He chose “Kitty” at the shelter when he was 90 years old. She was his second cat since Mom died. The first, also Kitty, lived with my father for almost a decade and had eased the difficult transition from his home of 40-plus years to the assisted living facility. There the cat eventually lost hearing and eyesight and finally had to be put to sleep. The first Kitty played out my worst fears about Dad’s decline, but while the cat failed, my dad acclimated to his new home at Carriage Green.
Dad wanted another cat, so my sister and I took him to the Humane Society, where he chose a gray tabby with olive-green eyes and a relatively calm demeanor. He wrote “Kitty” on the paperwork. We bought cat necessities — food, litter box, toys — and visited two weeks later to find that Dad and Kitty had bonded beautifully. “She’s a funny cat,” he said.
My sister and I, both cat lovers, tried to engage her, but Kitty ignored us. She would, however, jump onto my father’s lap and demand his attention, flaunting her loyalty to Dad and only Dad. “Where’s her brush?” he would ask, setting us off on a hunt to recover it from under the sofa, behind the side table, or stuck in the hinge of his recliner. Even over the phone, Dad often spent a few minutes describing his cat: “She sleeps by my head and stares at me. It’s crazy.”
“You know, it’s amazing that I love this cat so much,” he often told us over dinner. “When you kids were young, I never paid attention to our pets.”
It was hard not to draw comparisons between my dad’s burgeoning bond with Kitty and the way his relationships with his four children had transformed over the years. Dad was an advertising man in New York City in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. He wrote, produced, and directed TV commercials for clients including Wendy’s, Calgon, and Texaco. With a two-hour round-trip daily commute plus periodic business trips, he was not very involved in our day-to-day lives.
After I became a mom and my mother succumbed to lung cancer, my relationship with Dad truly developed. There were long talks and thoughtful discussions around the dinner table, and later in his apartment while watching Kitty play. He shared recollections of his time in the Solomon Islands during World War II, fond memories of Amherst College, and anecdotes about his relationship with his own parents as an only child. Talking adult to adult, I could better appreciate his triumphs and regrets. He often said, “I may not have been around a lot as a father, but I’m so thankful for all of you kids.”
Kitty number two had been adopted from the shelter with the caveat that I would take her if need be. And while I wasn’t thrilled about the arrangement, I could never have denied my father his feline companionship. Just weeks after his 94th birthday, Dad passed away in hospice care at the local hospital. He had been clearheaded and in good spirits until his final days. All of his children gathered to say goodbye, and I took Kitty home.
My dad was right — she is a funny cat. She sleeps by my head, which I’m not terribly fond of, and I do awake to find her staring at me. Normally, I would be annoyed, but then I remember that she kept my father company in the middle of the night at Carriage Green. I think about how he surely chuckled at the cat’s antics, and how her purring in the dark hours must have been reassuring.
“Thanks for taking care of Dad,” I tell Kitty as I brush her — when I can find the brush.Joyce Alla is a writer and animal shelter volunteer in Marblehead. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the best of the magazine’s award-winning stories and features right in your e-mail inbox every Sunday. Sign up here.