Remembering Pantera Azul, Our Not So Wild African Kitty
Our kitty passed away this week, at home and in my arms. He has been a part of our lives for over 18 years. We miss him so dearly.
We found him on a street in Maputo, Mozambique when we were working there in 1994-95. It was the poorest country in the world, coming out of a brutal, decades-long civil war. It was December 1994, and he was my Christmas present. We called him our Wild African Cat, but really he was the opposite of wild – a sweet, nice, well behaved kitty who smelled like a dryer sheet.
That day, we had gone to buy bus tickets to South Africa for a weekend in the Kruger Park game preserve. The road to South Africa was finally safe from landmines and snipers, and a new bus company, Pantera Azul, had just opened. We parked the car, got our bus tickets, and came back to find a small black and white kitten hanging out all alone on the sidewalk of Avenida Mao Tse Tung. James picked up the kitten, who started purring like a diesel truck.
We brought him home and fed him some fish stew (there’s not much cat food in a war torn city). He slept for three straight days, waking only to eat more fish and purr like crazy before sacking out again. I wanted to name him Meow Tse Tung after the street where we found him, but James thought Pantera Azul, or Blue Panther, was more stately and fitting. I agreed, but I still secretly felt very pleased with my extraordinary wit.
We think he was part dog. He grew up with our dog Saida in Mozambique, who would wrassel with him and drag him across the slick tile kitchen floor by his head. He loved it. In fact, his best friends in New York have been dogs. We met our neighbors, who became our dear friends too, because our cat would play with their dogs in the hallway of our apartment building – Asta the wire fox terrier, Seamus the poodle, Penelope the Weimaraner and Bailey the rat terrier.
Our Mozambican friends thought we were crazy to bring a cat back from Mozambique, but of course we did. He was part of the family. I’d had to race home to Ohio to take care of my dad, who had been diagnosed with cancer. Despite my warnings that Pantera was an indoor cat, my mom couldn’t resist his pleas to go outside, and he promptly got hit by a car. He had some scary injuries, but he got well. I was grateful to see the 8 foot skid marks on the road where the driver of car had tried to stop in time. During that visit, my mother, who is from Chile originally, had a chat with the kitty. She told him that he was an American cat now, and he needed to have an American name. So Pantera Azul, our Wild African Cat, became Pants. Not quite as stately, but it stuck.
When Dad recovered, we moved to Washington, DC. And then we moved to El Salvador, where we discovered Pants’ proclivity as a lizard hunter. (Fortunately, he left the poison frog in our garden alone.) And then we moved to New York, where he followed the sun from spot to spot in our various apartments. Even after he went blind two years ago, he continued to snooze in the warmest sunny spots.
He was a wonderful host, a part of every dinner party we had. He would greet people at the door, sit on the sofa with us, and then stop by after dinner for a bite of roasted chicken. He has been with me and James longer than we’ve been married. He was with us for the deaths of both of our dads, a wonderful source of comfort because clearly he knew something was wrong. And we were so incredibly thankful to be there for him while he lived with kidney failure and other things that just happen to old kitties. We were absolutely dreading the day we would have to make The Decision, but he spared us from that. He ate some lunch last Wednesday, hopped off the sofa, and fell over. I scooped him up in my arms. He took three breaths, and then he was gone. Done. Just the way we all want to go.
We want to thank everybody who has been so sympathetic and wonderful about it, all our friends and all his friends. The people at the West Village Veterinary Hospital — Django, Lucy, Erin, took such great care of him over the years.
I have always loved this quote from James Herriot, author of “All Creatures Great and Small,” and many other wonderful animal stories:
It is always said that however many wonderful and happy years a dog lives, you know that one day, the day he dies, your dog will break your heart.”
As sad as it sounds, this passage has always been a comfort to me for some reason. I guess it makes us prepare for the fact that we’ll probably outlive our beloved pets, and we should enjoy every single day we have with them. Mr. Herriot goes on to say that the best advice he would give to people was to get a new dog, or cat as the case may be, as soon as possible to help “fill the gaping void.” We’ll definitely do that. But for right now, we just want to reflect and remember Pantera Azul, our friend, our family member, our kitty.
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