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Andrew Wiener, Oakland

Pude the Wonder Cat

Even people who didn't like cats delighted in Pude. Many came to love him — his alternately plucky, joyful, and serene nature — and that something special, soulful in his eyes. Pude was a bona-fide bliss-ball, a dyed-in-the-wool ecstato-cat. As soon as I awoke, I'd see him sitting there beside me, patiently waiting for me to open my eyes, gazing at me with his huge, expressive peridot peepers. He'd then immediately bestow on me his unique, daily brand of good-morning greeting: He'd bound onto my chest and ardently rub my nose back and forth three times with his Eskimo-style kiss, and then lick my nose several times. I came to call this "shnurfling." My other two cats, Pinky and Homes, were affectionate, too, but neither did Eskimo kisses.

Pude never cried or complained. So when I thought I heard him crying around four one morning, awaking me from a feverish flu-fueled haze, at first I thought I was dreaming and went back to sleep. Several minutes later, there was that sound again, rousing me, but again I dozed off.

I'd closed my bedroom door that night to keep the cats out. I needed an undisturbed night's sleep to get over the flu. But my bedroom was in the colder part of the house, and the main heat source was a big floor grate on the other side. So I left the heat on that night, hoping some might seep through the crack under the door.

Then I was awakened a third time. The clock said 4:23 a.m. Pude was crying — it was unmistakable — and scratching frantically on my bedroom door. I finally roused myself, thinking he must be sick or hurt. As I opened the door, I saw Pude doing the strangest behavior I'd ever seen. He emphatically turned his head to the side several times, as if painting. I looked in the direction of his paint, just as a strange odor filled my nostrils. A large, matted print had fallen from the wall onto the big floor-grate. It was surrounded by smoke and bursting into flames. I doused the flames, took Pude in my arms, and thanked him. The other two cats had skedaddled out the cat door, but he stayed — and saved me. If not for him, by the time the fire would have invaded my room, it would have been too late. The day before, the smoke alarm beeped its need for a new battery, but I hadn't replaced it yet and just disengaged the alarm.

After that Pude, a name that was originally short for "Puddha," became "Pudini the Wonder Cat." A few years later, when he was fourteen, Pude got sick. After two vet visits, I took him to a specialist, who uttered terrible words. He said Pude was in his last days; there were tumors in his intestines. He said I should get ready to say good-bye.

Back at home, Pude and I tuned into each other, as we often did. I got the clear feeling that this didn't need to be the end, and that Pude felt that way too. He still had so much spirit and spunk. So I did all I could to help him get better, starting gradually to monitor the effect. I adjusted his diet, gave him herbs, applied a plant balm, and tried to encourage wellness with my hands. After a week or so, Pude showed signs of improvement, so I continued. In another few weeks, he seemed totally well. I gradually reduced all ministrations but the adjusted nutrition, and I waited. After two months with no signs of illness, I took Pude back to the specialist, who took more ultrasounds. He came back and said that the first sonograms must have been defective — because there was nothing there.

But when he was twenty, Pude got really sick, and this time several organs were involved. He got so sick that there was no denying — it was time. He decline suddenly became marked, and I called the vet, asking if she could come over to help him on his way. In his own way, Pude had let me know; and for two days he had been too weak even to schnurfle.

As we waited for the vet, I held Pude on my belly and expressed my thanks, love, good-bye, and so much more. Then, with his last bit of strength, he lifted himself forward, reaching his face toward mine. I pulled him closer and bent my head forward. Pude then gave me, one last time, three Eskimo kisses and four loving licks. It was his last act. A moment later, he was gone.

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