A Farewell to Kobuk

Fri Jun 30 2017

When we first saw him, he was so scared, he was hunkered down in his litter box in the cage. He was a larger kitty, so he was in a cage in the “small puppies” part of the Anchorage Animal Control shelter. It was November 2009. Just three months earlier we had lost an orange tabby named Tash to kidney disease. When we were ready to get another kitty, we went to the pound and came home with two. The other cat was another orange tabby, named Jynx.

Kobuk was not the name he came with. The name on his cage and his paperwork was “Sambo.” Yes, that’s right, a dark-faced, chocolate-point Siamese named “Sambo.” We immediately changed his name, with my insistence on Kobuk.

There was a little bit off a rough transition for both Kobuk and us. He would sometimes attack our female cat, Harriet, and we had to learn how to manage a cat with that kind of behavior.

But settle in he did, and we came to understand his personality and appreciate many of the things that made him the cat that he was. It turned out he could be a bit possessive with his humans. Whether sleeping in bed at night or sitting on the back of the couch, he would often put his paw on Michelle’s shoulder, as if to claim her. Sometimes at night he would almost overtake her pillow as part of claiming her as his human. He wasn’t consistently a “lap cat,” but he did like to sit next to us and near us. Unlike the typical Siamese, he was not very vocal, and had a very soft purr that was sometimes hard to detect.

We also early-on came to recognize an expression that we could only call the “What the Fuck” look. He would sit upright, have his ears cocked in a certain way, and have a look that seemed to express disbelief. The shape of his head and ears reminded us of a Great Horned Owl.

Kobuk was never one of those kinds of cats that is always running around, getting into things. He was rather chill in his approach to life. Whether it was lazily lying in the sun or curling up with his best-bud Jynx, he was most content with just relaxing.

But he loved his humans. Over time, we came to learn new things about him and how he interacted with us. He had a love for jumping on our laps and rubbing his jaw up against our eyeglass frames. Sometimes that came with a bit of saliva – we called it “schmutzing” our glasses. Whenever I traveled, it was clear that he hated to see me go. He would often sit in or on luggage as I was packing.

In recent years, he would often wait for me to go to bed before he would hop on for the night. After I would take off my glasses, and there were no frames for him to rub up against, he had to find some other way of expressing affection. As I would lean down to him and put my face within distance, he would bump the top of his head up against my chin and rub it along the edge of my beard.

The most surprising new behavior of his was how he responded to my singing. In the last year or so, we discovered he loved my singing voice. So much so, that if we ever wanted him to come out from wherever he was in the house, all I had to do was sing. He would come out like a rat responding to the Pied Piper. Most often I would take real songs and modify the lyrics so that I was singing to him about him. My favorite was doing a rendition of “Shenandoah” where I changed the lyrics a bit: "Oh Kobuk, I long to see you, way-ay my chocolate kitty, oh Kobuk, I long to see you, way-ay you're bound to go cross the wide living room."

Three years ago, he was diagnosed with diabetes. At first, he developed neuropathy in his legs and had a hard time walking, but we found the right dose of Insulin and he was back to being a normal cat. His diabetes was managed well with twice-daily injections. And he was such a good boy about those twice-daily shots. We believe that he came to understand that those shots made him feel better. But five months ago, he was diagnosed with kidney disease. Hope that you never have a cat with kidney disease, because that really is the beginning of the end. Over the last few months, the vets (including an internal medicine specialist) could not find the right combination of medicine and diet to keep the kidney and diabetes problems in balance. He declined rapidly recently, and at 1:30 a.m. on June 27, I held him in my arms and sang “Shenandoah” to him for the last time. As the life went out of him, I sang a completely original tune that I often ad-libbed for him. Michelle and I both held his lifeless body for some time, deeply saddened in knowing it would be the last time.

I often thought about it, but never did get Michelle to record a video of me singing to him and him responding. I will always have to keep that in my memory, along with the images of him sitting like a good boy to wait for his Insulin shot or for me to get into bed at night. We had him for almost eight years. It will never be enough for me, but I hope it was enough for him to live in a place where he was loved, had everything he needed, and was no longer so scared he felt he had to hide in a litter box.

Kobuk with Jynx
Kobuk with luggage
Kobuk watching bird
Kobuk chillin' in the sun
Kobuk with Jynx - again
Kobuk checking out our radish harvest