By Robert J. Smith
I’m saddened to announce the passing of my cat, Gatsby Smith. His passing prompted me to reflect on the bond we shared and the impact he had on my life and work.
Gatsby lived to the ripe old age of seventeen and is survived by two cat brothers, a dog brother, and a human family. He was the inspiration for several books I’ve written that co-star an orange cat named Gatsby. The fictional Gatsby is a risk-taker, full of bravado and wisecracks. The personality of the real-life Gatsby was almost the exact opposite. He started with us as a skittish, well-behaved kitten and over his seventeen years developed into a lovable grumpy old cat.
We got Gatsby about sixteen and a half years ago, after my wife’s cat, Monte, passed away, and neither she nor our other cat, Yoshi, took it very well. Yoshi had been with Monte for most of his life, and once he became the only cat in the house, he started howling his head off in the middle of the night, manically racing around the house, and generally acting nuts. My wife, who loved Monte dearly, was either sobbing uncontrollably or just plain depressed.
I figured that both of them needed a new cat. Not so much to replace Monte, but to give them something on which to expend their energy. So we went to an animal shelter on a September afternoon to see what they had. Luckily, there were a bunch of kittens. I have heard that when you go to the shelter to get a cat, you don’t pick the cat, the cat picks you. That was the case in this instance. Only the cat picked the wrong person.
This pet shelter was in a big house, and there were cats and dogs in big cages upstairs and downstairs. Most of them ignored us, but when we got to a cage of ginger kittens, one little guy seemed desperate to get my attention. He was jumping up against the walls of the cage and mewing directly at me. I picked him up, and he was all over me. He immediately bonded with me. Of course, that hadn’t been the plan at all, but my wife didn’t see any cats that appealed to her more than this cute little guy, so we adopted him. We figured that he would warm up to her eventually.
That set the tone for the next seventeen years.
Gatsby made it clear that I was his human. He would follow me around. His cat bed sat at the end of my desk so that he could supervise whatever I was doing. (Right now, as I write this, his absence is palpable). During his time with us, our family expanded by two children, a dog, and after Yoshi passed, two more cats. With all of these individuals in the house, Gatsby always obviously favored me above everyone else. It’s very rare to find a cat with taste that great.
Our other cat, Yoshi, was quite a character. When he passed, I wrote about him, and I had story after story to relate about his quirks and the shenanigans he would get into.
Gatsby was not a character. He was awesome but he was sweet, quiet, well-behaved, and stayed out of drama. The most dramatic thing he ever did was one time when he went missing in the house for a couple days. We finally found him behind some boxes in the basement, hungry and dehydrated. The vet had no idea what had caused this, and we never found out what happened. But, for the most part, he was a calm little guy.
He liked sitting in my lap, he liked lying in his bed on my desk, and he liked gnawing at the bones of my chicken wings when I was done with them. He loved to get a running start, jump on me, and then run up my back and perch on my shoulder like a feline parrot. Sometimes, if necessary, he would lick my forehead for a few minutes to make sure that I was presentable.
Occasionally in the middle of the night, he would sit in the kitchen and howl my name. (You can scoff, but he definitely said, “WWWRRROOOOOBB!”. You can ask anyone in my family.) When I got out of bed and went downstairs to see what he wanted, he would have a sparkly ball cat toy in his mouth, which he would drop as I approached.
I portray Gatsby in my books as an adventurous cat – in reality, if I accidentally left the front door open, the most he would do is walk out a couple of steps and sit on the porch. The dog would bolt out the door and be on his way to Canada before we noticed the door was open, but Gatsby was content to just get outside and have a few breaths of fresh air before someone noticed him and put him back inside.
I’m trying not to be too sad about Gatsby’s death. He lived a very long life, and for practically all of it, he had security, a full belly, and was loved. He leaves behind a family with a lot of memories and a fictional version of himself that’s been read by people around the world. Not a bad legacy for a little orange cat from the pet shelter.
Robert J. Smith is the agent for the cats, Yoshi and Gatsby. Smith’s duties include:
-Translating and transcribing Yoshi and Gatsby’s adventures
-Managing Yoshi and Gatsby’s business affairs and public relations
-Litter box maintenance
You can find Robert’s Petectives Series in the CWA Library.