John Shearer: Thankful For A Cat Named Ernie

Monday, February 18, 2013 - by John Shearer
Ernie the cat and Maisie sharing a chair about two years ago.
Ernie the cat and Maisie sharing a chair about two years ago.
- photo by John Shearer
My wife, Laura, and I unfortunately had to say goodbye last week to our big black cat, Ernie.

After 14 years of being a seemingly healthy cat, he uncharacteristically stopped eating and drinking for the most part. After several days of this, we took him to the veterinarian, who x-rayed him and discovered that he had some cancerous masses among other problems.

As a result, the end had sadly come for him.

Ernie was a rather unusual cat in many ways. A large animal weighing roughly 20 pounds during much of his life, he had long black hair and may have even been a Maine coon cat.

A former colleague of my wife had found Ernie as a kitten in her Sequatchie County barn in early 1999 and had called him Moby because he was larger than the other kittens.

After the friend showed up with him at our house one day, we quickly knew he was a keeper. Laura decided to name him after singer Tennessee Ernie Ford.

I am not sure if it was just guys hanging around together, but Ernie for some reason gravitated toward being my cat and buddy.

Early on, I found that he loved being rubbed on the back of his neck, so that became a ritual several times a day whenever he was near me or I would pass him in the house.

I think I also helped him develop human-like tendencies, as I started feeding him small helpings of dry cat food three times a day after he became our only feline. And by 10 a.m., whenever I was at home, he would be ready for lunch and would let me know in a not-so-subtle manner. As a fellow guy who also has a hearty appetite, I could relate!

Ernie was larger than the vast majority of cats and, while not really overweight, he had a way of lumbering around that reminded me of elephants, bears or tortoises I would see on wildlife-related segments on TV. And he was certainly not lacking for self-esteem, based on the way he would sometimes lay down on his back like a beached whale.

To borrow a popular TV ad slogan of recent months, Ernie was definitely comfortable in his own skin!

But despite his size, he had the meekest meow that sounded more like a squeak.

Ernie in many ways was a rather complex and contradictory animal. He would generally greet human visitors in a friendly manner and would eventually come and speak to them after they arrived. And oftentimes he would come near where Laura and I were sitting and want a rub down.

But he was generally not a lap cat, primarily because of his large size. And because of his tendencies to wake us up at 5 a.m. and let us know breakfast time had come, we would generally have to put him in our large laundry room at night with our crated West Highland terrier dog, Maisie, rather than let him freely roam the house after hours.

Ernie could also sometimes be downright mean. If he was touched or rubbed somewhere else besides the back of his neck, he would let you know in a not-so-friendly manner. And my young step-grandchildren often were the recipients of a slapping paw when they would accidentally pat him in the wrong place or he did not understand their form of saying hello.

Ernie was also not afraid to try to eat Maisie the dog’s food, forcing Maisie to have to sometimes guard it. In most households, the cat food bowl has to be kept away from the dog, but the opposite was true at our house.

But despite Ernie’s unusual and somewhat high-maintenance personality, we loved him the same.

We had owned him since a short time after I left the Chattanooga Free Press, and much about Laura’s and my lives and careers has changed since then. As a result, he was one of the few constants over the last 14 years, and that endeared him to us.

The neck rubs, getting out the food for him in clockwork manner and cleaning out his litter box were such a big part of my daily and weekly routine that the thought of no longer getting to do that – especially rub his neck – makes me sad.

Looking back at his last few days, perhaps the most endearing memory I have is from last Thursday, when I went to pick him up in the kitchen to take him to the vet for what I likely knew would be the last time. He was feebly sitting and staring out at the backyard he loved.

I miss him greatly, but I am thankful we were able to enjoy him for 14 years.

Goodbye my old buddy. I will always love you.

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