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Posted on Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 10:07 a.m.

Death of a childhood pet bookends an era

By Kellie Woodhouse

My cat died Monday.

Furball was a grumpy, skittish cat — but I loved her nonetheless. My sister decided early on that Furball was bad news and she detested even being in the same room with the cat. Extended family thought Furball was strange and learned to fear her after several impressive hissing fits.


My mom and I with Furball during Christmas 2010.

But in addition to being a cantankerous old bat, Furball was choosingly affectionate and gloriously dignified in a 'I'll do what I want when I want' kind of way.

She was curious, usually playful— never fully knowing, or at least acknowledging, that the string she chased was an inanimate article. She was proud in her waggishness. She fully possessed herself with a natural grace I never knew as a clumsy child with stilts for legs and noodles for arms.

She loved the sunny spots of the house. As a kid, I'd lay next to her and soak up the warm rays. Furball used to chew the bottom branches of the Christmas tree. I couldn't possibly tell you how many phone cords our family replaced when she was a kitten. I remember her waking me as I tried to go to sleep: left paw, right paw, left paw, right paw. On nervous nights — going into middle school with loose stitches on my chin, the evening before I left for college, the tossing and turning in anticipation of a date — her presence was a comfort, allowing me to be in solitude yet not fully alone.

I recall her fear when I tried, halfway though her life as an indoor cat, to initiate her to the wild outdoors. She scratched and clawed as I put her outside and rocketed back into the house as soon as she hit the ground. It was months and months before she willingly went outside again. I think back to the baths I was asked to give her as a kitten and cringe at her meowing and discomfort. Then I laugh at the memory of her soapy and wet in the sink.

No matter my age, I was never too old for an affectionate lick and nuzzle. Even as I left for college and the periods between visits home lengthened, even after I got married and moved far away, to Furball I was always the nine-year-old who walked home from visiting a neighbor with a little kitten clinging to my chest. Who begged and pleaded with my parents until they acquiesced and promised me I could keep 'that darn cat' as long as I was the one to feed her. Who fell asleep a thousand times to the ring of her deep, contented purr.

See, Furball's passing marks more than the death of a pet or of a childhood friend. It fully closes the door to an era. It bookends my childhood.

At 25, you'd think that door had shut already and perhaps I thought it had. But when my father called me from my childhood home in Maryland and told me of Furball's death, I felt like that nine-year-old all over again. I wished for my cat to cuddle, I craved the permanence of her, I itched to hear that comforting purr.

When those things didn't come, I decided to just be thankful for the companionship my little, cranky, loving cat brought me during those formative years, the decade and a half that I took shape in front of her. I thanked her for not discriminating against me in my angsty moments or my angry moments or my timid moments or my boisterous ones.

The death of a childhood pet is a common experience. It's a wrenching one, but one preceded by sweet memories and experiences that are wholly unique yet somehow still universal in nature.

This Thanksgiving I'll drive down the Turnpike to my Eastern Shore hometown and walk into a home that, for the first time in 16 years, will be devoid of the presence of my only longterm childhood pet. She won't greet me as I walk in, she won't implore my husband to pet her, she won't be sitting near a window in the sun.

And no, she won't be hissing at visitors.

But the memory of her, I hope, will linger.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for This is her first and only column about her cat, Furball. Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.


Sarah Rigg

Mon, Nov 19, 2012 : 2:11 p.m.

Losing a cat is hard. My first pet as an adult was a very cantankerous female cat who didn't like much of anybody except me and was also prone to epic hissy fits, so I know where you're coming from. It was really hard to lose her. My sympathies for your loss.

Kellie Woodhouse

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 3:07 p.m.

Thanks everyone for the kind, supportive comments!


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 9:31 p.m.

In a world where too many animals have tough and/or short lives, you and your family gave Furball a great home and endless love. I'm sad for your loss and thankful for what you gave.


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 9:01 p.m.

Kellie, my sympathies...and my hugs. As I write, my cat Lucy is on my lap purring, her sister Ethel not far away. They are my joy! Thank you for sharing your story about Furball. I hope at some point you can give another cat a home. There are so many cats in need of love, warmth and shelter.


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 6:12 p.m.

Very touching story, Kellie. Reminds me of my childhood cat, Misty (short for Mistletoe - she was a Christmas gift). She remained in my parents' home when I moved away, and my father, who prior to Misty never liked cats and didn't even want her in the house at first, cried like a baby when she passed away at 17.


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 4:13 p.m.

Pets hold a special place in our hearts, especially those of our childhood. I'm glad that you and Furball had each other. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story of your love.

Jessica Webster

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 3:59 p.m.

I am so sorry for the loss of your kitty, Kellie.

Linda Peck

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 3:48 p.m.

Kellie, this is a lovely story of you and your cat and your house and growing up. I am sorry you will miss her. I am grateful for this chance to read about your memories. May you and your family enjoy this Thanksgiving Holiday and remember your little Furball, too.

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 3:40 p.m.

Kellie - I'm sorry or your loss! Your story reminds me so much of my -- now gone -- 16-year-old childhood cat Samantha. She was just like Furball, and most people weren't too fond of her, but she still holds a special place in my heart. Thanks for sharing your story :)

Lorrie Shaw

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 3:28 p.m.

Kellie, I recall interviewing a clergyman for a piece about the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi and the annual services that usually take place to celebrate it. He noted that while many people in our community partake, one special demographic seemed to participate more often because of the need for them to contemplate, remember and for some to help process the pet's final transition: college students and those in your age group. He detailed the same reasons that you gave. Pets take many of us through milestones in our younger years and can surpass that and be around well into adulthood. It's probably more the case with cats because of their increased life expectancy, and in upwards of twenty years for some is a long time to spend in our midst. That's a lot of birthdays for us humans too. Their passing is indeed an end of an era. I know that there are a lot of folks out there who are experiencing the same thing that you are right now, and by sharing your story that can be helpful. Furball sounds like a lot of cats that I know, and I find their personalities especially endearing! I know that you'll savor the many memories that she left you with. :)


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 3:25 p.m.

R.I.P. Furball...My now 15 year old cat sounds much like furball in the arena of "attitude" and although she's not friendly to anyone but me, I love her just the same. I dread the day she will no longer be of this earth...