A Writer's Cats by Sylvia Engdahl
What would a writer do without a warm fur blanket between forearms and keyboard, soft paws reaching out from the desk, a large curled-up paperweight on the very stack of papers needed for the work at hand? Might it not be possible to accomplish more without that kind of "help?" It might, but then again, if no purring companion were present, the
house might seem too empty to work in. I have always felt that to me, it would.
But time changes all things. At the end of 2016 I developed a physical problem and had to give up my house; in the future I will be in a one-room assisted living apartment. So my last remaining cat Dumbledore, now 15 years old, had to go back to the organization from which I got him, S.A.R.A. (see box below). It's a nice place for cats--they live in a thrift shop and are free to explore and be petted by customers before finding carefully-evaluated new homes. I have been told that he is very happy there, and in fact I suspect he is happier than he was with me in recent years; after his brother Gandalf died he seemed bored and lonely much of the time. He likes people and my home was just too quiet. Though I miss him, I'm glad that he will have a chance to enjoy his remaining years.
~ ~ ~ In Memoriam ~ ~ ~|
|Gandalf the White|
If you live near Eugene, Oregon please support S.A.R.A., the
Shelter Animal Resource Alliance.
They have a thrift shop at 871 River Road (phone 541-607-8892) which
is always in need of household items to raise funds
for rescuing cats and dogs, and which serves as a temporary home for
cats ready to be adopted--and a permanent one for those for whom new homes aren't found.
They have a lifetime return policy and welcome older cats given back by owners no longer
able to care for them (although they do not accept cats from the general public).
You can also donate via PayPal at their
website, wherever you live!
Here are Gandalf and his brother Dumbledore the day I got them, September 15, 2002, when
they were 6 months old. They were rescued from the pound by
S.A.R.A., a local animal welfare organization, and raised in a foster
home. I fell in love with them when I first saw them. They're indoor-only
cats, shown here inside my screened porch. Both were very affectionate
and when they were small it was quite a challenge to use the computer
with one in my lap and the other on my shoulder! Once fully grown, neither
would fit in my lap without a supporting arm, meaning I had to use the keyboard
I didn't care for the names they had at the shelter, so I gave
them the names of two wise wizards: Gandalf the White (from Lord of
the Rings) and Dumbledore (from the Harry Potter books), informally
known as Gandalf and Dory. Though Gandalf is "the Grey" in The
Fellowship of the Ring, he reappears as "the White" in The Two
Towers, and when young my Gandalf was pure white except for face
and tail markings -- though as he grew, his back darkened to cream and
then orange. Dumbledore is an old word for bumblebee; J. K. Rowling has said
that it "seemed to suit the headmaster, because one of his passions is music
and I imagined him walking around humming to himself." It also seemed to
suit someone with a very loud purr! These seemed elaborate names for
such small kitties, but appropriate for the large, dignified cats the
two would become when fully grown.
Above: Summer 2003 - about 16 months old.|
Left and below: February 2004 - The cats were approximately two years old, and
more beautiful than ever. But Gandalf was no longer a white cat! His back and
sides had darkened to light orange with stripes, though his front and
underside were still white.
April 2006 - For some time Gandalf the White had been a dark orange cat
seen from the top, cream from the side, but still pure white underneath. He
was a large and very handsome cat weighing 19 pounds (the vet said he
wasn't too fat). Dumbledore was a little smaller.
~ ~ ~ In Memoriam ~ ~ ~|
|Here's Hesper in the prime of his life at age 7. The picture of
him above, at age 12, appeared in the "365 Cats Calendar" for 1996.
||And here is Marigold at her prime, at age 6. In the picture above
she was 2 years old.
My mother and I got Hesper along with another kitten, Phoebus--who was
always called Sunny--when they were 8 weeks old. (We gave them astronomical
names: Phoebus for the sun and Hesper for the evening star.) At first we
each loved and cuddled both, but the two soon decided between them who
owned which person! Hesper wanted me to hold him, and would no longer go to
my mother, while Sunny was the opposite. Sunny would not sit in my
lap, though he was constantly in Mother's, for nearly six years. Then, the
night before Mother died in the hospital, he jumped on my bed for the first
time, and thereafter sat with me regularly. Somehow he knew, even before
she failed to come home to him.
Though Hesper and Sunny liked each other, Hesper didn't pay much attention
to Sunny--he only wanted to be with me. So when Sunny died at age 10, I
didn't think he'd miss him. To my surprise he cried constantly after Sunny
was gone, and would not let me work for a single instant. I hadn't planned
to get a new kitten, but that changed my mind--and when Marigold came, he
got back to his usual contented self. For the first few days, though, he
was terrified of her, a tiny kitten, because she spit at him the first time
his great big cat face came near hers--he ran and hid under the bed! After
that, he generally ignored her, hissing only when she tried to jump on him
or grab his tail.
They became good friends, but I think Marigold was bored; Hesper still
wouldn't play with her. She was an indoor-only cat, the first one I'd ever
had that I didn't let out, and I fear I made a mistake by not getting a
companion of her own age when I got her. I wondered from time to time if I
should add a new kitten, but didn't quite dare, because if she didn't like
it, our lives would have been miserable! Hesper would have accepted a young
one as he accepted her, but Marigold might not have; after Hesper's death she
seemed more contented and affectionate as an only cat. My home life is such
that I couldn't cope with keeping cats separate even temporarily. Yet having
once adopted another of my own, I could never give it away--cats are members
of the family to me. And we've always been a happy family.
~ ~ ~ In Memoriam ~ ~ ~|
|Sunny (with Hesper)|
I can't imagine a home without a cat. I've always had one--and sometimes
two--except for a few years in my late teens when we weren't settled
anywhere. Not counting those of my childhood or one short-term pet I had
while away from home, I have had seven cats so far, serially except for
Hesper and my current ones, spanning all of my adult life. They frame my
memories of where we lived and what was going on in our lives.
Cats frame the memories of my life...
Butterscotch was the anchor of my mobile youth; he made 5 intercity
moves with us--traveling by car, plane, even train--and lived in 10
different houses during his 14 years, besides which I lived in 6 other
places from which I visited. The December he died marked a new phase of my
life, for it was when I began writing Enchantress from the Stars; I
remember being so crushed by grief that to occupy my mind I started a
project I didn't think could come to anything, but which turned out to be
After another 14 years, when Pussywillow died and we got the two
kittens, a new phase was again starting; I had just acquired my first home
computer and my mother, then 84, was beginning to feel the effects of old
age. Hesper was born the year my last YA novel came out, and his last month
coincided with the reissue of my trilogy; thus his life precisely spanned
the period when I wasn't publishing.
Now, all my novels have new editions and I have new, young cats,
too. They may be my last ones; I'll be in my mid-80s when they reach
old age--though who knows, my grandmother lived to be 101 which would
give me yet another feline lifespan.
In the pre-Web era I felt sad that the loving companions who've shared
my homes could be known only to me. But nowadays the Internet is full of
cat portraits! There are more pictures of people's cats on the Web
than of their human families! So apparently I'm not alone in feeling
that each unique "purrsonality" is worthy of admiration and remembrance.
Gandalf the White, 2003
Hesper and Sunny, 1981
Little Boy Blue, 1943|
(Last of my childhood cats; we had him from his birth in 1942 until my
graduation from high school in 1950, when we had to find another home for him.)