On February 11 we lost our beloved Maine coon, Rosencrantz. Rosey was a big cat who lived a big life. Fourteen years is a reasonable old age for a cat, but it seems our animal friends always leave us far too soon.
Rosey came to live with me and my former husband in August of 1999. He simply showed up on our back stoop, an adorable kitten of about six or seven months. (Click on any photo to enlarge.)
He wasn’t a bit afraid of our boxer, Paisley, which totally confounded her. She didn’t know what to make of a cat who wouldn’t run away.
We discovered that this little kitten had made a nest in long grass beneath one of our rose bushes, so we named “her” Rosey. (Rosey was so furry that we missed some important evidence.) Our vet informed us “Congratulations–it’s a boy!” But the name Rosey stuck. As he grew, his name grew, too. “Rosencrantz” matched his stature and bearing, but he was always Rosey to his friends.
Rosey quickly bonded to us and to his new boxer buddy. Paisley and Rosey became fast friends, often cuddling together in bed. During his fourteen years, Rosey befriended three boxers (and taught them all to love cats), but I think Paisley was his favorite.
A cushy home life wasn’t enough for this cat. Within a few months, he’d gone out and gotten himself a job at the union hall office across the street. For reasons we’ll never know, Rosey decided he was part of the office staff. For thirteen years, Monday through Friday, Rosey steadfastly reported for work at the International Union of Operating Engineers, Seattle Local 286. He’d wait until one of his staff got out of the car, then trot excitedly with them to the door, tail held high in glee. Like clockwork, he always came home for lunch and snack breaks, then walked back to work. He spent hours helping Terry, the attorney, by holding down papers on his desk or keeping his chair warm while Terry patiently sat elsewhere.
When some of the staffers stepped outside for smoke breaks or to chat in the sun, Rosey facilitated the meetings, proudly strutting amongst his staff and looking very much in charge. When Terry retired, Rosey took a new position in lobby and parking lot security, but his union loyalty never waned.
Weekends and holidays were disappointing, as the office was closed. Rosey still showed up promptly, only to sit forlornly in the parking lot, waiting for his peeps … until he’d give up and wander home.
One day I discovered a new tag on Rosey’s collar. His union buddies had given him a small enameled charm with the union number and logo on it. A journeyman at last! Rosey proudly wore his union tag for the rest of his life.
Adjacent to the union office is a warehouse where a local vocational college runs an HVAC training program. In the summer when the roll-up doors stood open, Rosey often pulled a double shift, working in the office during the day, then helping the instructors teach evening classes. Many times I’d catch a glimpse of his backside as he scampered up the stairs to the classroom. Everyone knew him and he basked in their attention. That union tag on his collar earned him a lot of respect.
When he was a youngster, Rosey was fond of riding in the car. I’d take him for short hops, like to the grocery store a few blocks away. People stared in amazement at the car with two boxers in the back seat and a large cat on the dashboard. One day a loud motorcycle frightened him, and Rosey decided car rides were no longer for him. However, he didn’t lose his sense of adventure or curiosity about cars. More than once, one of his coworkers discovered they had an extra passenger on their trip home. Thankfully, they always turned around and brought him back. And then there was the day that Eric and I hauled a trailer-load of belongings to a storage unit about a mile away. When we peeled the tarp off the load, we were horrified to find a slightly disoriented Rosencrantz blinking in the sun!
And more than once, Rosey spent all weekend at work because the staff locked the doors on Friday night, not knowing he was sleeping in some quiet corner. Eventually they added his name to the in/out board just to make sure he clocked out on time.
About a decade ago I became serious about gardening and landscaping. It was Rosey who taught me that gardens aren’t just for humans—they’re also for cats. He enjoyed his mini-jungles and he helped us care for them. Whenever Eric and I worked in the yard, Rosey was always there, supervising and keeping us company, and greeting passers-by. He knew more people in the neighborhood than we did.
Besides being a natural supervisor, Rosey was the feline patriarch of the neighborhood. Imposing in size, but never aggressive with other cats, he simply commanded respect. He was King Coon, a kind and benevolent ruler. The other six cats in his household never crossed him. He could shut them down with a mere scowl. He also used that scowl to stop traffic as he sat squarely in the middle of the street.
One of his favorite games was leading me on a merry chase down the street on summer nights, trotting two paces in front of me until he finally allowed me to “catch” him and carry him home. He’d growl menacingly as we neared the door, sometimes boxing my ears or biting my arm, trying to startle me into letting go. Nice try, Rosencrantz. He never bit hard enough to hurt. It was all for show. He knew it, and he knew I knew it.
Rosey was never one to hide his feelings. If we didn’t let him have his way, he told us exactly how he felt with a salty vocabulary of huffs and hisses. That cat could curse like a longshoreman! And grooming? Maine coons need to be brushed, but brushing Rosey was like grooming a wolverine. During the summer he matted up something fierce, so a few times I had him shaved. As long as he kept his leonine mane, bushy britches, and fabulous tail, he seemed to take it in stride.
As Rosey hit middle age, he developed high blood pressure and for the rest of his life took daily medication (just like his parents). We didn’t realize that high blood pressure in cats can cause blindness. But before long we did notice that the reflective inner surface of his right eye had changed … and it wasn’t long before he was blind in that eye. He seemed to adjust fine to monovision, but soon something else developed. Rosey had glaucoma, and it could not be controlled. He was grumpy with a migraine-like headache from the ocular pressure. The only solution was to remove his painful eye. Although the surgery seemed drastic and disfiguring, as he healed and his hair grew back in he gained a jaunty, pirate air. And best of all, he immediately regained his old personality.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Rosey once more became grumpy and stopped eating. Tests confirmed pancreatitis, which has a poor prognosis. The news got worse: an ultrasound revealed tumors throughout his abdomen—aggressive pancreatic cancer. There was nothing that could be done. We were devastated. It was Wednesday. Only a week before, I thought Rosey was a healthy cat. I made arrangements for our vet to come to our house on Friday and put him to sleep. We needed a little time to come to grips with this news.
The next day I bundled Rosey in a towel and took him across the street to say goodbye to his union hall friends. They were wondering what was wrong because Rosey never missed work. I left him there to visit as long as he wanted. He stayed for half an hour, then one of his coworkers walked him home.
When Friday dawned, Rosey was lying under the bed. I sat down to work at my desk by the dining room window. I glanced across the street and was shocked to see that Rosey had slipped out the dog door and was resolutely walking to work! He was determined to say goodbye on his own terms. He stayed all morning and took his time walking home in the sunshine. Eric and I decided this was not his day to die. Instead, I took him the vet to have 750 ml of fluid (the equivalent of a bottle of wine!) drawn from his abdomen. We knew he’d only be with us for a few more days, but I wanted him to be as comfortable as possible.
That last brave visit to his office took all the strength Rosey had left. He deteriorated rapidly over the weekend. Monday morning, though, I found him once again lying by the back door, thinking about going to work. I carried him to a kitty bed on the window seat where he could rest and gaze across the street at his beloved office. He could no longer walk. Our vet arrived, and we said our final goodbyes as she sent our amazing cat off on his next adventure.
After 13 years of watching Rosey hold court at the union hall, I still expect to see him in the parking lot, keeping an eye on his business and his house, ready to come flying home if I wave at him. I miss his warm, woolly body curled in the crook of my arm at night, his Harley-Davidson purr and his squeaky-toy meow, and his unvarnished opinions. I’ll always admire his unfailing sense of purpose, the loyalty he showed his friends and family, and how he lived life his way, right up to the end.
I like to think he is taking a summer stroll with his old friends Paisley and Dodger, just as he often accompanied us on neighborhood walks. We’ll miss you dearly, Rosencrantz Coon. You will always be in our hearts. Happy travels, little friend.