|Grisou at his most felinely handsome. He always looked a bit of a rogue.|
|Grisou's first day at our house|
Poor Grisou. Poor, poor Grisou. He was a cat with an incredible character. His morning and evening strolls took him round our whole neighbourhood - and much further than we ever thought. Everyone knew him, he was a regular visitor to every garden.
But let's start at the beginning. After Hercule died, it seemed a good idea to get a second cat to keep Missy company. Whether cats need or want company is a big unknown, though she seemed very happy to be with Grisou once they got used to each other.
A good idea, but we worried how Missy would react at first. She is a very timid cat - unlike Grisou, probably no more than a couple of our neighbours even know she exists. As a result, it took us two years to act on the idea.
Isabelle saw a litter of kittens in the window of our local vet's office. Four were black, and two were grey. We went and held them, tiny tiny kittens that fit in the palm of my hand. We chose Grisou, rather than the other grey one, because even at just a few weeks old he seemed to have more character. He was tiny, about 800 grams (1.5 pounds), and liked to stand on my shoulder. For the first few days he hadn't quite mastered his hind legs, when he jumped he would land on his forepaws then not know what to do with the rest, landing in a tangled heap. He soon figured that out though.
The introduction to Missy was very tricky and painful. We kept Grisou in our spare bedroom, but he was desperate to escape - it was a challenge to open the door without him zooming down the corridor into the rest of the house. Missy knew he was there and would sniff at the door, miaowing. Our house has an enclosed atrium, open to the sky but not to the outside world. We would put Grisou in there and let Missy see him. Even though he was just a tiny kitten, she was frightened of him. She would stare at him for a minute or two, then retreat to the garden with her ears flattened.
Why Grisou? It's a French word, though nothing to do with cats - it means "firedamp" (methane) - but "gris" means grey. And it rhymes with "bizou", meaning kiss. He was a uniform medium grey all over, from his nose to his tail, with just very faint bands on his tail. His actual nose was a different shade of grey, which seemed to change all the time. He was beautiful.
Missy became more and more reluctant to enter the house at all until finally one morning I realised she hadn't even been inside to eat. I rushed to put her food outside and she ate with enthusiasm. She continued to eat outside for about three months. Very gradually she started to come back indoors, and to allow Grisou to get closer to her. He was full of enthusiasm and would chase after her, until eventually she would jump onto the fence leaving Grisou on the ground puzzled, thinking "How on earth did she do that?"
Eventually they settled down to a sort of clawed truce. They would play fight and hiss (well, Missy hissed) and chase each other around the garden or the house, but they never hurt each other (though Grisou would often have a bit of Missy's long fur stuck in his teeth). Then they'd settle down and snooze close enough to touch each other.
As soon as Grisou was big enough to go out, he started roaming the whole neighbourhood. He was a true "people's cat". We were shocked when, chatting with a group of our neighbours, we discovered they all knew him as a friend, a regular visitor to their gardens. We often saw him crossing our street, or just sitting at the side of the road - fortunately it's a very quiet street and nobody drives fast. One day we caught him teasing a dog who has a rather poor history with cats - an extremely bad idea, even though the dog was soundly tied to a tree. That was when I said, "It'll be a miracle if he lives to his first birthday." Well, he did, but only just, and not to his first anniversary with us.
Late last summer, we started keeping them both indoors at night. Partly this was just for my own sleep and sanity, since if I woke up in the night and one cat wasn't there I wouldn't be able to sleep. And also there were coyotes in the area, attacking and eating pet cats. It worked very well all through the winter. Both cats would be indoors by 8pm or so, we'd close the catflap, and have the security of knowing they were safe with us. They didn't seem to mind.
As the days got longer in spring, though, it got harder, and Grisou often wouldn't come home until bedtime. We knew he was touring the neighbourhood, though we had no idea how far we went. The furthest I ever saw him was half way to the main road - about 300 feet from the house. I really hoped that was the furthest he went - little did I know.
Whenever we travelled, we had a friend come by twice a day to feed Grisou and Missy and give them a cuddle. At first we wanted them to be indoors the whole time. We left the cat flap in its "entrance only" position, in case one got out by mistake. Then we had reports that they were both in the garden. We didn't know how until our friend saw Grisou lay on his back under the door, stick a claw into the plastic frame and pull it open inwards, then squirm out from underneath. We realised it was hopeless, so when we were away they had the freedom to come and go as they pleased.
We were away for a couple of weeks in March and April. After we got back, Grisou was out until the small hours a couple of times. He was quite a creature of habit. He would snooze indoors or close to the house all day, usually on his favourite footstool in our living room (where now there is nothing but a desperately sad cat-free space). Around 5 he'd start grooming, by 6 he'd be outside, and around 7 he'd disappear for the rest of the evening. Usually he came back before bedtime for a snack, and we'd close the cat flap. Then one morning recently we found that he'd figured out how to open it! He'd moved the heavy carton from in front of it then, most surprising, moved the stiff plastic catch that held it shut, opened it and escaped. I caught him trying to do the same thing late one night, after he'd popped in for a quick snack, so I put some heavy furniture in front of it. He was furious and spent the next hour complaining loudly. He almost never miaowed, only when he was cross. The following night, he simply didn't come in at all until about 3am.
Usually, he eventually accepted being shut in, and then he would settle down for an initial nap at the very back of a closet in our bedroom, almost completely invisible. At some point in the small hours he and Missy would have a ritual exchange of views, and then he'd settle down in his second night snoozing spot, on a cushion under some furniture by a window. He'd stay there often until 10am or later. Then he'd go out for his morning stroll, until 12 or so when he'd settle on the footstool for his daytime snooze again.
Sometimes he'd have a snooze at the top of the cat tree we got when Missy and Hercule were kittens. He'd leap to the top, his six kilos (13 pounds) very nearly toppling the whole thing, then curl up in the small space there. He never quite fitted, there was always a paw dangling out and his tail.
A few days before his birthday we had some sushi and gave him some of the tuna. He loved it. So his birthday treat was some sashimi-grade tuna from the Japanese supermarket. He loved that even more. His normal daily diet was dry cat food, with an evening treat of tinned tuna, and a morning treat of wet cat food. Missy too, though as far as we can tell she mostly only eats the dry food.
Some books say you should give your cats separate feeding places. So we did, we set up one in each of two bathrooms. The theory - our theory - was that one was for Missy and the other for Grisou. But they didn't take that seriously. For the last few days he was alive, they both ate "chez Missy la chatte", cleaning it out every night, while Grisou's place remained untouched.
|Missy and Grisou in their respective snoozing places|
Last Sunday, Isabelle returned from a trip to Europe. Both cats were waiting for her when we returned from the airport. Grisou seemed really happy to see her, demanding a cuddle and following her round the garden. Then in the evening he went off for his usual tour. The last time I saw him - alive - I remember he was licking delicately between the toes of his hind paws. He was so beautiful, so supremely feline.
He didn't come home before bedtime. I woke up at four, still no Grisou. I didn't get back to sleep. At 6 I looked everywhere for him, driving round all the local small streets. At lunchtime we put flyers in nearly 100 letterboxes, including places we thought were far outside his range. We still hoped, of course, that he'd show up - maybe after being shut in somewhere, or maybe deciding to get food and shelter in one of his many adoptive homes. We were sure of one thing - we'd looked everywhere and not seen a body by the road.
But were wrong. In the evening I got a text in response to the flyer, from someone who had found him dead in the main road. She'd called the police who had moved his body to the median where we hadn't seen it. So we walked down there, and there was his poor dead body, intact. You could almost believe he was just sleeping. But he wasn't. He was dead. And that is final. We carried his poor body home, to touch him one last time.
We used to speak French with him. When he showed up we'd say "il y un Grisou" (there's a Grisou) or "on a un Grisou" (we've got a Grisou). And I still say it to myself. But now it's not true, and it never will be, never again. And my keyboard is wet with tears.
|The last ever photo of Grisou, the day before he died|