Eight years ago, when Mum was beginning to show advanced stages of dementia, and Dad was admirably attending to her side, I suggested that a cat would be a suitable addition to the family home. My reasoning behind this was that its presence in the house would have a calming effect and distract attention, however fleetingly, from the emotional upheaval that had engulfed the family.
Initially Dad was understandably reticent, he had enough on his mind. But after talking things through it was agreed that we would visit the RSPCA base in the north of Brighton. Shortly afterwards an uncertain Jim (or Jimbo as we knew him) arrived at my parent’s house.
Now many people would argue that a cat is just a pet, and nothing else. Others would say that it is a small extension of the family. Some would say that it is a pivotal and important addition to a person’s way of life that should afford the same love and respect as any other family member. For the most part I belong in the second category, in Jimbo’s case I belong in the third.
At first Jimbo was an independent creature, he wouldn’t come to his name and never gave or responded to affection. I wondered if he might have been a farm cat, given his independence and quickness of flight. Whenever I visited he would hide behind the armchair and look petrified if I made any attempt to wean him out. On the face of it he didn’t seem like the therapeutic addition to my parents life I had hoped he’d be, but his real and consoling effect was to come much later.
In 2008 Mum passed away, so Dad was left in the big old house on his own- well not quite. During that time of deep sadness and change, whenever I visited the place, Dad would make frequent references to Jimbo and what ‘good company’ he was. It seemed that, even though the cat had changed little in character and attitude, he had elevated in importance. His role in Dad’s life had somehow become pivotal because of the void that had been imposed. Perhaps his elevation in status and importance, and I selfishly add usefulness, was down to nothing more than necessity and expedience, but what it did achieve more than anything was a realisation and respect for him as a sentient being who now had a revered place in all of our lives.
In celebration of his madness, and role of family cornerstone, I set about creating Jimbo the cult hero. Slightly mythical at times, but no less endearing. Jimbo had his own Twitter account and was even in Facebook. If my friends could tell me about what they had for breakfast then Jimbo could tell us of his mad excursions in the back allotment, and, according to a neighbour, his bullying tactics against other cats, which to this day his ever protective keeper denies. Jimbo even had surreal conversations online with friends of mine who asked if I was going a bit mad, until they realised that they were just as insane themselves, for before this realisation they were happily playing along.
In the last couple of years our Jimbo became quite a placid creature, being willing to spend time on Dad’s lap rather than the chair beside him, and also paying indifference when I turned up rather than running for his life. Dad made his plans for daily life to ensure that Jim wasn’t left to his own devices for too long and Jimbo became more and more docile and affectionate.
This year, however, things took a turn for the worse. Jimbo became very thin (he was always a large cat) and a visit to the vets revealed he had diabetes. A somewhat premature suggestion of euthanasia from the vet was dismissed out of hand, and I set to visiting morning and night to inject him with the required dose of insulin. For a while he was coping well, but, despite frequent veterinary treatment, illness after illness began to follow, and once Jimbo began to struggle with incontinence the inevitable was never too far away. Then this week it became clear he was suffering too much, and keeping him alive was becoming a selfish option. Thus Jimbo was helped on his way to the Feline Fantasy World on Thursday. He was 12.
Dad said that when Jim went for his final sleep he seemed to murmur as if to say thank you for the love he was shown, but it worked both ways. In all those difficult and lonely moments that an empty house affords after the death of a loved one, Jimbo was always there. He seemed to sense when Dad was unwell and responded accordingly. He was there first thing in the morning and last thing at night. He was company, uncomplicated and undemanding,
We can never underestimate the power of domestic pets and the meaning and hope they bring to people, especially older folk who may live alone. In the dark hours after the death of a loved one, or just long and lonely nights, they are the comfort, the solace that often prevents lives from spiralling into dark depression. In short, they are the main company of some people who may not speak to others for days.
Jimbo certainly touched our family in many ways, and rightly deserved his cult status as unaware as he was of it. And I’m glad of that day in 2006 when we decided that he should be re-homed. He certainly, however unwittingly, showed his gratitude.