On a Friday in the fall of 2006 I was driving up State Road 37 to interview Philip and Phyllis Kennedy about their interest in Hoosier cabinets when my eye was caught by a small animal on the shoulder of the road. An emaciated baby squirrel, it was headed for the slow lane, where it would undoubtedly get squashed. Knowing full well that the wild animal wasn’t likely to let me near, I pulled over anyway. When I stepped out of the truck, I realized it was a kitten. I expected it to run away, but it allowed me to pick it up and put it in the truck, whereupon it began yowling.
I stopped at the next gas station and bought a bag of cat food, along with a bag of litter. The kitten showed no interest in the food and cried most of the way to my meeting. I didn’t want to leave him in the truck–it was still too hot to leave an animal in a vehicle–so I asked if I might bring him in. The Kennedys kindly said yes and gave me a box for the kitten, who yowled throughout the interview.
On the way home I took him to the vet for a quick check in case he had an i.d. chip. There was no chip; I noted that they called him “37” on the bill for the brief exam. I took him home and named him Louis after my great-grandfather Louis Adler, who had a yellow suit.
Louis immediately became part of the family, asserting his authority over William and Winnie, our dogs. He was well behaved on the whole, but after defiling a special chair that had been given to me by a friend, he became the shop cat, going in and out through the dog door. With freedom to roam outdoors and a warm, safe shop, he had the best of both worlds.
Over his 12 years he met many dogs, some of whom lived here. He lorded it over them all. He’d crouch around a corner in wait, then leap out with a startling cry. Every day at 5 he’d jump through the dog door and run into the room where I fed him; if it was too cold or rainy, he’d wait in the shop instead, toying with Joey to keep himself entertained.
He flirted with women visitors. Whenever someone arrived in a car, he leapt onto the hood to soak up its warmth. I’d find him in the strangest places: curled up in a flower pot, keeping watch on the arm of the radial arm saw, lying in gravel drive on a 95-degree day. (OK, to me this seems strange.)
As attentive as he was to his property’s borders, he was surprisingly non-confrontational toward other cats–provided that they weren’t aggressive toward him. One morning several years ago I arrived to find him sleeping on a moving pad I’d slung over a trash can to dry it out after a delivery in light rain. But it wasn’t Louis on the blanket; it was another orange cat who had presumably come through the dog door. Louis tolerated him for several days, until some friends took the interloper to live in their barn.
Occasionally I would find him perched on the edge of the birdbath, taking a drink, though this summer (perhaps because he had gained some weight, or maybe just due to his age) he took to drinking on his tiptoes.
Louis had many human friends, among them those who rented my house. He was especially fond of Lauren, Kristen, and Jeffrey. He attempted (sometimes successfully) to wheedle his way into the house and had Jeffrey trained to give him treats.
Last night, when I fed him, he showed no interest in his food. I opened a different can, thinking he might be tired of the first kind (and knowing that he sometimes just left food until later in the night). When I went to work this morning, I found him curled up in his bed of wood chips, as usual, but the food was still there. He’d pressed it down with his nose, as he did when he didn’t really like something. I gave him some affection and went to work.
We’ve been keeping the dog door closed at night the past few months, for Lou’s safety. Coyotes have been coming closer and closer to the shop. I’d forgotten to remove the barricades before I started to work. While applying finish to a current job, I saw him go over to the dog door. Finding it closed, he wandered over to the space beneath the sawbench, where I kept a bit of sawdust for him to use as litter. As soon as I was done with the brush, I opened the dog door and called him. No answer. I went to look for him under the sawbench and found him lying on the floor. Not normal. When I got close enough to see his head, I realized he appeared motionless. He had no expression. His body was limp and still warm.
I called Mark, who listened for a heartbeat. There was none. Do cats have heart attacks? I have no idea what caused his death. He’d been the picture of health. We are desolated.