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Column: Death of a Barn Cat

Thursday, December 24, 2015
Shadow, our feral cat, passed away earlier this month, very peacefully. She had been shutting down for a couple of weeks, eating less and less, and moving with a bit of stiffness. My wife, Meg, and I found her about noon, when we returned from yoga class, lying very gracefully, as though asleep.

The ground was soft, so I was able to dig her grave easily, near a favorite tree she used to scamper up, close to the old play house.

On Nov. 16, Meg and I had walked into our woods for the first time in many months, and Shadow followed us, all the way to what Meg’s family has called Chair Rock for decades.

Shadow seemed a bit worried, but as we turned back toward the house, her tail went up, as she knew we were heading home.

We inherited Shadow when our previous barn tenant left, over 10 years ago. She had tried and failed to domesticate Shadow, and it was several years before I even was able to touch her tail. We fed her regularly, but she wintered in the barn until two years ago, when she moved inside when it became cold.

She seemed to like following me around when I went out to pick up the newspaper. She loved our deck, and would join us when we sat or ate outside.

She never challenged other animals — possums, raccoons, squirrels — who ate food from her outside dish, and they left her alone. She was of the wild.

A few hours before Shadow died, for some strange reason I remember what we would say as children when on a swing, and we stopped pumping: “Let the old cat die.”

Well, die she did, and the first time I ever picked her up was to lay her in her shroud to be buried.

Shadow, true to her name, has slipped away. It was a strange but very fulfilling relationship. We shall miss her.

Donald P. Gregg, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, lives in an old farmhouse in Westchester County, N.Y.

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