by Robert Paul Hudson
When pet owners who spent their lives with an animal by their side reach a point where some of their pets may fade a bit from memory-even photographs fade in time-, there is usually at least one that holds a special place in their heart that can never be forgotten. For me it was my cat Jasper. He was my first pet as a young adult and we shared a journey for over 13 years.
Shortly after high school my first full time job was working as part of the grounds keeping crew of a state hospital that was surrounded by dense woods. As I was walking the grounds, I started to see cats running across my path. The further I walked, the more cats I saw darting and hiding. They were everywhere I looked. As I approached a tool shed I began to smell the stench of urine and dozens more cats scattered in every direction. I told my manager that I saw tons of cats all in this particular area and he told me “oh they have been living here for years. Every day I go to the cafeteria and bring back large trays of meat scraps for them”. These trays often included all sorts of left over food most of which the cats would not eat. The stench of urine and rotting food, and ground covered in cat hair was all around the shed where they were fed. Somehow this colony survived each sub zero winter, although its numbers got smaller.
I became entranced with this very large feral cat colony. I would spent my lunch hour walking around looking at all the different cats until one day I found an area where there were dozens of kittens scurrying about. These tiny little furbabies would hiss and run when I approached them and would hide in large holes in the ground, but it was fairly easy to catch them. After my shift ended I was determined to catch one and bring it home. This was the beginning of Jasper’s journey.
I was immediately drawn to this kitten at first by it’s coloring and then by it’s personality. I had never seen a cat of this color before, and in all the years since only a handful of times. He was a very light tan and brown with no hints of orange. After holding him for a bit, he calmed down and in the following months we bonded together. A year later after neutering Jasper I decided to join some family on the opposite side of the country and took Jasper with me aboard the plane to start a new life.
Jasper never retained any “feral” personality traits. He was a very mellow and affectionate cat and even bonded with other cats I added to the family during his lifetime. The following years of our new life were somewhat turbulent while I struggled to find my way in life: changing jobs and moving often, but he was always there with me adapting to any situation. He always had to spend time outdoors particularly at night and would sometimes wander a bit, but would always return home until one horrible day when things went wrong.
I knew from experience that when you move and bring a cat to a new home, their immediate reaction is panic. They are disoriented and nervous because they do not know where they are. I found after a week or two a cat gets its bearings and confidence, so when I moved into a new apartment I knew what to expect. On this particular occasion I made the mistake of leaving the door to my balcony open on the very evening I brought Jasper and another cat into the apartment. Within five minutes both cats shot like a bullet out the door and jumped off the balcony into the night.
Of course I frantically ran outside into the complete darkness trying to find them but to no avail. I spent every day for the next three weeks searching for them. A month went by and then another before I stopped looking. Pearl, the other cat, was only about two years old and was a very nervous and fearful cat under any circumstances, and while I mourned the loss of both cats, losing Jasper under those circumstances was unbearable. He was the survivor, the cat with 9 lives and then some.
Six months went by and one evening I got a surprise phone call. A woman told me that she was feeding a cat who was hanging around her apartment and saw a tag on his collar with my phone number on it! I was in shock, but what really surprised me was this woman’s apartment was in a complex about a block away, a complex that Jasper and I lived in 3 or 4 years prior, and her apartment was right next door to the very apartment we lived in! Jasper had found his way back to what he recognized as home and was just waiting for me.
I took Jasper home and never let him outside that apartment again. Later I moved once again for the last time during Jasper’s life. By this time as I got into my 30s I finally found my way in life that was stable and financially secure, a real home for both of us. Jasper started showing signs of his mature age. He slowed down, no longer spent as much time outside, and had some difficulty jumping up on the furniture. I came home one day from work and found him lying on his favorite chair in eternal sleep.
Whether I realized it at the time or not, Jasper taught me how to endure life and be a survivor.
I took him to my Aunts house, the first place we called home and the place over the years I brought him to when I was in between jobs or places to live. He always felt right at home there no matter how long it had been since the last time he was there. I buried him in the backyard, in the very garden that he had won over my Aunt with by killing her gophers. A few years later my Aunt died, and a few years after that my cousin sold the property to a developer. Jasper is now resting underneath a parking lot, but somehow I don’t think he minds. He always adapted well.