This is a cat story, and like any author of cat stories, I maintain my cat hero is far from being "just another cat." Casey is an aggressive, self-confident, handsome, poised, seal point Siamese who is quite vocal at times.
But, most of call, Casey is polite - it is his most striking uncharacteristic characteristic. He knocks on doors to request entry, and rattles doorknobs to leave rooms. He loves people (but chases dogs, and has been known to attack them). He tolerates the churlish brattiness of a family-adopted cat-sister, only occasionally swinging back when she deliberately slaps him.
He knows our backyard squirrels are too fast for him, so it bothers his self-confidence not at all to laze calmly in the sun while squirrels play just a dozen feet away. Yes, Casey is polite.
Casey has the feline ESP with which so many cats have been credited. Casey "knows" that my opening of a sack of soda crackers means there are slices of cheese nearby. He seems to know that, even if he is downstairs as I prepare a snack in the upstairs kitchen.
In fact, that's probably Casey's worse failing - he is so certain that I always have cheese with crackers, he doesn't easily detect that it is sliced salami laying on my bedtime snack tray. So he sits at my feet, at the foot of the bed, and looks embarrassed when he finally sees I have chosen salami. First he stares at me, then at the crackers, then looks off to one side as though he actually were just passing by and forgot why he was there.
I offer him a fingernail sized chuck of salami. He sniffs. Then he sits back down resignedly, and a few seconds later, quietly leaves. Not a sound. Casey would never betray his dignity with a "meow" of disappointment.
Ah, but when it's cheese! Casey becomes more than a little animated, waiting for me to drop it someplace for him to pick up. He would never be so eager as to actually capture the morsel from my fingers. But I must take care how I drop it, otherwise he loses track of it. Like most Siamese cats, Casey is quite cross-eyed, and conspicuously does not see well near the tip of his nose.
The cheese should be Velveeta, in small chucks...elsewise it gums up his chewing process. Careful about his waistline, he will accept no more than 3-4 small chunks. He will also "munch" on Wisconsin cheddar, but his body language makes it clear he expected Velveeta.
Casey came to us more than a dozen years ago from a neighbor. She had unexpectedly learned that one of her children was allergic to cat dandruff, and the siamese kitten she had just acquired, "had to go." She begged me to give the cat a home. I was not easily swayed. Our family, although friendly to cats, had just been through a period of trying to get two Siamese cats, at differing times, to tolerate us. They didn't and I was somewhat discouraged about trying to build a "pet rapport" with yet another chocolate-and-white feline.
Casey won me over in 48 hours. First, he seemed to instantly know his new human-given name. He enjoyed the back scratching and petting that responding to his name would bring. It's a trait that continues today. If Casey is within the sound of my voice, it is a rare occasion when he doesn't respond to a summons. (Sedately, of course. Casey doesn't believe in wasted energy. In other words, no, he doesn't run up and lick my hand...but he arrives.)
During those new getting-acquainted hours, the "new kitty" displayed another trait that is lifelong. He loves being outside. Sleeping, of course, is an inside pursuit - but if the sun is out, Casey wants to be out, as well.
As a kitten, he would run from the back door, across our patio concrete, stopping at the edge. Then he assumed the posture of a roaring lion, tensed, poised, examining the wilds of our back yard as though he were saying, "Hello, world! Here I am!" His attitude and stance conveyed a joyousness that was infectious. After anything in site had a chance to climpse his presence, he would then begin inspecting the yard...almost blade-of-grass by blade-of-grass.
He considers that yard, fenced by boards and shrubs, to be his. Only intruders raise Casey's ire enough for his calm smugness to turn to cat-fighting anger. His stewardship of the area is well enough known to other neighborhood animals that few intrude even once. It is an incredible rarity for any to make that mistake twice.
A neighbor's spaniel-sized dog once managed to slip a fence board loose, entering our yard. Tending flowers on the deck, I saw the dog, and began yelling at it. I went down the deck stairway, trying to scare the dog back through the fence hole it had just used. The dog was barking and I had no desire to grab at it, but it was bewildered and obviously not happy at being trapped by me.
As I approached and the dog retreated, suddenly Casey was at my side. I tried to order Casey, "Get back!" but he made it clear he was the backyard guardian, not me. He bounded forward, whacked the dog in the nose, and stood his ground, just a couple of feet to my right. The dog exited the yard, back through the fence, barking and howling simultaneously. Casey stood silently, watching the hole. I went to our garage and got some boards to block the hole...as Casey watched the fence. Not until I left the yard would Casey leave his guard position.
The dog has not returned.
It was at the bedroom door to that deck where casey first demonstrated his knowledge of door-knocking. On a fall evening, chilly enough to close the sliding glass door, wife Vi and I were asleep. Suddenly we were both awakened by someone knocking on the door. We were startled, to say the least. Our bedroom deck door (sheltered and obscured by tall trees, seven feet up a long stairway, across twelve feet of deck) is not a "public" entrance to our home.
My instant reaction was that the person on the deck must be one of our grown children, in a prankish mood.
No. Drawing open the drapes, I saw Casey, standing quite tall on his rear legs, rapping the bony areas of his front ankles against the door in a rhythm that matched the "knock-knock-knock" we all do when politely seeking access to a closed door. I opened the door, and Casey calmly strolled in. It was a performance he has matched hundreds of time since.
Many of Casey's unique abilities are related to getting in and out. You're likely aware that cats scratch screens, sometimes devastating them. Not Casey. He is too polite. But he does believe he's on the way to untangling the mysteries of things we humans call doors.
Case in point: Casey is on the bed, napping. Then, I decide to take a nap. I close the door. Casey remains, arousing only enough to snuggle up against my legs, quite pleased.
Later he awakens and wants out of the room. I am then awakened by, not a "meow," but the doorknob being rattled.
Beside our bedroom door is a small cabinet. As I open my eyes, there is Casey, atop the cabinet, trying to learn just what it is about a doorknob that lets humans open doors. He tries with one paw, jiggling the doorknob. Then he shifts stance and tries with the other paw. He has not untangled the mystery, no, but he has awakened me to let him out. As I open the door, Casey mumbles a throaty "Meowee." It is clearly a "thank you" - with overtones of apology. Casey wants me to know he is sorry he troubled me, but he just couldn't get that knob to turn.
At other times, as well, Casey's "meows" have distinctive, consistent meanings. He has an "It's about time!" retort when his food dish doesn't go on the floor quite by the schedule he expected. There is also a "What's up, doc? type interrogatory meow, heard when Casey is conspicuously curious about whatever may be going on at the moment. If Vi or I jokingly accuse him of something ("Casey, why did you knock over that flower vase?") there is a "I did not!" protest meow, and if we try to joke with him on such clumsiness, he does argue. Meows and human comment fly back and forth. Casey, clearly, believes he is conversing with us, glancing from face to face, staring us "in the eye" in a fashion that at times is more than a little unsettling. We become certain he is comprehending what we say, an understanding we cannot reciprocate.
We are certain that part of his response includes blaming Candy, our adolescent female purebred Siamese who feels she, not Casey, should rule the cat segment of our household. (I need note that both Casey and Candy have been "fixed." We love them as individuals, not as potential parents.) As polite as Casey is, we're certain that his response to any accusation of cat mischief aimed at him would be immediately answered with "Candy did it!"
That fairly well defines their relationship. I suspect that Casey perceives Candy as a mere house-guest who may leave at any time - the sooner the better - while he has eternal lord-and master status in the Foulks household. The jealousy/envy between the two seal points is evident whenever the're within a couple of feet of each other. Candy pokes and punches at Casey's neck and back. Casey ignores her, which only makes her more aggressive. She hates to be ignored.
This tension continues for a moment or two. Casey ends it...by calmly walking away, distancing himself from Candy's jabs.
It is a tolerance that few humans easily share.
I know it's tough to generalize about the behavior of cats in general, but I hope you'll agree that most cats will meow when they want out. Most I've seen do. But not Casey.
During the daytimes, when not on guard duty in the back yard, Casey usually snoozes on a settee in my downstairs home office. "Snoozes" is an understatement - he really zonks out, gone to the world, in all kinds of crazy positions he probably could not do were he awake. He has spent hundreds of hours on that settee.
But, then he awakens. Apparently reluctant to disturb my working, he will sit about three feet away from my office chair and stare at me. That's his signal that he wants to go outside. He makes no sound. If I don't notice him and respond within a couple of moments, he moves a little closer.
...As I started to type this paragraph, he took up his "I want out" stance. Now he has laid down, legs folded under. Let's see what happens.
It's six minutes later, and Casey has moved, twice, to a position so close to the wheels of my chair that I am fearful an accidental movement of the chair might hit him.
I say, "Casey, do you want out?" He just stares at me. No meow. I repeat the question. He stares, fixing his eyes on mine - but still, no sound. His body posture indicates an impatient tension.
Such a visual taunting becomes too much for me to continue. I say, "C'mon, let's go." and rise from the chair. Casey mildly mumbles, "It's about time, (mrowupm)" and heads for the stairway. (It took me a couple of years of repeatedly nudging him in the rear end to convince him that, if he was the one who wanted out, at least he could beat me to the door.) We head up the steps, the cat barely a step ahead of me - but definitely avoiding the ignominy of having his rear end feel my shoe.
I open the door, Casey exits. Usually with a, "Thank you (meowooe)". Yes, I'm serious. He is courteous.
On the very few occasions where Casey and Candy show any camaraderie, it is part of a "We want to go outside" scene. I will be at my desk. Candy bounds in impestiously, and screeches "meow!" at me. (If I ignore the first or second meow she may come over and attack my ankles. I respond, as with Casey, "C'mon, let's go." Candy runs up the stairway.
As I start up, I note Casey at the landing, calmly awaiting arrival of the door-opener he had dispatched his surrogate to summon. Casey wins again, maintaining his poise and dignity by allowing Candy to dash out the door first, as he strolls behind. With a "thank you," of course.
Okay, so I'm being used. Yeah, I know it.
Casey was four years old when he was hit by a terrible illness. We knew that he loved to nap in warm places, like the floor of the greenhouse, in 85-degree heat. The greenhouse, freely admitting the sun's rays and trapping their warmth, was not comfortable for a human to work in, but Casey would snooze peacefully on the hot floor.
This summer was different, however. Casey began snoozing on the hood of Vi's automobile, parked in a hot garage, with a hot engine under the hood, fresh from shopping trips and such. He was listless, not eating well, and simply didn't look well.
I took him to the veterinarian who gave him his first shots years earlier. Dr. Marjorie Brown was initially puzzled and asked me to please leave him overnight.
She and I talked the next morning. His listlessness had increased, his temperature was incredibly high and he was near to a stupor. Worse yet, every diagnostic test she could think of turned up no indication of what was wrong with Casey. Although she could give him (and did) some common antibiotics against various infections, she had no idea what disease he (and she) were combatting. Kidney infection? Tests wouldn't confirm it. Spider bite? No indication of a wound, swelling, or anything pointing to such. Viral infection? No indications - Casey tested "healthy," although he looked like he was dying. Dr. Brown was near tears in her discussion with me. We discussed several possibilities, none that could be confirmed.
I said, "Please take care of him for another night and we will talk in the morning." The emotional atmosphere in our household was quite morose. Through 40-plus years of married life, with four children, many pets have come and gone. Only a couple remained in the family's collective memory and Casey stood alone at the top of those memories. He was a friend more than a pet. Our kids knew him, of course, but so did their kids, and he they. I steeled myself against the fear of his death.
Early in the morning, just as Dr. Brown was due in her office, I was on the phone. Even as we spoke, she conducted yet another examination. "I think he is better," she said. "At least, he does not seem to be worse." She still had no answer to the question as to what was ailing him.
My decision was easy: "I will come get him. If there's nothing you can do, and if he's going to die, I want him to die at home, the only home he's ever known." Vi and I mentally prepared ourselves, as best we could. I retrieved the listless, now skinny, cat from the veterinarian's cage. At least he would have a comfortable deathbed.
Casey recognized me and cuddled willingly in my arms, but he remained listless. He did not even protest the homeward automobile trip (which, normally, would have been a, ahem, catfight). He lay quietly on my lap, beneath the steering wheel, during the short trip home.
Sometime in those nervous hours, some form of pet medical miracle occurred. By evening of the day I brought him home, he had recovered enough to wander around the house, choosing his own spot to lay (instead of the bed we'd made for him). The next morning, he wanted food. He didn't each much, but the very fact he wanted it indicated a desire he'd not shown for days.
During this period, a curious thing was happening to Casey. He was shedding hair rapidly...and what was left was white. His natural chocolate-brown seal point mixture was simply disappearing, even as his physical condition improved rapidly.
About a week later, we had a mostly white, underweight, weak cat who resembled Casey not at all, but it was a cat who was alive!
Casey HAD to resume his outdoor guard duties. He was clearly on the road to recovery. We allowed him to return to his stewardship of the backyard and his environs. I sat on the deck, just watching him prowl around the yard, with great relief in my mind and heart. Casey was a friend I did not want to lose before his time. I had been tearful more than once during this period, but this time my tears were of joy.
The memory of that episode has become very dim because about six months later - during the winter - Casey's original fur coloration began reappearing. What had been apparently permanent white began emerging brown. Far less suddenly than his original color change, his natural seal point brown-tan-white reappeared. His ears were the last to lose their white, turning brown gradually from the base to the tip (for a while, yes, we had a seal point cat with white-tipped ears).
I have referred, in this essay, to Casey as a Siamese. In pedigree definition, I cannot vouch for that. As far as a "purebred" status, it is not true. The neighbor who begged me to take Casey off her hands had obtained him from a newspaper ad with no pedigree offered or claimed and not by me, either. Casey's head is too round and too wide to be easily accepted in a Siamese cat reunion. His body is also bulkier than most purebred, pedigreed Siamese. He does have a sleek appearance, a term so frequently used with pedigree Siamese.
Yet his seal point coloring is magnificent, his demeanor is stately, and his "meow" is more Siamese than that of his purebred Siamese adopted sister, Candy. Whatever. Casey has feline attributes which any cat owner would enjoy seeing in their pet. Siamese, here, is used only to give you a sense of what he looks like.
During and after Casey's illness, it seemed that he had grown closer, more attached to me personally.
That was reinforced during a period of my own illness. After a surgical bout at the hospital, I spent much of my daytime for several weeks seated in the same chair. Casey seldom left me. Yes, he kept up his guard duties, but only briefly, inside and outside. At other times, he would settle at my side, in my chair beside me, the armrests or on the footrest. He learned that he could not sit on my lap, so he developed his own curl-up position to sleep between my feet on the footrest (which looked terribly uncomfortable). He also could perch on an armrest beside me and, well, just sit there.
I could not avoid the feeling that he was trying to repay me the care and attention I gave him during his illness. He and I together literally wore out that living room recliner, watching TV and quietly sitting. We spent a lot of time, just staring into each other's eyes. My recuperative period certainly was made better by his comforting, loving presence.
Although still very much today a family cat with no aversion to strangers (Casey loves to be petted by guests, even on the briefest of introducdtions), he noticeably stays close to me. When he wants to sit on a lap, mine is the first he checks for a vacancy. During morning coffee breaks when Vi and I gather at the dining table, he sits on the floor next to my chair, facing outward, guarding me against whatever danger may intrude from across the kitchen.
He noticeably dislikes my vocal partisanship during televised football games, running from the room if I yell, "Go, Go, GO!" or applaud loudly at some play on the corner television screen. But, if I offer him a spot beside me on my Lazyboy, he willingly plops himself into it, dropping into a catnap. From that spot, he tolerates my boisterousness in yelling and clapping - so long as I don't jump from the chair and stomp the floor. Otherwise, he also is a Denver Bronco fan, because I am.
In that regard, I am his role model. But, in ways far beyond easy explanation, Casey is a role model for me. I admire his politeness, forbearance and tolerance - he has each to a depth that we can wish all of humanity had. He is graceful, handsome, stately and "smart" in ways that defy human description.
I would be proud to describe Casey as "my cat." I know better. He is a rare individual, a magnificent, intelligent, beautiful creature, for which I never expect to see a match. He is not "my cat." He is my friend.
Casey is Casey.
(On July 10, 2001, Casey was 15 years old)
Thom Foulks passed away in 2004. This essay was found in some of Thom's papers in 2018. I think he would have appreciated it being made into a short book.
Kathy Foulks Downey