Alpha. Aggressive. Clown. Gentle Giant.
Nicholas was all of those and more.
Simmering between seventeen and twenty pounds for most of his life, Nick never failed to cause a reaction when he met someone new, be it at home or at a new vet. Vet techs would brace to “deal” with the miniature panther, and then melt when they realized how utterly charming he was. That he knew they were there to help him feel better soon became evident.
When I first met Nick, he stunk to high heaven. It wasn’t outer body odor. It was inner. I can only imagine what he had been eating to survive. I used shampoos and powders and other means to make him less toxic to my nose, but the only remedy was good food and clean water. It took several months, but I remember the day we were at the vet and I mentioned his odor problem. The vet sniffed him and said, “Well, he smells pretty good to me.” Like he’d understood what she’d said, he’d jerked his face to me and looked into my eyes with what I can only describe as delight.
I still have this picture in my head of Cookie crawling up the brick barbecue after Nick, who was twice his size. Nick clearly was trying to get away from the pest, but Cookie was relentless. Nick could have easily pummeled poor Cookie, but there was something about Cookie that touched all of us. He always had his tail tucked between his legs, and would roll belly up when approached by man or beast, submissive and insecure…except when it came to Nick. He would be follow him, smacking his tail, chattering non-stop in his rusty weird little voice.
That relationship continued for seven years. Then we moved to the Memphis burbs where we made the decision to move our outdoor cats inside. Stuck inside the house together, their relationship evolved and soon they became Co-Alphas. Not really “Co” since The General, as we nicknamed Cookie, was more annoying than a leader, but as Nick aged I think he cared less and less about managing the younger cats.
I fed Nick and Cookie side by side every day. Eating is a sacred ritual among animals and experts say territorial animals should be fed away from each other. My method was the opposite. Side by side, they had to get along or one of them would go hungry. It worked for Nick and Cookie. And its still working as I carry out the same process with two of my outdoor males who started out mortal enemies and now eat off the same plate.
Nevertheless, there were times when Cookie’s neurotic behavior irritated the dickens out of Nick and he was forced to remind Cookie who was the real Alpha.
Officially indoor cats once we left Kentucky, my gang of males had to learn how to get along. It was rough going. Anything could set one of them off. Usually it was a battle between Barney & Kenny, who were considered bottom rung cats. Even Opie, who arrived January 2008 as a stray kitten, was “above” those two by matter of a confidant personality. As a kitten Opie followed Nick around the house, playful and adoring. Nick surprised me by not pummeling the bit of orange fluff. Perhaps Nick recognized a kindred spirit.
Nick loved being brushed more than life itself. As Herman requires constant brushing to keep his baby fine hair from covering every inch of the house, I had to shut us behind closed doors because if Nick got wind there was brushing going on, he would come running and hip-check Herman aside in order to get himself brushed. He loved it so much that after there was nothing left to brush, he’d insist I keep going.
Lounging outside was the highlight of Nick’s day. He was always gracious enough to share the lounge with me.
During one of our annual Halloween parties, Nick went as a snake charmer. He had a playful side, and if I told him he looked great wearing a snake or an air freshener tag off his tail, he would strut proudly.
Nick, sitting on the deck of our Kentucky property, is one of the ways I’ll always remember him. We used to go for long walks together. He was born free, and even after we adopted him he continued to explore beyond our property. I saw him many times in the field across the road, standing on the ridge with the cows as I went to work. I’d worry about him of course, but he was a survivor.
I recall one time I saw a red fox on our property…and then I spotted what it was after. NICK! They raced across the front lawn and rounded the corner of the house. I ran from the front window to the back just in time to see Nick enter through the cat door, clearly exhilarated by the chase. Meanwhile, I had a small heart attack.
In Kentucky we lived at the top of a hill. Ray and I liked to take a long walks down our steep driveway, along the country lane, and into a residential subdivision adjacent to our property. Nick always wanted to follow us, but because of the narrow road, I would tell him to wait by the gate for us. And he would, watching us walk away. One time on our way home we decided to cut through back woods and entered our property from the opposite end. Around dinnertime that evening it struck me that I had not seen Nick since that morning. Then it hit me. Was he still waiting by the gate? I ran down and yes, he was still there, waiting patiently. My heart broke. I called him and he ran to me, his high-pitched voice calling, “he-he-he” like he always did when he saw me. I gave him extra treats that night to apologize.
Occasionally we had camp fires on the gravel parking area on our property where we would enjoy the starry night and the flames, otherwise surrounded by pitch darkness. On the nights Nick joined us, I’d bring out an extra camp chair for him. This was our alone time with him as the other cats were inside or tucked into their cat house on the porch.
This is how I want to remember Nick. He loved to sunbathe and didn’t care how silly he looked when he was contently enjoying himself. It was almost as if those rocks were strategically placed to create a soft cradle for him. I’d like to think of him forever more, lying in sunshine, warming his fur, dreaming of birds and mice…and me.