Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Life and Times of Starlight, My Longest Companion [L@FT Blog]

NOTE: This blog was previously published under the [LOVE @ FIRST TOUCH] blog which I wrote with my wife Kristi at but has been absorbed into my main blog for archival purposes.

Last month I lost a companion who had been with me longer than my previous marriage. His name was Starlight.

Fresh out of college, I moved from the University of North Carolina campus to Raleigh in the Summer of 1995. I was striking out on my own, working for a start-up Internet service provider (meteorology jobs were few and far between after the government put a hiring freeze into effect). I was living single in the big city, I was young and loving it.

But something was missing, and in late Fall 1995 I took a trip to the local SPCA to look for a companion. I was shown to a cage full of kittens. Most were meowing; many were active, but one little black and white ("tuxedo") kitten stuck both arms out of the cage when I approached as if to say "Take me! Take me!" And for about $50, I had my first pet. And the rest, as they say, is history.

At the time, I was working on a Macintosh computer at work which had a starlight desktop pattern, and I noticed my new cat had a similar pattern on his forehead, so I decided to call him Starlight. Raising a kitten was a challenge, and there were sleepless nights, but he was a wonderful companion -- young, single, and full of energy, just like me. I didn't know many people at the time, so he typically came home with me to visit Mom & Dad and their cat Bootskie every couple of weeks.

I had grown up around many cats but few dogs, so I had always been a "cat person." At the age of 7, I befriended a stray cat lost in the woods near where my parents were building our house. She turned out to be pregnant and Rocky had three kittens: Blackie, Spots, and Tiger, who provided me friendship throughout my youth and a warm lap when needed on cold mornings waiting for the school bus.

Star continued to provide companionship and occasional antics worthy of a submission to "World's Craziest Pets" for the next 17 years, lasting longer than my first wife and stepdaughter. He moved up to Pennsylvania with me in Summer 1997 when I got a job here (one of my fondest memories is him sitting on the dashboard watching the cars go by in the middle of the night at an Interstate rest area).
During the middle of his life, he contracted diabetes at 25 pounds and fell to less than 10. I had to give him a shot in the neck with insulin, twice a day for about 8 years, (which led to an amusing story about Wal-Mart paging "Star Ferrell" to the pharmacy) but he had recently recovered from the disease. After the separation in Summer 2010, he helped me survive the loneliness of an empty house by being the only thing living and breathing there, who would greet me at the door. He had, indeed, been through it all.

He even was lucky enough to meet my new girlfriend and her daughter, who moved in 16 years later (nearly to the day) after I had welcomed him into my apartment. But Kristi was allergic to cats (as am I, but mine can be overcome by medicine while hers is life-threatening) and Star was becoming incontinent in his old age, so I moved him into the upstairs bathroom for a couple months while Kristi and I were dating, then again to the downstairs laundry room in preparation for Kristi and her daughter to move in.

In December 2011, we started talking about moving Kristi's dog into the house. Star had lived with a dog before, and didn't think it was so grand (she put his head into her mouth routinely and he once scratched a major artery in her leg causing it to spray blood). So I was a little worried about how it would work out.

But, it would seem, he had different plans. Around the holidays, he stopped eating and started to look sick, though his little smile was still there as always, and he would still purr to be stroked. Dogs may howl, but cats loyalty to their masters dictates that they don't let you know when they are in pain. (They actually believe that the pain is external so they run away or hide in a corner to try to get away from it).

And on the evening of January 3rd, 2012, four days before we were to move the dog in, Star decided it was time to let go. After hearing a wanton meow unlike those we had heard before, Kristi and I decided to make time to give him special attention that evening. We petted him for a while. He purred and smiled, looking much better than he had in weeks, looking so happy, then I held him in my arms as he passed from this world.

We were thankful that it happened that way, with our love, and without an expensive trip to the vet, which we both knew would only extend his life for a few weeks, at great expense. The next day, I made the last cold drive to the vets with Star (wrapped up in the blanket he used to sleep on), and for roughly the same price as I had obtained him, I let him go. A few days later I received a heart-tugging poem and his footprint in clay from the vet, and this chapter of my life closed.

I've been working for the last few weeks on going through old videos of him, and getting the collage of photos shown above together, and have now hung it in the laundry room in memoriam, to decorate his last home. Here's how it looks:

R.I.P. Starlight "Star" Ferrell 1995-2012. He was a Good Kitty.