Barney will be leaving us soon. He has a tumour in his nose which is blocking his airway. Eventually he will struggle to breathe, and suffocate. So we have to decide when the time is right to put him to sleep.
It’s the agonising decision which pet owners have to face sooner or later. What makes this particularly hard for us, is that in spite of cancer, and hyperthyroidism, and old age, Barney’s indomitable spirit remains intact. He sleeps a lot and doesn’t go into the garden any more, but he is still very much himself. He wants his food and his cuddles. He wants to keep the other three cats in order. He still swears at me when I brush him. When visitors come, he wants to sit on the table, wave his tail in their faces, and accept their compliments. He has no other symptoms like diarrhoea or vomiting. Occasionally he wets his bed, and curls up to sleep in his litter box, but these signs of confusion come with old age.
Barney arrived from the RSPCA just over 13 years ago. It was few days after we lost our beautiful Sylvester to cancer. They said Barney was ‘about 5 years old’, which is what they always say when it’s not a kitten, and they have good teeth. He was such a pretty longhaired cat, so people-friendly, but languishing in the shelter for 6 months because his medical record stated ‘benign ear tumours’. The word ‘tumour’ made potential adopters run for cover. Yet this condition didn’t trouble him, or make him deaf or uncomfortable. He was just more prone to ear infections than the average cat. An ear infection was easily managed with drops. It wasn’t a big deal to us so we snapped him up. He was called Barney and we tried to change his name to Arnie, but it never stuck.
We have always fondly remembered the day we took Barney home. We were staying with friends for the weekend 100 miles away, but rushed back in time to collect Barney before the shelter closed. When we got him home, he showed no fear or trepidation. In fact he was so thrilled to be out of the shelter that he ran from me to the OH and back again, giving us lots of head-butts and purring wildly. He was practically beside himself with joy. Our other two cats at the time, Fred and Percy, were totally accepting and barely lifted an eyebrow at the new addition.
Barney soon established himself as a lap cat and chief meeter and greeter. He had bags of confidence and almost nothing disturbed him. He was a little insecure though, perhaps from his time in the shelter, and it was important to him that he was top cat. Fortunately Fred and Percy weren’t interested in a contest and let him get on with it. Percy was out hunting most of the time and visiting the neighbours, and Fred was the most laid back cat in the world.
Barney was and still is, the ultimate people cat. With the OH working from home running a studio, we often had people in and out of the house, and frequent partying into the small hours. We even had 2 lodgers for a couple of years. Barney loved all the comings and goings. He was always the first to investigate visitors and their bags. His favourite thing was to make a circuit of the kitchen table, talking to each person sitting there, and shedding hair into their tea. If anyone stayed overnight, he would seek out their pillow and keep them company.
A few months after Barney’s arrival, Percy died suddenly, cause unknown. It was devastating. So we went to the shelter and got Claude, a magnificent black Norwegian Forest cat. Barney hated him and set about making his life a misery. Claude spent more and more time with our elderly neighbours across the road. Things didn’t improve and after a couple of months we admitted defeat and offered Claude to Agnes and Alan. They were over the moon. A happy ending for Claude at last, and he spent the rest of his years with them.
In the meantime, we still had Fred, and we had also acquired Bob. Bob was a black Persian fallen on hard times, straying around a pub we used to frequent. He made himself known to us with his persistent howl. Eventally we managed to grab him and bundle him into the car, and we had a full rehabilitation job on our hands, but that’s a story for another day. To our surprise, after the Claude episode, Barney accepted Bob with no comment. So once again, we had a harmonious 3-man crew.
We moved house. The new place needed gutting from top to bottom. We lived in chaos and filth for a year. Barney, Fred and Bob took it all in their stride. Fred was our very first cat from student days, and quite an old man by this time. A year after the renovations were complete, he fell down the stairs (how? why?) hurt himself badly and was put to sleep by the emergency vet. We cried every day for two weeks. Bob and Barney were a wonderful solace. For the first time, following a death in the gang, we did not want to get another cat. No-one could fill Fred’s perfect white paws. And with one less cat in the territory, Bob and Barney blossomed.
So for the next seven years, Bob and Barney rubbed along together. They were never friends, but they had an understanding. Barney was never much interested in hunting or racing around the garden. So he was the upstairs and indoors cat, constantly on the lookout for a lap, preferably mine. Bob had daily business to attend to in the garden and in the neighbouring gardens. But Barney remained Top Cat, nosey cat, and people’s cat. As such he was a great favourite with visitors, whereas Bob could be quite timid and liked to go unnoticed.
The other thing about Barney which made him the coolest cat in town, was his total lack of fear of dogs. When he was in the RSPCA shelter, he was the dog-testing cat. They would put him in a cat carrier and walk a dog past him, to test the dog’s reaction, and thereby decide whether or not the dog could be homed with cats. Barney was not in the least bothered by this. Some of our friends and family would visit with their dogs, and sometimes we would dog-sit. Not a problem at all to Barney. He would immediately make his contempt obvious. Any dog, however large, was simply beneath his notice. If they got in his way, he would box their ears. He would not so much as alter his trajectory across the kitchen to accommodate them. I have seen him walk in a straight line to his food bowl, underneath a yellow labrador. I have seen him sitting on the kitchen table, and swipe at a curious collie’s nose. As soon as our visiting Jack Russell terrier arrives, Barney makes himself comfortable in the dog’s bed. He will also make a beeline for the dog’s food as soon as it is served. Talk about assertive! And the other cats learn from his example, that dogs are nothing much to worry about, as long as you stand your ground.
Bob left us two years ago, and we have since acquired three Maine Coon kittens. Barney has been the ideal big brother and kindly uncle to them. He has calmly put up with their boisterousness and joined in with their games. He has also dished out a few clips around their ears. Now the youngsters are twice the size of him.
I have often felt bad that I’ve never had enough time to sit down for long enough to provide a good lap for Barney. He would love to sit on my lap all day and I’m always moving him off. Would he have preferred an elderly couple and 12 hours a day of lap time? I’ve also felt that he has lived somewhat in the shadow of Bob, and then the kittens. But he has always been there, through so many changes, and he has shown me nothing but love and adoration, bordering on the possessive. He is the cornerstone of our feline crew. He goes all the way back to our very first cat Fred, and the snow-white brothers Sylvester and Percy, and Claude, and Bob, all now departed. He is the Gatekeeper and he links them all.
Barney has been in ill health for a year and living on borrowed time for the last few weeks. Several times we have thought, oh no, this must be the end of the road for him, only to see him bounce back. Still he keeps going. But soon he will tell me he’s had enough, and I will be there for him, when the time comes.
Till next time,