A eulogy for JOLINIQUE Yogi Bear, 29 November 2001 to 2 March 2017.
He came to us as a tortured soul, but left loved and loving.
The day Cats Protection dropped Yogi Bear and his sister Yasmin off to us at the relatively tender age of 3, Yogi prowled around the room inquisitively sniffing the new surroundings. “That’s unusual,” Beverly the Cats Protection lady said, “he’s been hiding in corners the whole time he was at the foster home. He must be coming out of his shell!”
He wasn’t. We barely saw him for the next 5 years or so. He took up residence behind the sofa in the spare room (with a convenient radiator behind it) and there he stayed. After a year we might see him come down in the evening to eat and drink, or use the litter tray, but this generally happened during the day when we were at work, or during the night. The only evidence that we had a cat, other than his more gregarious sister, during that time was a poo on the wooden floor in the corner of the kitchen. Or occasionally in front of the TV or, just to keep you on your toes, in front of the bathroom door. We started leaving lights on at night to ensure safe passage from bed to loo to avoid treading in any evidence of Yogi’s existence. Luckily he always pooed on a wooden surface which was easy to clean, and never weed anywhere other than in his tray. If he had weed with the gay abandon with which he pooed our relationship such as it was would have come to a very abrupt and early end. His name evolved from Yogi Bear to Pooh Bear to Yogi Poo. He would answer to all three, or not, as was more usually the case.
We saw more of him in years 2 to 5, but the slightest noise from the outside would send him scurrying to hide (he had a particular horror of crying babies, but I think we can all forgive him that). Given that we live on a busy road and our front door opens straight onto the pavement, this happened a lot. If anyone should so much as knock at the front door, much less enter, he would not only hide but not reappear for a good 24 hours. People thought that we had made our other cat up.
He and his sister had never been close. When we first had them they were so scared that they would hide in a corner and literally lie one on top of the other so they could squeeze into as small a space as possible. We had assumed from this that they got on. However, it soon became apparent that they couldn’t stand each other. Other than the nightly spot-the-poo competition, the other main evidence of his existence was clumps of fur sticking out of Yasmin or a new scratch on her nose. He was a bully in almost the full human meaning of the word. Cowardly in his own interactions with the world, he was jealous of his more confident, smaller sister and punished her for the love and attention she received that could have been his for the asking.
After 5 years when he was around 8 years old he started to mellow a little bit. We saw more of him in the evenings and he would sometimes sit in close proximity – never touching us – but near enough to join in with the family vibe. A knock at the door would still send him scurrying to hide but he would reappear within hours rather than days (unless the guest stayed – people outside of the family would still not believe we owned a second cat). He became more affectionate towards us and we discovered that he loved kisses rained down on the top of his head – much as you might imagine an 18th century lothario repeatedly kissing the back of his beloved’s hand. He became very vocal and had the loudest miaow of any cat I have ever owned, particularly if he wanted Dreamie treats which were his favourite.
Although he seemed to enjoy being stroked for a short while, he could never stand being brushed. For a short-hair cat his fur was long, but personal grooming was never top of his priorities and his fur grew matted and clumped. During a check-up with the vet when he was around 12 we asked if the vet could help with this and she suggested shaving him. We agreed, and when she finished the pile of fur removed easily towered higher than the rat-like cat that shivered beside it. We hadn’t timed this well and the weather was cold. Yogi therefore discovered for the first time the benefit of getting beneath a duvet. He couldn’t work out the difference between the edge of the duvet and a wrinkle in the top and would paw randomly at the cover until either he was able to flip it up to get his head under or we held it up for him. Spooning with a purring cat was an unexpected experience but he seemed to enjoy it and his temperament improved further. I hate to think that for all those years at least some of his grumpiness could have been down to matted fur (which can irritate the skin beneath) but we’ll never know.
At the age of 13 his sister died suddenly (probably from cancer but it was so quick there was no investigation). We were told that Yogi might go into decline at the sudden loss of his companion. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Almost overnight he became much calmer, more loving, and much more confident. A knock at the door would send him to the stairs (a pivotal point from which to continue to flee if the visitor turned out to be the cat-attacking sort) but he would soon come down and ask for food or use his tray. Guests were amazed to find out that Yogi Bear really did exist and was not simply a figment of our fevered imagination. Over the next year it got to the point where a knock at the door would do nothing more than make him raise his head to see who might be coming in – after 11 or so years of the scardiest cat I’ve ever known the difference was startling. The death of poor Yasmin really was the start of life for Yogi.
During this time he was diagnosed with pancreatitis. This manifested itself generally in vomiting. Since much of our house is wooden-floored, and we were used to the poo situation, we took this in our stride. Literally. Scoop, spray, wipe was second nature to us by now and since we had a loving, attentive cat to show for the effort we didn’t resent it. However, Yogi’s weight slowly but inexorably went down – much as the weight of the other members of the house went up. Yogi had always been a fussy eater but he started begging for food, eating a tiny amount, and then begging for more a few hours later – constantly and throughout the night. He would walk around licking the floor and the French windows and became bedraggled-looking and rather forlorn. Graham took him to the vet’s and the nurse felt a small lump in his abdomen. He would need to go back the next day for an ultra-sound which the vet would need to perform. Best case scenario was that it was poo (which would have been ironic). Worse case was… well, clearly cancer.
That was today.
The ultra-sound showed that it was a tumour situated by the pancreas. The pancreatitis, the weight-loss, the neurotic licking behaviour, everything indicated pancreatic cancer. Only opening him up could confirm this for sure – but we decided that even if it were cancer we wouldn’t go for chemo-therapy. It wouldn’t have been kind at his age. Pancreatic cancer is aggressive and painful and the palliative care itself unpleasant. So we made the hardest decision we’ve had to make, and made the call to have Yogi Bear put to sleep. The decision to end the life of a being that would, at least, have had days, maybe weeks, possibly months of OK life – but also likely have had a time of uncomfortable treatment and unhappiness – tore us apart. Was it for our comfort and convenience or his? We agonized but made that call. And now, several hours and rivers of tears later, it feels right. So right that I can draft this eulogy for the tortured soul that had been Yogi Bear and for the loving, comforting, and joyful companion that Yogi Poo became.