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L. Neil Smith's
Number 757, February 9, 2014

Very good kitty

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On the Loss of a Friend
by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

My old friend Ambrose has died.

I don't suppose this really concerns anybody but me, but it's my way of dealing with a surprisingly painful event, so please bear with me.

Ambrose was my cat—technically he was an Egyptian Housecat, Felis silvestris catus, as Wikipwedia puts it, a small, usually furry, domesticated, and carnivorous mammal—possibly the best such critter I've ever lived with in a lifetime filled with cats. He was a striped, orangey-yellow tom, of the kind that display an "M" on their forehead over their eyes. Or he was yellowy orange; to give you a better idea, his sister's name was Amber, and his mother's name was Cinnamon.

At over fifteen pounds, long, and lean, he was a big guy (which is what I called him most of the time, although he knew his real name and always came when he was called), very intelligent, affectionate and loving. His green-golden eyes were huge and well capable of speaking volumes.

We acquired Ambrose entirely by accident. Our cat Eris—maybe I'll write about her sometime—had died young, at 13, from a stroke (I hadn't known cats could do that—it was too heartbreaking a thing to describe) and my daughter Rylla, who was six at the time, wanted a new kitten, right away, to fill the hole in her heart that Eris had left. Under the influence of the movie Casper the Friendly Ghost, she asked for an animal she could call "Amber", so we haunted various grocery store bulletin boards until we finally found exactly what she wanted.

The woman was an extremely nice person with a little daughter of her own. We went and saw the litter with their mother, and Rylla picked out the kitten she wanted, one that the present owners called "Squeaky". Then came one of my daughter's first important maturing experiences: she had to wait five weeks until she could take her kitty home.

After what felt to me like an eternity, we finally went and got Amber, who spent the first four hours in our house in my wife Cathy's lap, sleeping, purring, bonding. Only at some point, we discovered that it wasn't really Amber in her lap, but one of the litter's males, to whom Cathy now belonged—and it was obviously mutual—heart and soul.

I called the cat lady, who told me she'd been about to call me. Something made me say, "If your object is to get rid of these kittens, could we keep this one and pick up a female? That was highly agreeable and we did it. Now Rylla truly had her Amber, and Cathy and I had ... Ambrose.

Amber grew up to be half the size of her brother, and I came to love her, although she had an unpleasant voice and was a little on the cranky side. She would chase a laser, though, like a wild thing, while Ambrose looked bored by them. You could always hear her purring from across the room. Eventually I won her over (as I do all cats) although I have a long, thin scar on my thigh where she decided to take off and use me for traction. She died a couple of years ago; we all still miss her.

Very good kitty.

Ambrose ultimately became my cat, more than anybody else's, I think mainly because I'm here in the house most of the time while the girls go to school or work. He slept on our bed until he couldn't get up on it by himself and I figured it was dangerous for him to try to get down. For eighteen years he sat with me and helped me write every damn book I produced from 1996 until the present. He also faithfully "attended" me whenever I was sick, which was an amazing comfort. I've just finished another novel, so I guess he figured it was okay to retire.

Ambrose had hung on after Amber died. I hand-fed and watered him through a couple of nearly fatal illnesses. He was fastidious, and managed to use the box until the day before he died. In the end, he simply withered away—he weighed about a pound when I picked him up to move his body—and simply went to sleep in front of the heat register, without making any kind of a mess, and apparently without pain.

We have two younger cats now—I think that they kept the Old Guy alive longer by annoying him and stirring up his circulation—but I will miss my Ambrose as I have missed no other, possibly excepting Eris. I am no "animal lover" per se. I am a hunter (like Ambrose), an enthusiastic meat-eater (also like Ambrose), and PETA's worst nightmare in the flesh, an articulate, widely-published, and outspoken opponent of the idiotic concept of animal rights. But Ambrose was my friend.

And now he's gone.

And I'm not sure I feel any better.

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