Those Troublesome, Tricky, Stubborn, Wonderful Cats

Love ‘Dem Cats blogger Allison Ruffing shares a touching story about her father’s cats and the comfort they gave her family during a dark time.

- Posted on Oct 8, 2010

“I'm going to need you to help wrangle these cats,” Dad told me. I was in Indiana, and he was down in Florida, talking to me on the phone from his hospital bed. Two days earlier, he'd started coughing blood and been rushed to the emergency room. Diagnostic imaging showed a large tumor in his lung, so we could all imagine what was coming next. Surgery. Chemo. Radiation. I had already started figuring out how to take leave from work.

But none of what we imagined was to be. Two weeks later, the tumor started bleeding again, and Dad's heart stopped. Doctors stabilized him, but he was in a coma, and I dropped everything and got on a plane to Florida.

During the day, my mom, my brother Mike, Mike's wife Nicole and son Caleb, and I sat in Dad's room in the ICU, talking to him and wondering if he could hear us, and talking to the doctors and praying one of them would tell us something we wanted to hear. At night, we went home. Yes, to wrangle those cats!

Mason and Madison were up to their regular tricks, fighting like petulant kittens, dashing across furniture and leaving tufts of fur on the carpet from their brawls. They killed bugs and vomited hairballs. They attacked toes in the middle of the night and lounged on the computer desk, blocking the screen. And they kept a sharp eye on Mom while she tried to unjam their automatic litterbox (yes, they're quite spoiled!), which kept malfunctioning.

“Mason gave me a pretty decent scratch last night,” I told Dad one morning, holding up my wounded finger. “Oh, and he bolted out the back door after a squirrel....”

One evening I flopped down in Dad's favorite recliner, and realized in all the fray we'd missed the premiere of Survivor. Dad loved Survivor—and he'd been looking forward to seeing football coach Jimmy Johnson on the show this season. I tuned it in on Comcast On Demand. Before long, Madison had hopped up to the arm of the chair for a tail rub. Then she scurried away and Mason flopped onto the back of the chair. His tail swished, swished...then flicked me across the neck. Swish. Swish. Flick. This time, across the back of my head. I smiled, in spite of everything. Mom had told me this was Mason's favorite nighttime activity—flicking Dad with his tail while he watched TV.

“That Mason,” I told Dad in the morning. “He must have flicked me in the head 80,000 times during Survivor. Oh, and you won't believe what Jimmy Johnson's strategy is....”

Life went on like this for seven days. Going to the hospital, talking to Dad and updating him on the cats' adventures, visiting with extended family and co-workers who came to see him, drinking coffee, praying and asking people to pray. On the seventh day, after a final grave prognosis from the neurologist, we made the decision to remove Dad's life support. He passed away the next morning.

All of us miss him terribly—especially those two hooligan kitties, who brought us a little light in a dark time, just by doing what cats do.

—Allison Ruffing

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