Portrait of a Cat as a Young (and Old) Feline

Haiku is a cat’s cat… a feline who did things on her own terms, in her own good time. But when she turned her attention to something, she did it with great gusto and clamored to be the center of attention.

Haiku was already an adult cat about 4 years old when she and Laika came to live with us from the Tierheim Kaiserslautern in 1997. They were littermates but never did get along — they simply tolerated each other and vied constantly for primary attention from their human housemates. When 2-year-old Kiowea joined the househould in 2007, shortly after Laika died, he tried for months to befriend his 14-year-old housemate. Kio soon learned to just give Haiku her space. Or else.

Haiku was clearly the Alpha Cat, getting first pick of prime viewing spots wherever she found herself, whether it was a new home, a vacation rental or hotel; helping herself to treats and her feline mates’ water and food; even hogging catnip toys to use as a pillow in the sun.

She had the soul of an adventurer and the cunning of the most accomplished secret agent — on the rare days this indoor cat was allowed outdoors, she would innocently sniff around the areas she knew she was allowed to go, nibbling on grass as she went. But as soon as she sensed the human eye was distracted, she made a bee-line for the hole in the fence or the open gate. If she got away, she wandered around until she got tired or bored then sat in one place, confident that someone was looking for her, until she was found.

Here she is “high” on fresh snipped oregano (which she liked as much as catnip) that she stole from my herb basket. She also loved the smell of new leather, freshly washed hair, and (true to her contrariness) smelly feet!

But through it all, she was fiercely protective of everyone and everything in “her domain” — until recenty, she made nightly rounds of house, checking each window and going in and out of each room with a sleeping occupant. One night during the period when my mother was recovering from brain surgery and undergoing chemo and radiation therapy while staying with us in Hawaii, I was awakened by Haiku’s loud and insistent mewling by our bedside. It was a sound we had not heard her make before. Once she saw we were awake, she strode into my mother’s room, still mewling. I ran to get her so she wouldn’t wake my mother, but instead found my mom awake and trying to reach the small rubber duck she used to call for assistance. Her voice was weakened by the surgery and treatments, and was only a whisper — so she would squeeze the duck to let us know when she needed something. That night the duck had fallen to the floor and she couldn’t reach it nor could she raise herself from the bed alone to waken anyone. As I helped her out of bed, I realized Haiku was already gone, presumably to finish the rest of her nightly rounds after accomplishing her mission…

This past Friday evening, this fiercely independent spirit again did things just her way. After a long leisurely day of napping, she woke to request (loudly! of course) her evening dinner and polished it off with relish, then went to check out her two favorite lookout spots at the front and back windows. Apparently satisfied, she then snuck into our bedroom closet — a place she knew she was not supposed to be — and took her final journey in peace and quiet.

There is a cold place at the foot of my bed now, and a sense of disbelief that a small 7lb. creature could leave such a big hole in a home and a heart. But we let her go knowing that she lived a full life in her 16-17 years — she traveled from her home in Germany to vacations in France, and to new homes in Boston and Oahu and now D.C.; she harassed, cajoled, bossed around and charmed her housemates, visiting family & friends, veterinarians, and caregivers throughout her reign; and she was always loved.

Haiku in her favorite sunspot on Oahu