the lack of complex communication really hurts. That inability to explain and to reassure, that can somehow make the death of a pet as traumatic, maybe more so, than that of a human.

  4. morgan9:08 AM

    most moving obit I've ever read- your cat seems worth more than many PEOPLE I know...Morgan from Luxembourg

  5. Thank you morgan, that's such a true thing to say I think.

    Humans have the capacity to make reasoned choices and thereby, override our innate 'animal instincts', which still, at the base level, tend to direct our response to any given situation.

    Cats, on the other hand, have far less capacity for free choice. A cat is what it is. It has its own personality, its own learned behaviour, and its own emotional map, but it's honest, because it can't be any other way.

    Towser was unique. He was Towser, every bit as individual as I am. Even though we were of different species, we had a close relationship, because I wanted that. I didn't seek to control him, to own him. I just let him be himself and we shared the same space, and we both gave each other a lot of pleasure. It's the whole point of 'owning' a pet. You don't 'own' them, you just live with them and you both learn from each other. Notions of superiority shouldn't even enter into it.

    Blimey! Well that's a long-winded way of saying that yes, Towser was worth more than many people. Much more. There are some bad people out there, but no bad cats.

  6. David1:26 PM

    Well written. I can empathise as I've just lost Norman, my 18 year old chief-cat who turned up at the back door in 1989 at the age of about one week. I think it's a privilege to share time with a cat, because they have a choice as well.

  7. That's right. I've heard of cats who have upped sticks and moved elsewhere. I guess it's not always uncaring owners. It might be a basic personality clash, no mater how many behavioual scientists raise their eyebrows at that one.

  8. I thought Towser was a longhaired tortoiseshell female at the Glenturret Distillery. She was famous for catching nearly 30,000 mice, also countless rats, rabbits, and pheasants.

  9. Hello Brian, I found your site because my cat was also called Towser and I was looking for Towser related items.
    I have also seen your youtube film and it was very moving. My Towser was ofcourse a different cat but one of a kind in her very own way. I had visited Glenturret distilery in 1985 for the first time and had the previlege to meet the original Towser! The name got stuck in my brain and when I got a new cat in January 1998, I called her Towser. She was 2,5 years old then and I got het from the animal shelter.

    I had to put her to sleep in October 2009 and I still miss her. If you like, you can take a look at some pictures of Dutch lady Towser, "Miss T" for very close friends ;-)

    And you are right: a cat is never jus t a cat!!

    Greetings from Arno Daalder

  10. Lisa Auten5:32 AM

    I just lost my Bella this past Thursday, so I truely know what you went through. Cats always have and always will have a special place in my heart......

  11. I just cried through all of what u wrote! I've always luved cats very much! I've lost a few and I always get very close to my kitties! I had one that I was extremely close to and somebody shot him, so I had to hav him go to heaven. That was hard! I have six now. One of them - Merlin - snuggles up on my chest at night and purrs and sometimes falls asleep that way! We're very close! I almost lost him about a year ago and he was kinda sick yesterday (from eating Chicken, which he's allergic to). He's fine now. I believe it was prayer that helped him. I also recently almost lost one of the other cats, due to urine crystals blocking him up. He's fine now too and I also believe that was because of prayer. I almost never send comments - responding to things people say on the Internet, but this really touched me and I just HAD to!!! I'm a Christian and I've studied the Bible and I am TOTALLY SURE that animals go to heaven when they die. Towser is there!!! I'm sure of it!!! Please believe me! And if u aren't sure what to believe, please read the bible. You'll figure it out. My prayers of comfort r with u!!!

  12. Thank you Candy, and Lisa, and Arno. I just re-read my elegy to Towser, and again (as always) shed a tear for him. He s still missed, as is Barney, who preceded him, and all the other cats I've shared my life with. They were just cats, but I'm just a man.


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