Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dobby the House Cat: 2003 - 2017

When my wife and I first met Dobby in the spring of 2003, he was going by the name Rhumba. He was a six-week old orange tabby cat living in a small enclosure at the Arizona Animal Welfare League in Phoenix. When we first saw him he was playing in his own litterbox and repeatedly hitting himself in the head. He was a tiny, furry, adorable, klutzy kitten and perfect for the Schwartzberg household. We renamed him Dobby (after the house elf of Harry Potter fame) and brought him home to meet our black cat, Squeakers, who was then 11 years old.

Squeakers did not particularly get along with Dobby in the beginning, as she was used to being the only pet in the household for a few years. Also, in cat years, Squeakers was old enough to be Dobby’s grandma, so she just wanted to quietly go about her business without being bothered. Dobby, on the other hand was a frenetic fur-ball of energy who always wanted to play. He was constantly running too fast for his own good, which made him slide across our laminate floor while he desperately tried to gain traction and inevitably knocked into a wall or door.

As a kitten, Dobby got into every nook and cranny in the house, and would often relax inside one of my shoes. He also had an odd penchant for computer hacking and would jump up on my keyboard when I stepped out of the room, whereupon my return I would see ominous messages on my screen like “Are you sure you want to delete Windows?” (It was at this point that I began shutting down my computer if I knew I’d be away from it for more than a minute.)

Dobby demanded attention—especially from those who did not want to give it to him. My mother never liked house pets, although she had tolerated Squeakers because of that cat’s very calm demeanor. When my mom came out to Arizona for a visit not long after we got Dobby she was terrified of him, because of his rambunctious ways. She did her best to ignore Dobby and we tried our best to keep him at bay, but one morning I simply wasn’t fast enough. I was sitting at my computer (making sure it wasn’t getting cat-hacked) when I heard the unmistakable sound of Dobby sprinting across our floor. I looked up to see him making a beeline for my mom, who was sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper. She was sitting in such a way that the newspaper was fully blocking her view of the oncoming feline. I jumped up from my chair to try to stop him, but it was too late. In one swift motion Dobby leapt across the kitchen table and swatted the newspaper out of my mom’s hands. My mom screamed, “He’s attacking me! He’s attacking me!” although Dobby didn’t touch her beyond forcibly moving the newspaper from her grip. He never did anything like that before or after and I’m sure it was simply his way of saying to my mom, “I will NOT be ignored!”

Everything I just described happened prior to my wife and I having human children. But in the fall of 2006, when our first son was born, things changed a bit for the cats. Suddenly the amount of attention the cats got decreased significantly, as did their access to certain parts of the house at certain hours of the day. It was around this time that Squeakers and Dobby finally started getting along, or more accurately, conspiring.

One day, a couple of months after the baby was born, I was walking down the hallway when I encountered Squeakers standing in front of the bathroom, meowing. When I locked eyes with her, she walked into the bathroom, looking over her shoulder, as though I should follow, which I did. When I was fully in the bathroom I noticed the door began closing and when I turned around I saw, to my astonishment, Dobby on his hind legs closing the door shut with his front legs. As I watched, slack-jawed, Dobby fully closed the door and the two cats just looked up at me as though to say, “Now that we’ve trapped you in the bathroom, you must give us attention.” I made sure to pet them both a lot before exiting that room slowly.

Sadly, in the spring of 2007, at the age of 15, Squeakers passed away, making Dobby the household’s sole pet. While clearly out of sorts for a while, Dobby eventually adjusted well to being a solo cat and spent most of his time hunting for pipe cleaners and scorpions. Fortunately, pipe cleaners are more abundant in our house and Dobby loved nothing more than batting one around for 5 to 10 minutes before picking it up in his mouth and dropping it into his water dish. If he was feeling particularly crafty he would first drop it in the water dish and then pick it back up and drop it in his food dish. There were lots of messes to clean up.

As for hunting scorpions, this was luckily a very infrequent service that Dobby would provide. A few times over the years he would spot one crawling around and would mess with it until one of us noticed and searched frantically for a blunt object (generally a hammer) with which to smash the creature to bits. Dobby always looked disappointed after the scorpion’s execution and would shoot us a look as if to say, “Hey, man, you wrecked my toy.” But then he would find a pipe cleaner and all would be okay again.

In the summer of 2016, after almost ten years of being a one-cat household, we got a second cat, named Ping. Although not a kitten, at three years old, Ping was (and is) a youthful cat. Dobby, who was 13 at the time and set in his ways, was not amused by the new addition. The cats avoided each other for days and when they did start to interact, it was mostly hissing and swatting. Eventually they tolerated each other and Dobby, once the young upstart, now played the role of the curmudgeonly elder. He wore this role well.

The end, of course, is not fun to talk about, but in May of 2017 it was time for Dobby to join Squeakers and all the other great cats that came before him. In his prime, Dobby was a big, muscular, mischievous cat and that is how I will always remember him—proudly swatting newspapers, playing with pipe cleaners and defending the household against scorpions.

He was well-loved and will be well-missed.