Bentley, our cat, never came home that night. Or any other night that week. Or since.
Bentley was 15. That’s old, for a cat, and he seemed off during his last two months. He was arthritic; sometimes it hurt to watch him limp up the five steps to the front porch. We knew the end was coming soon, just not this soon.
Two different searches throughout the neighborhood were fruitless. We talked to neighbors and put out a feeler on the homeowners’ association email list. We made two long calls to Henrico County Animal Control. Nothing. No chance to say goodbye.
He may well have decided it was his time and wandered off. “Cats do that, you know,” said numerous people we talked to, including the woman from Animal Control who had driven into our neighborhood. My wife and I had run up the cul-de-sac to corner her. But she wasn’t there to remove an expired cat; she had been called to deal with live little bunnies.
Oh, sometimes Bentley would chase those, before he slowed down. He liked chipmunks, too, and birds. We periodically would find a “present” on the back porch mat (the one my daughter bought that says, “Wipe your paws”).
Bentley was the first and only pet that my daughter and son ever had. I’m not counting Buster, the goldfish who came home with my daughter on the last day of kindergarten. We had to give Buster a two-flush salute that very evening.
Bentley had been the cat of the widow next door. She had inherited Bentley and Benz, his brother, from her daughter. The daughter’s boyfriend had named the two kittens after high-end cars. The daughter’s boyfriend learned he was allergic to cats. He stayed, the two kittens got booted to mom.
The lads lived up to their namesakes’ national identities. Bentley was kind of a stuffy uptight little Englishman and Benz was a jolly fat German fellow prone to eat too much then barf on the deck.
Our kids took care of the two cats when the woman next door was gone; as she acquired a new beau, her absences became more frequent. We had the perfect arrangement – our kids had some pets and we weren’t actually responsible for them.
After the neighbor announced she was remarrying, she held a yard sale. As we were looking through her stuff, she asked, “Paul, would you all like to have Bentley?” (She knew we knew about Benz’s digestive issues).
My kids were right behind me. I couldn’t dash the hopeful looks on their faces. “Of course,” I said, and in July 2005, we became a family of five. Well, four and a half.
When the kids went off to college, Bentley became my wife’s and my responsibility. I would let him out of the garage in the morning after I got up to work. He announced it was time to eat by banging on the screen of my office window. It could be pretty annoying when I was in the middle of writing something.
We resisted the idea of becoming “cat people,” but caring for the cat became a regular ritual. You could talk to the cat while you glopped out his salmon florentine. He got so excited at the sound of the can opener (Tuna!) that it just felt good to give another being that much joy. He was a presence in our house, another soul, a family member who didn’t say much, even to complain.
Except when it rained. Bentley despised rain. He made a specific noise – a plaintive unhappy wail – when it rained. Translation: “It’s raining. I hate it. Make it stop.”
He wasn’t a playful cat. Toys were a waste of money. But he would jump in your lap when you were watching TV and “make biscuits,” kneading with his paws to get his spot just right. Then he would circle around three or four times and settle in. His little motor would run until you had to stand up because your leg had gone to sleep.
He was an outdoor cat who usually came in at night to sleep in the garage. The moment when either my wife or I would let him in signaled the close of the day. The entire first week he was gone, I went out on the front porch three or four times in the evening. Each time I came in alone.
Give my son the last word, from a post he put on Facebook: “RIP Bentley. You were…well, you were kind of crotchety and a little lame at times but you were still my kitty and I’ll miss you.”