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The Orca Books cat, Henry the Heroic, meets untimely passing

by Carol Sipes

I got a call this morning from one of the staff at Orca Books, our local independent bookstore. It was confusing to me when she introduced herself because I couldn’t imagine why she was calling. Then she told me the horrible news no cat lover ever wants to hear. Their beloved store cat, Henry, had been killed. Somehow he slipped out the night before, and was probably hit by a passing car. A neighbor found him that morning before the store opened for the day. I could hear the sadness in her voice, but she was able to tell me the news in a way that was both sad and comforting for me.

I was deeply touched that they even thought to call me. It was a comfort even though the news was so hard to hear. I’ve come to expect kindness from them. It occurs in every interaction I have in that store, and I stop in frequently. They always seem to have the books I am looking for, or will find them if I’m willing to wait a few days. One night, when I was at work, one of the Orca staff flagged me down to tell me a book I had been looking for the previous week had come in as a return. That was so thoughtful. It impressed me that he remembered, let alone took the time to tell me while he was shopping for himself. They are all like that, so it hadn’t surprised me when they took in a cat who really needed a home.

People know that I love cats. It’s more accurate to say that I love some cats. Since I stopped doing cat rescue, I try to ignore every cat I see who might need some loving. But there are cats that, no matter how hard I try to pass them by, get into my heart somehow. Henry was one of those cats for me. I thought he was the cutest little guy.

I loved his story, at least the one I remember. It differs slightly from what Orca Books has posted on their Facebook page. I’m not really sure which one is true or if they are parts of a bigger story, but I love what I remember hearing about him when I volunteered for Feline Friends.

Henry used to live on a farm. I don’t know if he was a stray, or a barn cat that belonged there. One day the barn caught fire. It appears that Henry knew about, or had been caring for, a litter of kittens. They were in the barn when it caught fire. People said he was frantic to get to those kittens, and he ran repeatedly into that burning structure until he had rescued them all. Every one of them survived, thanks to Henry. I don’t know who took him to Feline Friends after that, but he came in with fur and whiskers singed from the fire. They nursed him back to health and, when he was ready, put him up for adoption. He was a hero even before he became a public figure.

I didn’t know him well, since I only saw him occasionally. It was fun to go into Orca and visit with him before I went on my book search. Part of the fun was just finding him. He could be anywhere in the store. Sometimes, he was right up front, assisting at the desk, or helping one of his staff buddies check in books. Often he would curl up on a stack of books and take a nap. I often wondered how he kept his balance as he dozed off on that pile of books, or even on top of a display rack. I never saw him fall off. He might be snoozing on one of the many chairs scattered throughout the store, or just walking around checking things out. When it was time for dinner, he would take off toward the back office, his little tummy swinging from side to side as he ran. He was humorous and funny, sweet and teasing, adorable and cute. I’m sure he had a testy side. I just never got to see it.

I never thought he liked me very much because, when he saw me looking for him, he’d take off in the opposite direction. Even when he ran away from me, there was mischief in his eyes, not fear. Over time, he began to tolerate my affection as long as I didn’t carry on too long. Lately, he even allowed me to give him a kiss on his head, or scratch his chin. I often saw him lavish much more affection on other shoppers, and it puzzled me as to why I caused him distress. I’ve often wondered if he remembered me from Feline Friends, and associated me with the time he spent there. Maybe he thought I would take him back and that bothered him. But I’ll never know for sure, and it doesn’t really matter. I’m just puzzling over why that cat didn’t fall in love with me immediately, as most of them do. I sure did love him.

Most of my life, I have lived with cats. After I fell in love with my first cat, I was hooked for life. They are amazing beings who can give you as much love as you can stand. They also have their own lives to live, but they don’t mind entwining theirs with yours. Years ago, a feral cat named Caesar, decided she wanted to live with me. She made her wishes well known, and I reluctantly took her in, and proceeded to fall in love with her. But my other cats did not like her, and they made her life miserable. She started to have asthma attacks. The attacks were so severe that they became life threatening, and if I hadn’t been there to help her, she could have died. Since my vet couldn’t find a medical reason for her attacks, I had to look elsewhere for an answer. One day, one of my friends asked, “why don’t you ask her what’s going on? Get Lisa to come over and talk to her.”

I had heard about animal communication from many friends of mine. I knew there was a woman in Olympia (Lisa Holm) who could talk with them, so I called and asked her to do a session with Caesar. What I learned from Caesar saved her life, and opened up my mind to the world of animal communication. I read every book I could find (usually found at Orca Books) about communicating with animals. I invited Lisa over often to have sessions with my cats, and I even took her Animal Communication class to learn how to talk with them directly. I still haven’t mastered that skill, but I understand it’s harder to talk with your own cats than ones you aren’t emotionally tied to. And, if you’re wondering, no, Henry would never talk to me. He’d just turn his head away from me and be silent. That’s his right. We have to have permission from them, to talk with a cat.

I’ve learned some amazing things about cats since I started talking with them. They are sentient beings who are here with life purposes which are similar to our own. Their “limitation” lies in the fact that they are cats and are only able to do cat things. But it’s their approach to life and death that has made a difference to me. They live life in the moment, and when they die, they are joyful about the whole trip. After a friend’s cat was killed by a speeding car, we asked him what happened. His response was: “oops. I didn’t hear it coming.” Another one said: “I thought I could outrun the car, but my timing was off.” In both of these answers, there was neither sadness nor regret. Usually there’s a lot of good humor and fun in the responses. It seems as if they live in the moment in spirit, as well as in life, and there is joy in everything they do.

Another thing I learned from reading about cat beings is that they, as a group, have taken on the task of opening up the hearts of human beings. That’s a commitment they’ve made to help save the planet for everyone. Humans need to develop a more loving connection to the animals, and the environment we all share. Cats do this by being themselves and needling into our hearts so we can’t help but love them. That love spreads as we share it with others. I think Henry was a master at this. He was well positioned at Orca Books to touch the lives and hearts of many people, and he did. We know he did his job because our hearts are breaking now. He did it by just being himself. It’s that cat thing that is really no limitation at all.

I’ve always felt that Henry loved the people who cared for him, and loved being in the bookstore. Sometimes lately, when I would sit next to him, as he looked out the big window near the food books, I thought I could see a faraway look in his eyes. Maybe he was thinking about the fields around the barn where he grew up and used to hunt and play. Or maybe he was planning his next escape from the bookstore that was his home now. Maybe he just had wanderlust or he was thinking about his next mouse or people conquest. Maybe he knew it was time to move on. It’s hard to know what a cat is thinking unless you ask them. What I do think, and feel, is that when a cat touches so many lives and then moves on to other realms, the best way for us to celebrate his life is to say: “Well done Henry. Well done …. and thank you.”

Copyright 2012 Carol Sipe

Article submitted by Orca Books.

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