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0056 - The Tale of Phoebe Alexandra

The Early Years


One late afternoon, many moons ago, in the long-long before time ago (2004), a tiny black-and-white ball of fluff arrived in my apartment. She had come from a farm in the Scottish Borders and had apparently been resting in front of a fireplace moments before her journey began...


She was brought to my apartment in an unsolicited fashion by my girlfriend, and I was then informed that this kitten was to live with me, or until she either moved in or got her own place...I guess that's how you get a cat, or another cat - as I already had one.

I still remember not long after arriving, Phoebe saw my cat Archie and ran right up to him and he simply spat at her, as he too had not been consulted during this new housemate selection process. But eventually, he got over the new intruder and accepted that she wasn't going anywhere.

Archie and Phoebe would become good friends. Archie would clean her, and she would let him, it was very sweet, she would lay back or turn her head to let him lick her 'better'.

They would play from time to time, but not as much play as Phoebe would have wanted but that was because he was significantly older - and I think his best playing days were behind him by that time, but he would still reluctantly oblige...

She was a quiet kitten, loved to play like all kittens, but quiet all the same. She used to love a little blue cushion, almost identical to the ones she had here on the boat that she spent so much time napping on, spending her quiet time perched on the back of the couch, just watching...or napping.

Then Phoebe, Archie, and I had a new housemate as my girlfriend moved in - So, Phoebe got to stay.


She grew out of her pillow and as she got bigger - higher places became available to her, cat trees and shelves and so forth - she liked the high places.


Phoebe was very spoiled in those early years and I think that contributed to her fussiness and she was fussy. At one point she refused to eat dry food unless you threw it for her, one piece at a time. For whatever reason, she had decided that she wanted her food on the run...


She was a real pain when it came to her wet food as well, it took about 2 years of trial and error to find a brand she would actually eat and enjoy...


Her Beauty


She was quite a messy-looking kitten with seemingly too much fur for such a small thing, but she certainly grew into it...She had a fluffy mane and the fluffiest back legs you've ever seen, it was ridiculous how fluffy she was - but she kept herself in such good condition, always grooming her locks and lounging in the sun whenever possible..

Those big green eyes peering out of perfectly manicured fur could easily command your attention and draw you into wherever she was...needless to say, she got her fair share of attention over the years...

In her prime, she really was stunning! and somehow managed to grow into old age with grace, all that fur really helped her maintain a youthful appearance!


Cats choose their owners...


What can I say, although technically my girlfriend's cat - I think it became clear who Phoebe chose...but spending the first 6 months with just Archie and I was probably a contributing factor...


It was a shame, my girlfriend would call Phoebe over and she would come but would then hop into my lap or come to me for attention - much to the frustration of my partner. It's not like Phoebe would avoid her, but she seemed to come to me somewhat more often...

At nights, she would come onto my side of the bed for attention, before settling for the night - one hilarious quote I remember is : "she's my cat, why won't she love me!"


But cats choose who they choose.


Her Reign


Phoebe would grow into a very commanding madam, she didn't put up with any bullshit.

Over the years quite a few cats would come into her life, and every one of them knew that she was the boss - disputes were swiftly dealt with by Phoebe and her powerful claws.


And she could be real moody though as well - I remember her getting woken up from a nap by the noise of two other cats playing. She calmly came through to the living room, found the offending cats, split them up, and chased one to the other end of the apartment - then went back to sleep in the new peace and quiet...

But for all the power she commanded, she wasn't a greedy cat, she didn't have to be first to the food bowls, or the first to try a new toy - she would almost always observe the others first - and once the guinea pigs had shown it was safe - then she would move in and take over.


When I say powerful claws, I mean it - she played to kill and you had to be careful when she got excited - those claws were deadly. The slightest lack of your concentration could easily end up with you bleeding - even if unintentional, it still hurt! She didn't mean to do it, but she would just get a little too into the kill...


It wasn't just humans that had to be careful - when Phoebe had her zoomies, she would turn into a Pepé Le Pew kinda character bouncing around the apartment - and every cat knew to stay out of her way, or face the consequences of getting caught up in her madness!

I think that part of the success of her reign was a sneaky trick she either discovered or learned - combined with her feminine wiles proved a powerful tool in getting the upper hand, in cat terms, she was an expert tactician.


Phoebe would start to act all cute, rubbing herself against furniture or the floor and appearing submissive - slowly drawing in another cat until he got close enough - then she would use the element of surprise to devastating effect and unleash a series of savage paw strikes...


I don't know why she used this particular tactic, or where she learned it, but it was extremely effective at managing 3 younger, larger male cats...


It did get to the point that whenever she got in a good mood, the others would clear out - not knowing if she was just in a good mood, or if one of them was about to have their ass handed to them...she always kept them guessing.


Later on, Chloe would discover Phoebe's little rotten trick too...


Her Loves


Phoebe's first love was Archie, and Archie had such a soft spot for her. Phoebe would walk up to him and rub up against him and he would start to lick her, she would lay down and when she'd had enough she wanted to play...Although Archie wasn't always in the playing mood.

Archie is the big black cat you see in Phoebe's kitten photographs, and sadly this is one of only a few videos I have of him, clearly filmed with a 2004 flip-potato. Now, everyone has smartphones that shoot 4k, way back in the long long ago - this is what we had, and sadly, it's all that remains.


And nothing in this life lasts for long as Archie got older and eventually, very ill, and sadly had to be put down. It was all very quick, he'd lost a bit of weight, then a lot of weight - I think from diagnosis to the end was maybe two or three months.


We're not exactly sure how old Archie was, as he was a stray, but the Vet estimated he was about 15 or 16 when he passed. Phoebe and Archie only had a handful of years together, but I know they enjoyed their time, they were so sweet to each other, most of the time...

As the years rolled on, more cats would come into her life but she only took communion with one of them, Ceasar.


Cesar was another unfortunate soul that we took in. A local resident had died and no provisions had been made for the cat and no one seemed to want him, so he came to us as a young cat, maybe only 6-8 months old


Somewhere around the 1-year mark of Ceasar's arrival, I noticed that he and Phoebe had begun sitting together....and for a while, they played.


But Ceasar was too rough and Phoebe had to sort him out perhaps one too many times, and I think after that they chose just to sit together, but they definitely enjoyed their time together also.

They also shared their love of heaters together. It's funny, Phoebe liked her space and would only share it with those she liked - on many occasions, if someone got too close and they would get a swot on the face...but Ceasar seemed to be always welcome...


The Last of Land


When Phoebe was about 13, My girlfriend and I parted company and, at that time, we had 5 cats, three boys, and two girls.


And for reasons best known to my ex-girlfriend, she agreed to leave Phoebe and take the boys - I think it was a decision she regretted, I don't know, but I assume.


So, it was just me, Phoebe, and Hannah. Between them, they decided to divide the house, Phoebe had the top floor and Hannah occupied the ground floor - They didn't really like each other, but tolerated each other - and didn't really have any squabbles but between them, they worked things out peacefully.

Hannah had been my mother's cat, and before too long, Hannah who was already suffering from renal failure developed some cancer in her jaw and sadly had to be put down at the ripe old age of 19.


So, then it was just Phoebe and I. Phoebe understood that she now had the whole house to herself and just relaxed...for a few months.

She seemed to like the space at first, but she got used to it fast, and as if by magic, and right on cue, another cat turned up. Enter Chloesaphina


I suspected that Phoebe wouldn't accept the new arrival, but maybe it was age, maybe it was the fact that Chloe was so small and didn't really pose any kind of threat, whatever the reason was, little Chloe was accepted, although at first I'd don't think she was super thrilled by it - but in time they did bond...

Although not pictured, Phoebe did get lots of extra attention so she knew she wasn't being sidelined by the new cat, and the new cat didn't interrupt her routines, things were good.


For the next year or so those two would happily co-exist, being friends but still not being too close...and with no other real cats to compete with, and only a kitten for competition, Phoebe was certainly relaxed and often joined in with Chloe's playtime sessions


The Early Boat Years


Leaving land was a big change for Phoebe, and although the shortest chapter in her life, I think it was the richest. It was her retirement after all...


The first few days and weeks were a bit strange for her, having been a housecat and knowing only terra firma for all of her 14 years...she took a little time to adjust. But adjust she did.

It was quite amazing to watch them both reestablish their routines onboard the boat, they both seemed a bit off until they had done so. I think Phoebe was first and getting back to normal - from feeding, to her favorite bed to nap in, and finally her one-on-one time in the evenings.


Phoebe loved her one-on-one pre-bed brush sessions, whenever I went to bed - I had to allocate at least 20 mins to Phoebe before she would let me sleep. It was always the same, a few pets by hand, then she would go under the covers to the bottom of the berth, have a scratch around, lay by my feet for a few minutes, and purr -then travel back up the covers to be brushed for 15 minutes.


Once she'd had enough she would mosey on back to her bed and let me go to sleep, but it was always the same routine and she would get stressed if she couldn't complete her cat tasks...

Phoebe and Chloe got a lot closer and would sit or lay together in the companionway or out on deck and just watch the world go by, seemingly putting whatever differences they might have had, behind them - and they seemed to start fresh

In these early boat years, I really got to know Phoebe in a way I hadn't known her before - I know that may sound a bit funny and a bit hard to explain - but living in such close confines you get to know your pets in a whole new way - you begin to pick up on their subtle nuances, changes in behavior, you learn all their meows and their respective needs.

Being the only other sentient life forms onboard, you become acutely aware of their presence and somehow develop a topographical sense of where they are on the boat at all times. You learn all the noises their claws make on the deck as they move around, and being able to tell which claw sound belongs to which cat becomes a handy distinction.


Spending 24hrs a day with any animal will bring into focus a lot of things you hadn't noticed or hadn't had the time to pick up on before...

Of course, when Phoebe had her zoomies, there was no mistaking the thundering of paws'n'claws down the deck - and whenever you heard that noise almost instantly Chloe would come flying in the companionway, as she, like rest that had come before her, had learned to stay out of the damn way!


Phoebe loved all the sights and sounds of life on the water, I mean, she went from sitting on a windowsill watching the odd bird go by, to watching fully loaded cargo ships maneuver and exit harbours like it was totally normal to her - she would lay out on the deck in a remote bay like she'd been doing it her whole life...and saw more sunsets than she ever could've from our lousy apartment window, and sailed enough miles to qualify as a Captain.

And having known Phoebe for her whole little life, I can honestly say I never saw her happier...She loved laying outside in the sun, or under the sprayhood, watching the birds, the seals, the fish - or just doing some alfresco napping in the shade - and with all her cushions and beanbags, she was spoiled for places to indulge in - she loved it!

If you're a cat owner, you know your cats have special meows, reserved for just you, or a certain content feeling - for the first year, that's about all I got from Phoebe, she was soo happy. I think she was a little overwhelmed at having so much outdoor access, she loved it!


The Later Boat Years


It was about 2 years ago, Phoebe developed some age-related issues, she lost quite a bit of weight and a vet who examined her said she maybe only had a few months to live, and that I should consider euthanasia.


Phoebe was a tough old girl and had other ideas...She suddenly got better and gained some weight and perked up, and being honest - I thought they were a little quick to suggest euthanasia, it may come as no surprise - we didn't go back to that vet again...



But her ill health would have mini-resurgences and that would result in us stopping for weeks, either for her to get better or to get medication in the mail, but in time we came to a formula of medicated food and dietary supplements that seemed to keep her ills at bay, whilst keeping her happy and enjoying herself.

Even during this time, she was still sunning herself and doing all the things she loved - and I don't think Phoebe really seemed to care that she was ill, she just kept being her, several different decent vets assured me wasn't in any discomfort, her weight was still in acceptable limits, and in that respect, and she carried on that way for another year.

Phoebe really pigged out over the last winter, gained some weight, and come January this year she was really looking well, all things considered - by about May the weight gain had plateaued, and by June her weight was stable.


Over the next few months, Phoebe would be in good shape as we traveled 1200nm to another coastline and she would go on to have a fabulous summer - in some of the choicest places for any cat to go, laying around in the hottest sun, to watching the best of wildlife in Nature Reserves...this past summer, she really lived it up.

Despite her diagnosis of renal failure, a heart murmur, and arthritis in her hips - she could still jump up the companionway and jump up onto the boom, and honestly, I did think during the summer that if she can just stay this way, as mobile as she was, she could easily have another year in her, maybe more - and the way she was acting, it was like she had forever...


Her Final Months


Around September (2022) I noticed she'd lost a little weight but then immediately began to put some back on...at first I thought she was just getting all fat and sassy again as she was eating plenty, but by the end of the month her belly was looking almost swollen - and a visit to the vets did not bring good news.


The fluid retention in her abdomen was related to her heart condition which had now progressed, and with each passing week, her heart was getting weaker, her little body was just failing. Medication controlled the fluid retention, but the combined renal failure and ever-weakening heart meant she wasn't going to recover, and there was nothing, else, that could really be done.


But again, Phoebe didn't seem to care that she was ill - Lounging around on her electric blanket and getting fed the finest treats - business as usual to her!

And despite all this, Phoebe was still fairly active, and although she quickly lost the ability to get up and down the steps, we both noticed this and came to an arrangement relatively quickly.


She would get herself up to the sink then call for assistance - I would then open the hatch and bow down in front of her - then by using my back as a step she would hop on over to the top step of the companionway, out into the cockpit, and up to the bow, day or night...

And this is how it was for weeks and weeks until additional steps were added to the process as she got weaker - but she still got out, but always needed to be carried back in...but whatever she wanted to do, we always found a way...


Phoebe didn't seem to lose her marbles as some older cats do, She was still very much herself right up to the end, and her memory was certainly still in good order


I played this video on my laptop that I hadn't played in years that has Archies Catnip Meows on it, and bless her, she perked up and started looking around...

Phoebe appears at the end of the video, she always went to investigate, but Archies been gone for more than 14yrs - she still remembered him after all this time...and yes, he really sounded that way when he got his catnip on...I still miss him.


Phoebe's final months and weeks were spent very comfortably, eating almost exclusively from a menu of her favorite things - and I can safely say she got everything she wanted, and everything I could think of that she might want...and she still loved her brush, and her tiny brush.


I spent all of my spare time with her and helped her do all the things she normally did until she didn't want to do them anymore.


And on the 14th of December 2022, after 18 years and 8 months of life, Phoebe went to that place where we all eventually go.


 

The Space Left Behind


I could ramble and write pages listing all the wee things that she did that made up her personality, but if pictures are any measure of time spent, I'd like to think about it like this : For the first 13 or so years of her life, I only have about 160 photographs and a tiny handful of short videos to account for all that time.

Since moving aboard the yacht, and in less than 4 years - I have amassed an archive of thousands and thousands of pictures - and there are tons of videos too - I keep finding random clips in random folders...


I have pictures of her in all kinds of places, she was always up on deck surveying the new surroundings, always curious, always present, and always the boss....it's nice to see her soo happy, in soo many pictures...

But it's just a huge rats nest of folders and sub-folders...it would take me weeks and months to sort out, it's almost a half terabyte of Photos to sift through, and its straight-up, ridiculous - I had no idea there was so much, or that I had been so prolific

But if I'm honest, I'm probably not going to sort it all out - I like that I have this place where I can go exploring and find pictures and treasured memories that I'd forgotten about.


It's a real joy to travel through the past with soo many photographs. It doesn't leave any doubt as to whether she had a nice life on board or not, the evidence is clear...

The void she leaves behind is significant - it's difficult to explain the value or the contribution a pet can make to your daily life and what that really means. Living with cats on a yacht was certainly different from having cats live with you in a house.

Somehow in a house, there can be a day or so when you don't see much of your pets, you know they're there, the bowls are emptying and the cat box is getting fuller - but that didn't happen on the yacht, it couldn't.


We live(d) in such a way that you're never more than 15ft away from each other, and whenever I looked at Phoebe, I found she was already looking at me - and as I made eye contact she would make a little throaty meow of acknowledgment...

Living in each other's space forces a lot of interaction, and these interactions make up more of your day than you'd think......and that when those interactions go away, you really feel the emptiness that was once occupied by a loving little life, and you can't help but miss all the little things...


The way she would always make a fuss if I stepped off the boat, and always make a dash to greet me when I came back, never taking her eyes off me - or the way she would always run up the deck when I would sit at the bow.

When she would very politely paw at me for attention or to demand her share of something, the way she would share my lap, or just lay around relaxing with Chloe.


The loud purr that would come out of her when she'd lay on my chest or climb inside my jacket, or just how silly she could be...

All these things, and like 5000 other little things, add up to a wonderfully well-behaved little companion. It's tough to say goodbye, but I'm proud and honored to have been accompanied for so long, by such a loyal loving wee soul who helped make so many happy memories. I'll miss her forever.

 

"I'll see you in another life when we're both cats"

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