RIP - Benjamin Garfield Suntken

When I was 15 my family moved from Wenatchee, Washington to Austin, Texas. It was a big move, and our second one in two years. My brother was 8, and with our folks feeling a bit guilty about yet another move...especially moving from one completely different type of region/culture to another...we were promised a new cat once we got settled in. We had one when we were younger, but he had passed away about three years before.

After about a month at a Residence Inn, we moved to a rental condo unit in downtown Austin while our new home was being built. In late September, once we had most of the unpacking done and things were settled in, we went to a PetSmart where they had kittens to adopt. We found a small orange tabby with two different colored eyes. He looked to be about 4-6 weeks old and could easily fit in our hand. We adopted him and called him Benjamin Garfield, or "Benny" for short. My first memory of him was setting him on the floor of the condo. He started cautiously walking around, one step at a time, until he froze in his place. All of a sudden he arched his back and every orangish-brown long hair on him stood straight up. He started to snarl at his enemy, which happened to be....himself. It was a mirrored image of him in the bottom drawer of the stove. As he stood there hissing and snarling at his new enemy, the rest of us busted out in laughter. It took him a few weeks before he realized the enemy in the mirror wasn't going to harm him.

I only lived with Benny for about three years before I moved out on my own. My main memories of him were licking butter when it was lying on the counter uncovered; laying in his "cat post" at the top "landing", on his back, with his tail sticking down the hole that he would climb up through; taking it upon himself to destroying the bugs in our Austin home, which included scorpions...one which pinched him and swelled up his cute nose. Once we went to Florida for about 10 days and came back to find an assortment of dead bugs on the fourth step of our house leading up to the second floor. He had killed them while we were gone, then put them in an easily noticeable spot. I think it's safe to say he had great pride in what he had accomplished. I remember the time where he fell from the second floor landing to the first floor tile, a bit shocked but luckily not harmed. He loved to lay on the bed when it was being made, especially when you put the bedspread over him. You could pet him under the bedspread and he would purr with content. He loved tuna, cookie dough, and an assortment of other foods that are not normally fed to a cat.

He rode with me in my Honda Civic from Austin to Peoria, and was actually pretty quiet other than a few mews along the way. He got angry at me when the folks and my brother went away for a weekend and I stayed behind. I think he thought I killed them. He howled in the basement where the garage door was; I had never heard such sounds coming from a cat. I'd let him in the garage to see for himself that I wasn't hiding the family in there, and he would come back in the house still ticked. He was never the same to me after that. My mom thought I had company over that spooked him, but for the written record it was just me and him. It was the first time he was left alone with just one person other than my mom, and by that time he and my mom had grown a close bond since she was home and took care of him the most.

It was hard these past fifteen years to come visit the family and have him treat me like a common stranger. I fed him on occasions when mom and dad would travel, and he would have brief moments where he would treat me nicely...but then after I fed him I was of no use to him and he would be back to ignoring me, hissing at me, or hiding from me. It hurt a bit; he was to be part my cat, but that's what happens when you leave home and don't come back often.

A couple of years ago he was diagnosed with cancer. My brother referred to it as "kitty cancer", though Benny was 16 years old by then and no kitty. He fought a hard fight, but my mom and dad did everything in their power to make him comfortable and to give him whatever he wanted. They rearranged their lives around him, knowing that every time he was by himself it usually made him worse off.

A couple of weeks ago I saw Benny for Mother's Day. He had lost a couple of pounds and wasn't eating. He appeared to be nearing the end. He was sitting in his favorite basket, where my mom would put a blanket over it to keep him warm and comfortable. She lifted the blanket before I left, and to my astonishment he let me pet him. Twice. He didn't move, had his eyes open. It wasn't that he lost his fight; I think he just knew that I was not going to hurt him, and let me have that moment to touch him for what I figured was one last time.

He made it another week, and I saw him again. He had a little more bounce in his step, and while he let me pet him again he then quickly walked away. Still, it was unusual for him. He was affectionate with my mom and somewhat with my dad; also my brother when he would come back home from school and he had a few hours to remember him. He just wasn't that affectionate towards me, as I was very much a stranger.

On Sunday, May 24 it was determined it was time to put Benny to sleep. He couldn't eat, couldn't drink. He was constantly thirsty, but just couldn't drink water out of any container or sink. He wanted to go outside, which he never did; we think he wanted to go out and find a place to rest and just die peacefully. My folks did the right thing, took him to the vet, and had him put to sleep while in my mom's arms.

Benny was almost 18 years old; that's a long time for a cat, and the bonds that grew during that time were strong. I of course feel bad and shed a few tears. But the people hurting most right now are my dad, brother and mom, in that order. They had the longest and closest connection, and to them this is like losing a child or sibling.

After a lot of discussion, Benny will be cremated on Thursday. My parents picked out an urn; considering they move so much I was glad to see they chose something that could be mobile with them. I couldn't picture them burying him and then leaving him someday. It would have been a nightmare.

So rest in peace, little Ben. Thank you for the wonderful times you have given our family, and especially the comfort and happiness you gave our mom. You will definitely be missed.

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