by Heather Bojsza
As I closed the door behind me I said, “See you later kids. Smokey you’re in charge.” That was the routine.
Prior to moving to Vancouver Island my daughter Tiffany and I lived in Whitehorse, Yukon. It was almost 20 years ago when I looked out my kitchen window and saw something in the snow. It was a small grey cat. Winter in the Yukon and coyotes roaming the neighbourhood were going to make life hard on a stray cat. Feeding her wasn’t the solution, so we took her in.
When Tiffany suggested we get Smokey a friend I still wasn’t sure I liked cats and had reservations about having two of them. Reluctantly, though, I agreed. With Smokey in tow we went to the Mae Bachur animal shelter. There we were introduced to a pudgy white male with a pink nose and orange colored head and tail. Smokey ignored him, and when he showed no signs of disliking her, we adopted him. We named him Zack.
At one point when he didn’t appear to be adjusting I contacted the shelter. That was when I found out he’d been abused in his last home, and that was when I knew with certainty that I had room in my life for two cats.
Zack had many issues. I thought cats were quiet, but Zack wasn’t like other cats. He liked to talk – a lot! He was nervous around people and a little less than friendly. He made it clear that he didn’t like to be picked up or held, and showed his disdain when Smokey made it look so easy. He would cower when we tried to pet him. He drooled; had bad gums, no back teeth, and then he had the misfortune of having a front tooth knocked out while wrestling with Smokey. He refused to eat anything but dry cat food, and when he did it was like every meal was his last, until he realized the dish was always full.
Summer in Yukon is incredible, and the additional hours of daylight made it difficult to get the cats to come in for the night. Zack, no longer afraid to go outdoors, started to explore, and more than once his curiosity led to some sort of trouble, like the time he visited the neighbour’s wood pile. He came home with sappy feet which required several washes.
When Tiffany went to university I spent more time with Zack. As his confidence grew so did my admiration for his gentle and agreeable disposition. Every day was a test of courage for him, and as I exposed him to different types of affection and play a bond of trust slowly formed. His eyes were no longer filled with trepidation. They lit up, not with just excitement, but with mischief. Now I was going to see who the real Zack was. His personality and good looks got him selected as Mr. February in the shelter’s cat calendar of adoptees.
As the years passed Zack continued to test his boundaries. Normally, he would sit beside me and press his body as close to mine as possible. Then he’d slowly inch his front paws up on to my leg. That was as far as he would go. Then one day, much to my surprise, he crawled onto my lap, still very unsure, but he stayed. Although it never happened again, it was enough. That moment remains one of my fondest memories.
Smokey passed away after I had moved to Vancouver Island. At the same time Tiffany completed her master’s degree at the University of Victoria and then left for Europe. It was just me and Zack. So he wouldn’t feel alone, I gave him a teddy bear to sleep with. He peed on it.
A few months later I had to take him to the vet. A radiology report revealed he had a diaphragmatic hernia, quite extensive, and possibly the result of a severe blow. His liver and small intestine had moved into his chest. That explained why he was so uncomfortable when being held. Nothing the vet said after that registered. When I finally asked how much time she thought Zack had left, it gave me little comfort when she said it was a miracle that he had survived for 17 years.
Zack passed away in December. The death of both my cats and Tiffany going away in the same year was not just difficult, it was heartbreaking, and I had to adjust to a new concept of being alone.
I buried Zack next to Smokey on my friend’s property in Royston. Although we no longer lived in the Yukon it reminded me of home, with a wilderness appeal that my cats would have liked. As sad as I was, it was comforting to know they were together again. I connected their graves with a piece of white marble and placed a bronze statue of a cat in the middle. It was simple yet elegant, much like my cats.
On Smokey’s one year anniversary I visited my “kids.” The glow of the morning sunlight on the tiny graves reflected what was in my heart. I placed a rose on each grave, told them I loved them and missed them, and as I walked away I turned and said, “See you later kids. Smokey, you’re still in charge.”
Heather Bojsza lived in Whitehorse for 48 years. She now lives in Campbell River.