This isn't really a column about my dead cat, though superficially it might appear that way.
I'm using him as a mere prop; an allegory, to make a larger point. I'm not so soft as to elevate his feline status to a form of written public grieving. That's not my style. You know that.
There's also no such thing as a free ride in my house. Just as he did in life - an efficient mouser, a hardcore ratter, an energetic possum chomper - he must also serve a purpose in death.
We came across each other in late 2001. The waitress at a restaurant where I was dining plucked him from the road where he was lunging at passing cars. She carried him to our table of 10 and this fluffball of tortoiseshell kittenhood proceeded to eyeball every single one of us sequentially, and for about 20 seconds evenly. I was number 9, and upon me, his eyes rested.
My friends jokingly proclaimed that he was mine now. He'd chosen me, they said. Fuelled by wine and any old dare, my mate drove me and the newly-named 'Cougar' home.
The next morning I woke up with both a hangover and a kitten sleeping in my hair. My dog looked suitably unimpressed but she rolled with it. My partner was away working, and I wondered how I was going to explain this new addition to the family.
Cougar took to rural life like a cat to a barn. He never once made a mistake in the house, even though he was too young to have been house-trained. Also, and endearingly, he wasn't a lap cat. He also learned what the rifle was for, and at night he would accompany the dog and me on our regular possum rounds.
Sometimes I'd think he hadn't come with us but his eyes always reflected in the spotlight at some point, and he never missed a hunt. In time, he started competing with the dog to be first to the possum once it fell from the tree. The mutt invariably beat him but he never stopped aiming to triumph.
I recall the moment I fell for him. Now, you can believe this story or not because it does sound fanciful, but every word is true.
One night, in the big old oak close to the house, a possum was rattling away at the dog who was salivating below while I was busy loading the magazine.
I got myself sorted, turned on the spotlight, and was just sighting in the marsupial when Cougar suddenly burst out of left field at high speed. He took the oak tree in one leap, clawing his way high up to the fork of a branch, and immediately behind, the possum. It took all of about 3 seconds.
I was somewhat surprised, the possum was definitely surprised, and the dog was livid.
I got on with it, thinking that would put paid to the cat's clear intention to grab the possum before the dog could.
I managed a clean headshot, the possum wobbled for a few seconds and, just as it started to fall, the cat jumped firmly on its back and rode that sucker down to the ground.
The dog's cogs were forming a speedy speech bubble that said "stuff that" and in she went. While the canine grabbed the possum with the usual intention of shaking it, the cat clung hard to the possum's tail. Dog hesitated. Cat's claws hurt. It was a Mexican standoff. Until, I called the dog off, and let the cat win this one. I figured he deserved it.
I've nearly 18 years of such stories. Once, a new pup of mine fell down a bluff and onto a ledge. We couldn't see her and she didn't bark.
Night had fallen, but Cougar stood in the exact spot above her and just stayed there looking into the spotlight at us. He was right, and we found her unharmed.
But, all good things come to end. He started a steady decline in mobility. He'd been in countless fights in his time. He was still eating on his remaining three teeth, but we'd sold the ranch so a big change was looming. TOWN.
A few weeks out from moving he stopped cleaning himself. Something was changing. He hated the vet with the fire of a thousand suns so I decided that wouldn't be his last memory. He deserved better.
On a gorgeous March evening, I fed him a last meal of fresh, raw gurnard. He lay on the warm concrete facing the sun and fell soundly asleep. After two quick, stiff drinks, I ended it. I saw his life leave in a split second. It was peaceful, and fitting, and right. I didn't want him to suffer.
And some people say that humans aren't animals – even though we are. Give me dying with dignity, or give me death.