Remembering a Hero: Nicholas Ridiculous

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.

 Nick and Cookie, our Tuxedo kitty, shared an Odd Couple relationship. The same age, they were already living homeless on our property in Kentucky when we bought the house on five acres. Neurotic and nervous, Cookie soon befriended Moose and Logan, the outdoor tabbies we brought with us from Florida. Eager to please his new friends, Cookie took it upon himself to run Nick, who they did not like, out of town.

Cookie between Moose and Logan.

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.

Cookie with Nicholas

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.

L-R: Barney, Herman, Nick, Opie, Kenny

Herman discusses Joe Camel with Nick.

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.

Nick wasn’t just large and in charge…he was a train running full steam ahead! We were connected in so many ways, and yet with that connection came umpteen collisions, several of which landed me painfully on my backside. One Christmas I was headed for the back door to feed the outside cats. Nick, figuring he was either going to get fed or go outside, raced ahead of me, then dropped back, and cut across me. The plate of food flew into the air and I landed on the tile floor–hard. Ray was out of town. I didn’t have my cell phone on me. I was pretty sure I’d broken my foot. I lay there for the longest time, thinking ‘I knew there was a cat involved when they invented Life Alert,’ while around me I heard the soft crunch crunch crunch of Nick, Cookie, Barney and Herman making sure the kibble didn’t go to waste.
After we left Kentucky, Nick was no longer allowed to run free due to a heavily trafficked road near our street. And so, when he did venture out beyond the fence, I had to leash him. Um…that’s a dog’s harness he’s wearing. They just didn’t make a cat harness big enough to fit him.

Nick loved me enough to let me swaddle him like a baby.

There were very few times when I sat on that sofa without Nick in my lap. That he was twenty pounds meant nothing to him. He would always smack aside whoever dared to sit on “his” sofa, and then take his rightful place draped over my legs.

Nick had four beds in his final year, but this one was his favorite. After he passed, no one ever used it again.
During his last hurrah outdoors, he relaxed in the winter sunshine. Since days before we had nothing but rain and cold wind, I like to think this particular day was a gift from God…to us both. We walked together like the good old days in Kentucky, free of harness, just enjoying our time together.
There was even a few trees that were in desperate need of clawing.
Born a loner, Nick overcame his rough start in life and became an affectionate house cat. He loved having his ears rubbed, his fur brushed…and me.

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.

 Today marks Nicholas’s five year Angelversary. I miss him no less than the day he sacrificed himself for me. He passed away from complications of a bacterial infection that was later attributed to black mold in our air handlers. If it wasn’t for Nick dying and our vet urging me to have our home inspected for mold–something that also took Cookie from us later that year in November, 2012–there is no telling the effects it would have had on the health of everyone else in our home.
I’ve rescued over 70 cats in my adult lifetime. Some I’ve found homes for, others went back to being free. But never have I ever given two cats the same name. And yet after Nick passed, and Dori and her family arrived in desperate need, I was struck by how much her father reminded me of Nick. Not so much an aggressive Alpha, but more a gentle clown. In fact, his voice sounded so familiar, it brought me to tears. And so I named him Nikolas. Nikolas Ridiklous. And yeah, Dori’s daddy is living up to his namesake.
Having Nikky in my life eases the heartache I still have over losing Nick. But I will never forget Nicholas Ridiculous: My Hero.

About the author

Kimberley Koz


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