RB Gremlin

10 March 1990 - 5 August 2003

I wrote the following on the morning of August 5, 2003, and posted it to my LiveJournal.  I have modified it slightly and put it here to replace my web site as a tribute to my best friend, Gremlin.

The vet called me this morning just as I was walking up the sidewalk to go in to my office and told me that when they came in this morning and checked on Gremlin, he had passed away at some point during the night. He was in a comfortable position and didn't look at all distressed, so Dr. Ricky is fairly sure he went peacefully.

What hurts so much is that he went alone.

Gremlin had a heart murmur. Dr. Ricky first told me about it 4 years ago when we moved to Atlanta. It was mild and he said that it eventually would cause problems, but not for years. Then, Gremlin developed hyperthyroidism, which basically means that his metabolism sped up too much. His heart pumped faster, his blood flowed faster, his kidneys worked faster, etc. But since the heart was damaged, the faster metabolism caused it to age faster than it would otherwise have done. The increased blood flow caused by the hyperthyroidism actually caused the murmur to go away for a while.

Then we started medicating him for the thyroid problem and the blood flow got back to normal...and the heart problem came back with a vengeance.  His kidneys were also damaged, and it was the ongoing problems of chronic renal failure (CRF) that I was mentally preparing myself for after the initial examination on Monday morning.

Dr. Ricky thinks that Gremlin's poor heart just finally couldn't take any more, and that's why he was panting and sitting oddly and not eating. He just wasn't feeling 'right.'

I guess it did help to type that because, as Dr. Ricky said, at least I know it wasn't something I did--in fact, we were just trying to help him.

But now I have my memories.

Tiny little newborn kitten with his eyes and ears pinched tightly shut hissing and spitting as only a kitten can....

4-week old kitten boldly going out of the box where he and his mother and three siblings lived and looking around completely unafraid. Spokeskitten of the entire litter.

The look of relief on a tiny, furry face as the flea medicine started to work and the dozens of fleas infesting his tiny body started to die or leave.

The look on Stacy's face (Stacy was my next-door-neighbor who took Gremlin's mother and all four kittens in just after they were born) when she told me she needed a home for the last kitten, because the guy she'd lined up fell through, and how I said yes mostly because she asked me.

The feel of that tiny little guy in my hand. His whole body fit in my one hand.

Him lying flat on his back asleep in my lap, all four pink paws up, in an attitude of complete trust, occasionally kneading the air or making little sucking noises as he "dreamed."

Waking up to find a kitten nursing on my earlobe, kneading my face with his little paws, and purring as he 'nursed.'

Playing 'elevator.'  He was so young, and he didn't know he was a cat and could climb and jump, so he'd crawl up onto my shoe and I'd raise my leg parallel to the floor with him balanced on my shoe and he'd walk up my leg to get into my lap.

How he stayed within 3 feet of me at all times for the first few weeks of our lives together.

How he made his 'first kill.'  My mother and her friend Peggy were at my apartment visiting and we all had sandwiches from Subway. Peggy had a 6-inch Turkey sandwich. I had my back turned working on the computer while Peggy and my mother ate and watched TV. Next thing I know, I hear Peggy exclaiming, and I turned around in time to see Gremlin with the entirety of the meat of Peggy's sandwich in his mouth, dragging it across the floor with it between his front legs like a leopard with a dead antelope. I accused Peggy of having given it to him, saying, "I was trying to keep him from getting used to people food!" Peggy said, "He TOOK my SANDWICH! Just crawled up here, grabbed the end, tugged until all the meat came out, growled, and ran off with it! Don't accuse me of giving him anything!" He always loved turkey from that day.

How he got the name 'Gremlin.'  It was soon after he stole Peggy's sandwich.  He had been getting more and more rough when he played, and I just assumed it was a natural part of his personality.  When he'd bite me, it would hurt instead of being cute, and when he used his claws, it was with more vigor than he had before.  (More on this in a moment.)  During another visit, he was getting rough with Peggy and she said to me, "You must have fed him after midnight or something.  He's a regular gremlin."  The name stuck.  He bore a superficial resemblance to Gizmo the Mogwai in the movie Gremlins, but Gizmo was so not his personality.  Gremlin, however, was.  Now...why did he get so aggressive?  Turns out my friends who I'd sometimes leave at my apartment for a while alone with Gremlin while I was out doing something else (it's been a long time...I don't remember what) thought it was cute to play with Gremlin while wearing thick, leather work gloves.  So Gremlin got the impression that he could chomp on anyone as hard as he liked and it wouldn't hurt.  Or that he could try to disembowel everyone's hands with his furiously kicking hind feet, and it wouldn't hurt.  They also instilled in him the idea that when someone turned onto their back in submission (which to a cat means "Whoa! Okay! Stop! I give! You win!"), it meant "Attack them now!"  Other cats would have nothing to do with him because he would attack them even after they gave in.  Once I found out my friends were doing this, I put an end to it, but it was too late.  He was "ruined" for life. :)  [And no, I don't hold a grudge.  He wouldn't have been Gremlin without those personality traits.]

The first time he visited my mother's house and realized that he was a cat.  My mother has a cat, Babes, who is a little older than Gremlin. She was a feral rescue. Gremlin was about 4 months old. Gangly and teenaged. He was utterly fascinated by Babes. He followed her around everywhere she went. She'd hiss at him and he'd just look at her. She'd slap him and he'd just lie on the floor and look at her. Finally, she jumped up on the counter to get away. I could see it in his eyes. "Whoa. I wish I could do that! Wait a second. She's a cat...I'm a cat...she jumped up there...which means...." *leap* He walked around on counters and tables and such from that day forward.

The night he saw "another cat" in the dark sliding glass door and attacked his own reflection, then got really frightened because another cat was attacking him back!

The day he leaped off the balcony. I put him on my second-floor balcony because he loved the fresh air, but I didn't want him "outside." It never entered my head that the stupid cat would jump off, but he did. When I realized he wasn't on the balcony, I panicked and ran downstairs...to find him calmly and with fascination sniffing the grass (a new sensation!).

Gremlin's first Christmas. I decided to put up a Christmas tree. I got a real tree, put it in the holder, added water, then got out the decorations I had bought and laboriously and meticulously hung them all on the tree. Gremlin was watching, quietly and intently, from nearby the entire time. I finished the tree and went into the kitchen for something. I was gone...MAYBE one minute. I hear a crash. I go back into the living room where I find Gremlin rummaging around in the now-horizontal tree, playing with the ornaments. There are pine droppings and water all over the carpet. But it was a great adventure for him. He "undecorated" the tree a time or two more before he lost interest. But in all the time I had him, we could never wrap presents with bows. Bows were just too much of a temptation for a frisky cat. And the bottom 2 feet or so of the tree (Gremlin was a LONG cat) always had to stay undecorated.

"Gremlin's Big Adventure." I came home from work one day to find him missing. He ALWAYS sat in the window waiting for me to come home, then met me at the door. But not this day. He wasn't ANYWHERE in the apartment. I panicked and ran outside and started calling for him. Right about this time, Peggy and my mother drove up and saw how upset I was. My mother took me in while Peggy called for Gremlin. He came immediately. He was COVERED in red clay and grease, and had apparently spent most of the day rooting around in the kudzu. He didn't want out for months after that.  [It was surmised that the maintenance crew had "accidentally" let him out when they came in to do something in my apartment.]

He loved him some catnip.  As the picture at the top of this page will attest, Gremlin loved catnip.  When I'd sprinkle some of the dried leaf on his cat tree, he'd go insane rolling around in it and licking it.  He got rather "free" with his claws and would swipe at anything remotely resembling a toy.  Like your hand.  If he heard the catnip bag open from anywhere in the house, he came running.  But his antics with the dried herb was nothing compared to how he reacted to the fresh product.  He'd eat it like salad while gripping the stem in one paw, but before that, he'd rub it against his head until his fur turned slightly green.  Afterwards, he'd sleep the sleep of the drugged for quite a while.

How he taught me to fetch. He had a rabbit's foot as a toy. He carried it around everywhere, tossing it, batting it around...it was slimy and disgusting. But he loved it. One day, I was sitting in the living room watching TV. I had my shoes off. Gremlin was nearby, playing with his disgusting toy. Suddenly, I look down, and he has put the thing into my shoe and is rooting around trying to get it out. Disgusted, I reach down and pull it out and toss it away. He brings it back. Puts it in my shoe. I throw it. He brings it back. I guess we taught each other. He did this for a few years, until he was 6 or 7 years old. One time (and only once), I was telling someone about how he could fetch and they didn't believe me. So, jokingly, I said, "Gremlin, go get your rabbit's foot!" and he ran out of the room like a shot. A few seconds later, he came back, with the foot in his mouth, and he dropped it onto my foot. The expression on my friend's face was worth Gremlin never doing it again.

Gremlin's nervous tic. Gremlin liked to destroy furniture. One day, I had just bought a water pistol to use to 'discourage' this behavior. I filled it up and put it next to my chair. Later, Gremlin comes in and goes up to the new couch, flexes his paws, puts his freshly extracted claws on the couch. I carefully picked up the water pistol. I aimed...and JUST as I fired, he must have seen something out of the corner of his eye, because he turned his head to look at me. And the cold stream of water hit him SQUARELY in his left eye. From then on, all you had to do was show him a gun-shaped anything and his left eye would start to twitch.  Don't tell me cats have no memory.

Gremlin's first dog. My friend Phil wanted to see if I could keep his dog Max while they were on vacation. I didn't know. Gremlin had never seen a dog. So Phil brought Max over. It...didn't go well. Max was a bouncy-bouncy poodle who wanted nothing more than to play with Gremlin. Gremlin, however, thought Max was a creature from another world. He leaped onto my glass-top dining room table, fluffed his tail out to full fluff, raised all the fur along the ridge of his backbone, and began to make growling sounds and hissing. Max, of course, thought this was fun, so he started to bark. Poor Gremlin.

Gremlin: Bug Hunter Extraordinaire.  I loathe spiders.  Really.  I also hate crane flies, but not as much as spiders.  Spiders are evil creatures from another dimension sent to terrorize this one.  Crane flies are from another dimension, but they're not evil.  Anyway, I used to encourage Gremlin to catch any crane flies that came in with me when I'd come home from work.  There would inevitably be at least a couple because it's the south and it's summer and it's damp.  At any rate, it became something of a game for me to point at the offending insect and Gremlin to hunt it down and kill it.  But there were always a few intrepid members of the insect sect that figured out if they flew high, his highness couldn't catch them.  Until, that is, we figured out the tandem approach.  I'd let Gremlin destroy all of the crane flies at floor level, then I'd pick him up and support his back feet with both hands and hold him up to the wall to reach the ones that were ceiling-huggers.  He was so trusting, he never even squirmed or acted like there was any reason to be afraid.  Then came the day I dropped him as I was holding him at full arm extension...with only my left hand.  He lunged left and I went right and...he fell.  Of course, he did what cats do when presented with this particular set of circumstances: he grabbed with his claws fully extended.  Unfortunately, the closest thing to him was my outstretched left arm.  Which he clawed in five parallel furrows from about mid-forearm all the way down to my elbow, where one claw...stuck.  For a brief moment, he hung there from my arm by one claw, which was embedded rather firmly in my flesh.  Yelling in pain, I got him to the floor where he proceeded to lick the blood off his paw while I went in search of clean paper towels and antiseptic spray.  I wasn't mad at him--it was my fault, not his.  But we never really got as "into" the hunt after that.  I think both of us were a little wary.

[Note: For those that don't know, a crane fly looks like a mosquito from Hell.  They have long, spindly legs like a Daddy Longlegs, but a mosquito-like body. Nasty things.]

How he loved to sit and look out my glass doors at the birds, chipmunks and squirrels. He always made little "coughing" or "chittering" noises at them. Later, my mother's friend Anne gave me a 6-hour video tape of birds, fish, bugs, rats, squirrels, etc. made just for cats. Gremlin loved the birds and rats and squirrels. He'd look behind the TV when one ran off the side of the screen.

The day he slapped my friend JP right in the face (JP forgave him because he WAS invading Gremlin's personal comfort zone).

Gremlin playing in the only snow he ever saw. Blizzard of 1994. Storm of the century. 14 inches of snow on my balcony, and I lived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I let Gremlin out onto the balcony to experience snow. I watched him for over 45 minutes as he experimented and played and just generally acted cute.

Phantom Cat.  When he was a lot younger, whenever I would change the bed linens, he would (as many cats do) get between the mattress pad and the fitted sheet or
between the fitted sheet and the top sheet and hunker down, as though he thought I didn't know he was there.  Usually I'd shoo him out so I could finish making the bed.  Gremlin shed like there was no tomorrow, and call me weird, but I like to sleep in a nice clean bed without cat hair at least once every week or so.  But one time, I decided to see what he'd do if I had some fun with him first.  I "snuck" up behind him and poked him (gently) with one finger.  He whipped around and I could tell he was slapping at the offending digit.  I touched him again, this time with the other hand.  Again, he tried to destroy the annoyance.  This evolved into the game I called Phantom Cat.  It became almost a nightly ritual that he'd get under something--usually a light blanket or a sheet, or sometimes even a towel--and we'd play Phantom Cat.  Sometimes, there'd be a toy involved, and it was funny watching the vaguely cat-shaped lump in the covering slap at the toy with claws all-to-often going through the fabric.

Gremlin tried to steal the turkey out of Yvonne's sandwich. We had gone to my apartment for lunch. We had Subway. Gremlin jumped up on the table and investigated. Knowing I wouldn't give him the time of day, he directed his attention to Yvonne. First he got very, very close to her sandwich, inching so slowly that you couldn't see him move. Finally, he touched his nose the bread. Yvonne picks up the sandwich and leans back from the table. He takes this as an invitation, stands up and walks across her plate and starts sniffing the end of her sandwich. She turns sideways. Gremlin puts his front feet on Yvonne's chest and streeeeeetches out to get the sandwich...which is when I picked him up and tossed him unceremoniously onto the floor. I have remarkably tolerant friends.

Pretty much any party or gathering of any type at my first house was punctuated by having Gremlin jump up onto the table while everyone was eating. He'd try to find someone who wasn't paying close attention and steal something off their plate. Preferably a chunk of turkey the size of his head.  Did I mention I have remarkably tolerant friends?

The time he duped my friend into giving him more food. I was going out of town for a full week, and I knew I couldn't just leave the cats by themselves, nor did I want to board them because they hated the vet so much. So I asked my friend JP to look in on them and make sure they were okay, but they had plenty of water, plenty of litter, and an endless supply of dry food. JP comes over the first day. Gremlin meets him at the door, gets petted, JP checks the food, water, etc. Leaves. JP comes the second day. Gremlin meets him at the door, but seems agitated. He runs into the laundry room, and JP follows. When JP enters the room, Gremlin is atop the dryer pawing at the cabinet door above the dryer. JP, curiously, opens the cabinet door. Inside are cans of Fancy Feast cat food. JP thinks, "Oh, Gary must have forgotten to tell me," and proceeds to give Gremlin a cat of cat food. He gets another on the third day, fourth day, and fifth day. At which point I come home. Gremlin's sitting on the dining room table, washing one paw, looking awfully smug about something. Later, when JP told me this story, I laughed and said, "You've been had. He tricked you. I don't normally give them cans unless it's a 'special occasion' or as a treat." Gremlin not only knew where I kept the food, but managed to make JP understand. And maybe he also knew JP is an easy mark. :) "What's that? Timmy is trapped in the well?"

"They touch the little thingy and the door opens! I know it works!"  Gremlin couldn't open the door, but he knew how.  He watched me do it enough times, and it looked pretty simple.  I touched the gold round thing with my paw and the door magically swung open and out I went.  So why would it not work when he touched it with his paw?  Even with both paws, it just...wouldn't...quiiiiiiiite...open!  I firmly believe that if I'd had latches instead of doorknobs or if Gremlin had had thumbs, it would have been touch-and-go as to who was in charge around the house.  After all, what separates us from felines, really?  Thumbs and an understanding of can openers.  That's it.

Fangless.  My other cat Taz has long, beautiful, fine fur that, unfortunately, clumps.  Horribly.  Gremlin lost his first fang, I think, when he was in a fight with Taz and bit down into one of the clumps on Taz, and then Taz jerked away.  This snapped his poor upper right incisor off at the gumline.  It swelled and I had to give him amoxicillin for a week or two.  The second one went without my noticing it, and I think the other two came out (individually) when he was at the vet, biting at the bars of the cage to be let out.  My poor baby had no fangs at all for the last 4 years of his life, but it never slowed down his eating.  He loved him some Fancy Feast. :)

And of course, the general memories. Being at the computer and knowing that Gremlin was in the room, somewhere. In my lap, on the keyboard, across my wrists (ever try to type with a 15-pound cat lying on your wrists?), or lying near my feet asleep. He tried so hard to always be near me. He'd even go against millions of years of nocturnal instincts to be awake whenever I was. Every time I'd sit in the recliner, he'd be there, in my lap, purring and making me pet him. Lying on the bed at night, especially in the winter, and feeling a little lump on the bed that I knew was him, keeping warm on the electric blanket or just making sure he was near me.  The trust in those beautiful bronze eyes whenever he looked at me.

Oh, God, I'm going to miss him so much. All the good times I related here plus many, many others keep flooding back, and I smile as I remember, then I hurt because I know I'll never hold that warm, purring body again. So I'll say goodbye to him, here.

Goodbye, buddy. I'm so sorry I wasn't there at the end, but you know I loved you and I know you loved me. I'll miss you for the rest of my life, and I doubt any pet will ever hold as special a place in my heart as you. Thanks. For everything.

And thanks to my excellent friend Geoff for taking charge and driving me to the vet to talk to them in person. It meant a lot to me.