For months now, he’s been losing weight and confidence, no longer daring to go outside in the cold and wet, let alone to brave the domains of Other Cats that he once kept in line. Then, in the last few weeks, he’s taken a sudden turn for the worse and been miserable, too. This morning, there was no fight to get him into his carrier, no resistance at all.
Thirteen and a half years ago, Shaggy was my wedding present to the Dr. Growing up, she’d not had any pets but could never pass a cat in the street without stopping to say hello (she still can’t). The day after we got back from honeymoon, on 14 July 2004, we headed to what’s now Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.
The Dr was jumpy with excitement, so my role was to be the cool, collected one. I reminded her on our way in that we’d been warned not to expect to take a cat home that first day. No, this was just the start of the process. We were interviewed about our past experience with pets (I grew up with cats, dogs and chickens), about the kind of home we could provide and whether there were dangers such as nearby busy roads. They concluded we needed a nice “entry-level” pet. There was a colour-coded system: we were told to look for green cats.
Then we were led upstairs to where the cats were waiting. They were all in individual hutches, inset into the wall floor to ceiling, each with a card giving details of their temperament and background. Older, crosser cats had red stickers. One particularly furious red beast glared at us from its cell. The yellow cats did a better job of imploring us to love them. The green cats hardly seemed to notice us at all.
As instructed, we looked at the green cats. They were… cats. All very nice but nothing exactly suggestive of how we were meant to choose.
Then they let some green cats out, one at a time, so we could get a better idea. One dark-haired cat with both green and yellow stickers was set down on the floor and wandered nonchalantly off, barely glancing our way. The Dr had his card and asked why he’d been called “Shaggy”. The person showing us round grinned and clapped her hands. It made us jump – and Shaggy, too. His thick, long hair all stood up on end, an endearing scruffy mess.
Sensing our interest in this ridiculous creature, it was suggested we pick him up. The Dr was nervous, so I went first. Shaggy immediately collapsed into my arms, snuggling up like a baby. That did it for my cool composure.
Now it seemed that we might get to take this purring fur-bag home with us that same day. That was, if we could sign all the paperwork and buy up all the equipment we needed before Battersea closed for the evening. There was a bit of a scramble and some crossed wires, but finally we were in our cab home – cradling our new cat.
Back home, we did as instructed and shut ourselves in one room before letting Shaggy out of his carrier. The idea was not to scare him with too much at once: he could get used to one room at a time. (Years later, our surviving cat, Stevens, was so terrified on her first evening with us that she spent the night clinging to the top of a door, and only came down to pee all over the floor.)
Shaggy was never shy. He immediately took charge of the room – our bedroom – and was then scratching at the door. Within an hour or so he’d taken charge of our flat. And that night, we were woken by his happy howls on discovering the mouse problem we’d inherited from our previous tenants. Shaggy, for all he was a beautiful, soft fluffball, was a very practical mouser.
He was always a character. When one friend came round to meet him, Shaggy playfully climbed on to a potted plant in the front room and – brazenly staring all of us out – proceeded to crap in it. He was fascinated by frogs, scooping them up from the old pond at the end of the garden and bringing them into show us them leaping around. When the Dr was bedridden with sickness, he helpfully dropped a frog on her head.
In short, we’d hoped for a good entry-level cat and Shaggy was magnificent. Affectionate, cheeky and rarely ill until these last few weeks, he’s given us a very easy ride. He’s been quick to warm to friends and neighbours (I discovered he’d been getting second breakfasts across the road each morning). More than that, he’s seen us – the Dr especially – through plenty of tough times over the years, always knowing when to pad softly over for a cuddle and that deep bass purr.
He had such a close bond with the Dr that we worried how he might respond to children, and so got a second cat in part to prepare him. But Shaggy was just as affectionate with the interloper cats and then with the children, snuggling up to them and suffering their clumsy but well-meant attention. One friend used to guarantee good behaviour from his daughter with the promise of visiting Shaggy.
For our own Lord of Chaos, Shaggy has always been part of the family, and they had one last cuddle this morning before school. His name is one of Lady Vader’s few but well-practised words. It’s hard to tell how much they take in what’s been happening or how it will affect them. I suspect the main issue they’ll have to deal with is their tender parents.
We knew Shaggy was getting on in years. He was a kittenish 15 months-old when we acquired him so would have been coming up to 15 years now, somewhere between 75 and 90 depending how you calculate cat years. That’s not a bad age, and it’s not been a bad life – doted on by the Dr and spoilt rotten when I wasn’t looking. You could tell when he wasn’t happy, and that’s been mostly rare: when we didn’t share prawns or tuna; when we were ever packing a bag he couldn’t climb into; in his long war of passive aggression against my mother-in-law; in these last few weeks.
This morning the Dr and I went with him to the vet, and soon it was all over. We buried him with his favourite pink mouse toy in the garden, in the corner he’d always made his own because it caught the sun.