Pepper first joined our family when he tumbled out of my husband’s work coat on a cold, November evening ten years ago. At first I didn’t know what he was, his dirtied fur resembling a forgotten playground toy. Disease had plastered his eyes shut, and the only indication he lived was the prick of his claws against my palm where he wobbled.
I didn’t think he’d survive the night, but when my husband offered to take him to the pound, I refused. Too small to care for himself, Pepper smelled. I took the tiny being to the bathroom sink, bathed him, and wrapped him in a fluffy towel. We filled a box with dry rags and added a light bulb. His feeble attempts to eat prompted a run to the store for softer food. When I offered the canned goods on the tip of my finger, he proved he had teeth.
The entire process began again the next morning. But nothing I did seemed to improve Pepper’s outlook. He didn’t mewl, he walked like an ancient, and his tail hung lifeless—the picture of depression. I didn’t give him long. But he hung on.
Several days later my husband managed to trap Pepper’s sister. Livelier than her brother, she carried all the traits of a survivor—a cat well on her way to a feral existence. We boxed them together and she took over the care of her brother. But her disdain for us remained.
Pepper, though, perked up. Allowed to explore our house, he bumbled from one room to the next, sniffing. Day ten his tail went up, he mewled, and a touch to his fur brought a purr.
He became an integral part of our family, but was most intrigued with me. When I sat at the computer, he waited at my feet. If I took a nap, he curled in beside me. If I worked in the garden, he trotted alongside. His devotion far surpassed that of any animal I’d ever owned.
One day last week we noticed he didn’t seem himself and planned a visit to the vet. But Pepper had other ideas. He came to me the next morning, wrapped himself around my ankles and caressed me with his tail, then darted out the door. We couldn’t find him anywhere. When we did, he was gone, curled up beneath the window of my bedroom, the one room where he’d spent many an afternoon soaking up the sun. His final act of faithfulness to me.
Our hearts are broken.
ODE TO PEPPER
I have a furry friend with lots of fuzzy charm,
If I doze on the sofa, he waits on the arm.
When I twist my frame for yoga, he stretches on the floor,
If I venture to the restroom, he noses through the door.
I type at the computer while he sleeps at my feet.
A break to the kitchen means he’ll beg for a treat.
While I spade in the garden, he’ll play tiger in a tree,
Anywhere I choose to go, he’s always company.