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Reflections on the Passing of Dallas the Cat (1987)

Reflections on the Passing of Dallas the Cat (1987)

©1987 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (1987). Reflections on the passing of Dallas the Cat. Unpublished essay.

 Thumbnail Photo: Dallas the Cat





Reflections on the Passing of Dallas the Cat

By Dallas Denny


I should tell you right from the start that I’m a dog person. Dogs are easy to please and eager to please, and I like that. Cats— cats are just cats. I don’t dislike cats, you understand. They are sensual, and soft, and often beautiful. I even get along with them, after a fashion; cats and I generally come to terms within a week or so. The way I do that is by being as self-centered as the cat. If the cat is sitting where I want to sit, I unceremoniously pick it up and move it. If the cat sticks its head in the refrigerator and I want to close the door, it is placing itself at risk. Typically, I worry about myself, and let the cat worry about itself. Cats, after all, don’t worry about me.

But cat people are different. The relationship between a cat and its people is a strange and wondrous thing. I recently spent a year in a house with a pampered cat and two cat fanciers. One of these people was Wendy. Wendy is— was— my fiancee. I suppose she likes me somewhat, but when she made low noises in the back of her throat and talked in baby talk about physical attractiveness, it wasn’t me to whom she was speaking. She was chatting up the cat. It was especially confusing because the cat had the same name as me— Dallas. No, I’m not named after the cat. The cat, surprisingly enough, is named after me.

The other cat person was Lorrell, Wendy’s mother. Lorrell was the primary cattaker. Every morning, she would arise at 4:30 at the cat’s request and would take it outside and walk up and down the hill in the frost or the dew while Dallas did his cat-business (Dallas was a female, you understand; but early in his life, it was assumed he was a male, and by the time it was demonstrated otherwise, it was difficult to call him her).

Every Saturday Lorrell would eat a lunch of fast-food fish. I suppose she likes fish, but the important thing to her was that Dallas liked it. Dallas was a fussy eater. In terms of pickiness, Dallas the cat was somewhere to the political right of Morris. He would ordinarily eat tuna and fried chicken, but he lived for Thanksgiving. He could polish off the best part of a baked turkey breast. Dallas was an epicure, yes, but his tastes occasionally ran to the plebian. It was not unheard of for him to polish off an entire bowl of the Friskies Lorrell kept on the porch for the street-people cats who lived catch-as-cat-can in the neighborhood.

Dallas spent his kittenhood with the street-people cats. He showed up on Lorrell’s porch one morning, a bedraggled brindle ball of fur with sore eyes. I wasn’t around at the time, but Wendy kept me informed of the cat’s progress via the telephone. “A new kitten showed up today. It’s so pretty! We fed it.” “It was so cold, we let the kitten sleep in the kitchen. But we’re not going to let it in anymore.” “Its name is Dallas. Mama named it that because when she scolded it because tried to scratch her. For some reason it reminded her of you.” “Dallas moved in for good last night. We couldn’t let the poor thing stay outside. It’s winter!” “Dallas has the cutest pink nose! You should see it give itself its little bath.” In short order, Dallas became the centerpiece of the family.

Perhaps because of his early upbringing, and perhaps just because he was a cat, Dallas kept people at a distance. Although he eventually came to like and expect a nightly brushing, he didn’t like to be petted. He enjoyed lying beside Lorrell on the arm of her recliner, or curling up in the bed beside Wendy whenever she took a nap, but he refused to look at any of us directly, instead staring steadfastly over our shoulders, gazing into space. To a large extent, people were objects which were somehow able to open the refrigerator door or open cans of Fancy Feast. They were to be manipulated.

If ever a cat was pampered, Dallas was that cat. When Lorrell brought him into the house after his early-morning romps, she would dry his little feet and the low-hanging fur on his belly (Wendy always claimed he was part Persian). All he had to do was look at a chair, and Wendy or Lorrell would vacate it, leaving a warm spot for him. He would look indignantly at Wendy when she returned from a shopping trip empty-handed, and she would go back to the car, drive away, and return with broiled fish.

Dallas lived the life of Riley for about four years. And then he became ill. While the yard cats were raising litters of kittens which survived the surprising cold Tennessee winters inside hollow logs or under houses, getting drenched by cold winds, and braving the neighborhood dogs, Dallas, who was never exposed to a chill breeze, had to be rushed on several occasions to the veterinarian. I suspected the worst far earlier than did Wendy and Lorrell. There was no reason for the cat to have pneumonia and other recurrent infections in the middle of the summer. Although I kept it to myself, I feared Dallas’ days were numbered.

For several months, Dallas’ health fluctuated. He would lose his appetite and his normally glossy coat would become dull and lackluster. Then he would seemingly recover, only to have a relapse a week or two later. The cost of trips to the vet was, of course, no object. Dallas had always had the best of care— leukemia shots, multivitamins, you name it. Dallas would spend a day or two visiting the vet, then return home. But on his last trip to the animal hospital, Dallas did not come home. He passed away one Saturday night. His internal organs just quit functioning. Suddenly, Dallas’ natural dignity was replaced by the ignominy of death. He was no longer a cat- just a little gray-and-white lump of unmoving flesh.

But this isn’t a story so much about Dallas the cat as it is a story about grief. Wendy and Lorrell were hit hard by Dallas’ death. It was almost as if a child had died. Their grief was all the worse because of the death a year earlier of their other cat, Janie Louise. Janie Louise had been adopted at the same time as Dallas, and she had developed leukemia in her third year. Dallas’ death was a painful repeat of Janie’s. The house was suddenly catless.

Those of you who have lost a beloved pet in the prime of its life will understand the extent of their grief. And mine. For although I have said I am a dog person, even dog people can love cats. And although I would have never told him to his face, I loved that rascal Dallas.

Konrad Lorenz once wrote that the tragedy of loving dogs is their life spans and ours are mismatched; one human will outlive four to six generations of canines. This is just as true of cats. We must all understand that cute kitten will one day be a dignified old Tom with arthritis. We must all decide whether the pain we will feel at the demise of our pet is worth the joy it has given us throughout its life. No kitten or puppy will replace the loss of our dear pet, of course, but we all eventually consider entering into another relationship with a cat or dog. Although we still feel sorrow, we succumb to the affirmation of life inherent in a kitten or a puppy.

Wendy and Lorrell are burying their cat today. It’s too early for them to think about getting another pet. But in three months, or in six, perhaps they will chance across a kitten and see there the joy of life, and decide to take that chance.