Kris, Popcorn and Deaken July 4, 1991
Photo courtesy of Christine Link
Black and white kitten Popcorn (later called Poppy for short) came into our lives when Deaken was about twelve years old. To Deaken, kittens were precious, and he was their Papa. He was hopelessly enamored of every kitten I ever introduced to him, but I’m pretty sure Poppy was his favorite.
For those of you already familiar with Deaken’s life story (which I detailed in my book Serval Son: Spots and Stripes Forever), you know I had to have his right rear leg amputated when he was about two years old. He recovered immediately and got about so well that most visitors didn’t realize he was missing it for a little while.
But Poppy the kitten realized, early on, that her Papa Deaken was a little wobbly in the rear whenever she rubbed against him back there, and she learned to take advantage of the fact. Deaken's missing back leg was her opportunity to “measure up” against his greater height and bulk. She knew it and he knew it—and both played it like the treasure it was.
Poppy Photo by Carolyn Kelley
Poppy would “stalk” Deaken from the side of the house, waiting for him to amble by. He knew she was there, of course. And he knew what she’d do.
So he’d play the game…
He’d amble “absent-mindedly” near enough the side of the house to give Poppy the advantage she needed to succeed in “bringing him down”.
Sure enough, at the exact right moment, Poppy would ambush him, popping herself into his back end just above the missing limb, which would topple him onto his side. Of course, Deaken could have just as easily hopped onward, ignoring the tiny thump against his side, but that would have disappointed Poppy, so without fail every time, he amiably dropped over as though hit by a steamroller and then waited while she mock “tore him up” from tail end to throat. Then he’d encircle her little body with his paws, lay her down, and groom her while purring so loudly you could hear it from six feet away.
They were best friends. They slept together, ate together, and played together. They curled up with me together.
And it was Poppy who suffered most when her Papa Deaken died--and that’s saying a lot, because I, too, suffered tremendously when he died.
For a month afterward, whenever I would mention Deaken, Poppy would meow pitifully. Twice (I swear to you I am not making this up!) when she was restless and inconsolable, I asked her, “Poppy, what is the matter? What do you need?” (Usually when she behaved like this, she wanted me to fill her food or water dish but I could see they were amply filled.) When I asked her this following Deaken’s death, she immediately jumped to the bedside stand and stood on her hind legs so she could touch Deaken’s picture that was on my wall, then she got down and curled into the same place she and he used to sleep.
I cried hardest then.
“I know, baby, I miss him, too…I’m so sorry…”
I picked her up and commiserated with her both times.
Until then, even though I’d had scores of cats, I’m afraid I was largely unaware that cats could develop bonds so deep that they could cause this kind of anguish. I realized that I should have let Poppy see Deaken’s body before I had him cremated. Had I done so, I think she would have realized what had happened and then she would have come to terms with his absence from her life more quickly.
I never forgot that lesson. Whenever a litter mate died after this time, I made sure the survivor got to say goodbye properly. It’s only fair. They do seem to adapt better this way, too.