Tuesday, October 31, 2006

My Tail of Devotion to Rocky the Gutter Cat


I am not the original caretaker of Rocky the Gutter Cat. Rocky was a street kitten who ended up (thank goodness) at the San Francisco SPCA, a no-kill shelter. They regularly had a mobile adoption unit set up outside of our offices in downtown San Francisco. One day, a co-worker --- Bill --- and I were coming back from lunch, and of course, stopped to interact with all the cats seeking adoption. Bill was suffering from AIDS and had recently lost a cherished cat to old age. When he walked by Rocky’s cage, Rocky reached out to us with his paw --- maybe like Rocky Balboa striking a punch. We were captivated. He was outgoing, had gorgeous tuxedo markings and did everything in his power to convince us to adopt him. (I still remember a set of three other timid tuxies in the cage next to Rocky: their names were John, Paul and George.) I already had my quota of cats, but Bill had a hole in his heart waiting to be filled. Rocky was ready to fill it.

We went up to our office, but couldn’t stop talking about Rocky. Bill really wanted a cat, but was concerned about what might happen to the cat if something happened to him. I promised Bill that if anything happened to him, that I would take Rocky. With that, we charged the elevator and prayed that no one had adopted Rocky in the meantime. Fortunately, no one had, and about 20 minutes later, we were headed back up the elevator with Rocky in an SFSPCA cat carrier. We deposited him in an empty conference room until the end of the day. He seemed impossibly tiny, but was amazingly adept at ejecting powerful stink particles into the air. By the end of the day the office reeked, bringing grown men to tears. Fortunately, his intestinal problems worked themselves out.

Rocky filled Bill’s life with joy and a renewed sense of purpose. Every morning, Bill would come in full of “Rocky stories.” The antics of this small kitten took Bill’s mind off the dizzying array of medicinal cocktails and disease ravaging his body. It was as if he’d received a new injection of hope.

Unfortunately, Bill had to leave work on permanent medical disability a few months later. When I would visit, Rocky was always at his side, quietly purring. Bill obviously worshipped him, and the feeling was mutual. On a dark, dank December day, Bill passed away after an abrupt and unexpected turn for the worst. As promised, I took Rocky into my home, although it was extremely painful at first. I ached for this poor cat who couldn’t understand what was going on, and I was in mourning for the loss of a dear friend. But Rocky helped keep Bill’s spirit alive for me, and he was a sweet pet.

Rocky never made a play for alpha cat status. He was just a mellow fellow, probably a little confused by the changes in his life. Although he can be jumpy or skittish, he can also relax like no other cat I’ve ever seen --- when I hoist him over my shoulder in a “baby burping” position, he becomes completely limp and purrs as loud as he possibly can. Unfortunately, and somewhat unbeknownst to me, my territorial tortie terror, Perl, often ran him out of the house or off the porch when he approached the house. At first, I just thought he preferred outdoor living, but later it became apparent what was happening.

When Jeff moved in with me, Perl’s behavior got out of hand – she sprayed every single piece of expensive furniture that Jeff moved into the house. Fortunately, this occurred at a time when my sister was experiencing a severe rat problem, and Perl was a skilled ratinator. Perl moved in with my sister (where she lives happily to this day) and I adopted Junior as a companion for Mao. The very first time Junior encountered Rocky, he ran up and tried to get Rocky to play with him. Rocky was dumbfounded. No cat had ever played with him before. No longer subjected to Perl’s domination, Rocky and Junior became fast friends, and Rocky underwent an amazing transformation, interacting much more with us and with Junior, and becoming a full-time indoor cat. (Mao and Rocky are reasonably polite to one another, but they don’t particularly like one another.)

When we lost Junior years later, Rocky again underwent a transformation. He refused to live in the house (which I think reminded him of Junior), and instead insisted on staying outside, most of the time in the gutter. Why the gutter? Who knows. We had no control over it. He was miserable in the house, and peed absolutely everywhere but the litterbox when we attempted to keep him inside. It was as if he had to process his grief again, alone, in his own way.

When Skeezix came to live with us, Rocky had little contact with him, since Rocky lives outside and Skeezix is strictly an indoor cat. But a few months ago, when Rocky had his pee problems, we had to move him inside so that we could closely monitor his urine output and how much water he consumed. Like Junior, Skeezix immediately identified Rocky as a potential playmate, and he engaged him in play --- mostly, “rassling,” or playing with the tunnel box. Rocky underwent another transformation, accepting his life indoors, and bonding with Skeezix. Those two now play relentlessly with each other every night. And Rocky is happy living inside.

Rocky is a sweet soul. His life has been defined by difficult transitions, and except for the Junior years, he’s been kind of a loner. He’s more difficult to understand than the Siamese – unlike Mao, whose vocabulary is peppered with nuance, Rocky has a one-word, one-note vocabulary: a distinctive whine. So determining what he wants involves going to the feeding area, the water dish, the front door, all for a clue as to what he’s getting at. And we eventually do get it.

Rocky’s life’s work was accomplished in the first year of his life, when he filled a dying man’s days with joy and hope. Rocky, I see your time with me as your long retirement, and I really do hope I can give back a fraction of the joy to you that you gave to Bill.

---- Rocky's Ladey

Link to Rocky's blog: Rocky's Ramblings


Blogger Rosie & Cheeto said...

Oh my goodness, that was such a touching story. Bill was so blessed to have Rocky (and you) in his life! This was so touching!!

6:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh boy...now the Woman is crying! You're a special cat Rocky!!!


7:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanx for sharing Rocky's story! Us and our mom are happy to know that you are taking such good care of Rocky! Thanx for telling how he came to live with you!!


9:33 AM  
Blogger Jake and Bathsheba said...

Oh, no, more tears from Mom! What a great story. We're glad that Skeezix and Rocky are such close friends now, even if they have quite a rivalry for Catster's coolest cat.


2:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is a lovely story.
DaisyMae Maus

7:20 PM  
Blogger jeterharris said...

mi mom sed da followin abowt yer tale uv devoshun fer rocky the gutter cat:

"Rocky certainly did accomplish his life's work when he gave Bill so much comfort."

an now mi mom iz all filled up wid emoshun.

luv--yer frend--jh

5:03 AM  

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