September 21, 2011 |  by  |  Personal  |  Share

I was 19 when I moved away from home.  I had planned to bring my cat Leia with me, a sweet, but incredibly skittish girl.  The move to a new location just freaked her out too much and after two weeks of her living constantly under my bed, I gave up the experiment and returned her to my parents’ home and more familiar surroundings.  But I still wanted a pet, and dogs weren’t allowed at my condo, so I went out in search of a black kitten.  I found out two things – apparently black kittens are scarce at pet stores, and most “normal” kittens sleep most of the day, curled up in a little ball with their kitten siblings.  I should have realized something was awry when I finally found a store with two black kittens and they were completely spastic, climbing the walls of the cage, swatting anything that moved, always in a flurry of motion.

I should have realized, but I didn’t, instead I fell in love.  I wanted them both, and still kind of regret not getting them both, but it didn’t seem practical.  So I chose the one with eyes slightly greener and more brilliant than the other.  I named him Draven.

I took him home and doted on him and played with him, but it soon became obvious he wasn’t the typical cuddly kitten.  When he was eager to eat, he would climb up my back while I was opening cans of cat food….climb as in, his claws were IN my back.  I would come home to find him hanging from my curtains looking bemused. More than once our “play” sessions would end up with me reaching for band-aids, but he was a baby, and didn’t really know better, right?

Draven would grow into a lanky, beast of a cat, never overweight, but remarkable in size, from his huge ears to long tail and legs.  Several people insisted he couldn’t be a domestic cat, he was too big, too wild, too strong.  I think he most likely was feral.  It wasn’t immediately obvious living alone, but he had no tolerance for anyone other than me.  He could be downright vicious.  He left more than one person bleeding when they tried to pet him, so I urged visitors not to even attempt to get near him.  My mother was petrified of him after he gave her a particularly nasty scar on her hand.

Anyone that has owned and loved many pets knows that each has a definable quality – whether that is simply a sweet disposition, or uncanny intelligence, or even sometimes endearing stupidity.  Draven’s was his viciousness crankiness.  He was not an easy pet to have and presented many challenges.  A routine trip to the vet for vaccinations required the skilled coordination and military-like precision of my vet’s staff to ensure that no one was missing an eye afterwards. Or as my vet once put it “If you hear him crying don’t worry, if you hear me crying, you better come running!”  He was never once weighed at the vet’s without being in a cat carrier.  No one even attempted to hold him.  I tried to take him out of his carrier once at the vet’s and he bit my hand so hard he hit bone.

Years later, living in Florida, he would have what I can only describe as a psychotic episode where he just viciously attacked me and the dog one day, totally unprovoked.  I was left sitting on top of the washing machine, my legs bloodied, holding a broomstick.  (I am NOT exaggerating here.)  My family & friends thought I was insane to keep him.  I somehow managed (wearing my motorcycle helmet no less) to coral him into a spare room and kept him separated from me and the dog (I did have another cat then, but he always got along with cats, go figure.)  I took him to a vet down there and they told me to put him to sleep.  I refused.  I left instead with a prescription for valium.  How many people have to give their cat valium?  Not many I am guessing.

Eventually  he settled down enough to be trusted, but it took a good two months.

However complicated and challenging our relationship was, my allegiance to him was steadfast, for a reason I can’t even fully explain to myself.  Many, many people told me to just get rid of him, but I wouldn’t.  I don’t consider pets disposable, and despite his issues, we had a deep bond.  He was my companion and I loved him. I found his cantankerous demeanor somewhat amusing and endearing (when he wasn’t taking it out on me!)   He was remarkable in many ways and if you could get past the gruff exterior, he had a keen intelligence and unique personality.  He would run to greet me at the door when I got home, and he even liked to play fetch with his bouncy ball.  He liked to eat Doritos. In his senior years, he actually calmed down significantly, and even had rare moments of what could be described as cuddliness.  I am so grateful I got those moments now.


draven grass Draven

In the last year or so, we noticed that he was mellowing out a bit, and also seemed to be losing weight.  The vet diagnosed him with hyperthyroidism.  Over the past year, we watched him go from over 20lbs to 6lbs.  His heart beat so quickly that it was scary.  He was constantly ravenously hungry, but all his bones were sticking out of his body.  We were told we would most likely lose him to a heart attack.  His mood was good and he wasn’t in any pain, so we just did our best to keep him fed and happy.  Any rare moments where he decided to be affectionate were a gift. While I was preparing to say goodbye to him, I never expected to lose him in the manner I did.

We arrived home Saturday from a wedding late at night and I noticed two things – that it was our annual block party, and that two large dogs were lazily walking down the sidewalk without leashes.  One was a large shepherdy-type dog, the other one was slightly smaller and looked like a poodle mix, with short curly grey hair.  I had never seen these two dogs before, but thought they may have belonged to someone at the party. I was immediately irritated that anyone would let them wander off-leash because they were quite a ways from where people were congregating and could have been hit by a car.  In fact we almost hit them ourselves, it was pitch black.  (For some reason our street lights haven’t been working for months.) I told Andy to slow down so they could pass us safely.

Then we turned into the driveway, and I saw Draven’s lifeless body on the cement.  I will never get that image out of my head.

I was in total shock.  I ran across the street and over to where the party was and asked if anyone belonged to the dogs….in the noise and confusion of the party, people didn’t understand what I was saying right away.  Then it sunk in and a couple people walked over to my house and saw Draven.  Two women came and talked with me for awhile while Andy went down the street looking for the dogs.  The ladies told me they had heard a big commotion about an hour earlier, and lots of barking.  They had assumed it was our dog Abby.  They said it had gotten so loud they had thought of calling the police, but they knew we had a dog and didn’t want to get us in trouble – they just didn’t understand why we would have left our dog in the backyard while we weren’t home. (If we had had working streetlights, they would have been able to see the commotion was in the front yard. And Abby wasn’t even at home.  My mom picks her up on double-wedding weekends so she’s not home alone.)

The cops came and then left again looking for the dogs.  I don’t know if they were ever found.  I don’t even know 100% that they are the dogs that attacked him, though that’s the most likely case.  I don’t blame the dogs, but I do blame the owners for letting them get out.  And for not teaching their dogs not to attack cats.  I really hope they did find their way home and didn’t get hurt themselves.

My neighbors apologized for not coming over to investigate the noise, as there were at least a dozen people outside just feet away while this all happened.  But I can’t really fault them.  Even if they had known what was going on, who would be expected to break up a dog fight in pitch darkness?  While I am filled with grief and sadness for my kitty I am grateful that no one else was hurt.  There were kids outside – anyone could have been bitten – especially if they had intervened while the dogs were on the aggressive.

For the record, we normally didn’t let Draven out to roam wildly, but we do let our cats out into our fenced back yard.  They enjoy being outside so much it feels mean to deprive them, and none of them are declawed.  It was only recently that Draven had gotten so skinny he was able to slink under the fence.  In our hurry to get out the door and to our wedding, we didn’t secure our back door which has a cat flap. I will always feel guilty for not securing the house better.

I barely slept that night, but the next day we had a wedding to photograph.  I expected it to be difficult, but it was actually a relief to be distracted.  It was a beautiful day with great people who were delightful to work with.  Our schedule kept us busy and moving.  So it wasn’t really until Monday that things started to sink in. I feel very conflicted.  He was old, and sick, and maybe it’s better he met a quick end, and went out fighting, as was his nature.  But at the same time, it was a horrible way to go and should never have happened.  In the preceding days we had been so busy and I hadn’t been giving him as much attention as normal.  I feel lousy for that.  I still expect to see him when I come home or hear him purring as he sits on the top of the sofa next to me.  The house feels emptier. He was with me for over fourteen years – through college, career changes, and two cross-country moves.

So while a post about a cat is not entirely on topic on a wedding photography blog, I hope you’ll excuse this (lengthy) indulgence.  Give your pets some extra love today, and take as many pictures as you can.  I am glad I made a point to take a few of him before he reached his skinniest.  But I wish I had taken a lot more.

Despite all the crap you put me though, I will miss you kitty.