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Dufus and friends, unlimited

COMING back from my walk this morning I didn't hear the familiar guttural meow and looked around expecting him to appear out of nowhere, as always. Then I remembered. Dufus died yesterday.

It was Saturday. The neighbor from downstairs called me early in the morning. He was lying at the foot of the stairs, howling and gasping. He couldn't get up, I thought he had broken a leg or something. The neighbor said she heard a loud cat-screech and then howls of pain.

The vet on emergency duty diagnosed massive chest and stomach injury but let's stabilize him first, then X-ray. His front claws were all eroded and torn out, she said, like he had fallen from a height and clutched at the wall. Half an hour later he was gone. They took him to the national veterinarian center a post mortem – maybe he was run over, they said. Or had been kicked really hard.

Dogs have masters; cats have people. Pointless, a common-variety alley cat followed Thomas home one winter's day two years back. She assigned him tasks like feeding her and opening the door. She would totally ignore me, even if I was right near the door, to seek him out in the study and slash his hand until he came out to do as she desired. Dufe had me.

He showed up one day after Pointless had been boasting downstairs for months about having her own armchair, three food dishes. TV always on her favorite program – Big Cat Diary of course. It was only a matter of time before someone else came to check it out. One day a nondescript tabby followed Pointless up the stairs.

At first we called him Useless, as in Pointless's useless buddy, but very soon it transpired that something like Rufus McDufus, the Legendary One-Eyed Laird of Glen Felix seemed more appropriate. Realizing where things were heading, Pointless dropped subtle hints. She swiped at his face with her claws, hissing and biting him. But Dufus' gutter upbringing had taught him to recognize a good thing when he saw it. He stayed. He had one working eye, but was all heart.

Pretty soon he had my routine down. When I'd go into the bathroom in the morning there he'd be, stretched on the mat in front of the shower. When I came out he was rolled up in front of the sink. When I wanted to brush my teeth and make up my face he'd look up at me with that long- suffering exasperated expression: “Yes, may I help you? This really isn't a very good time...”

When I returned from newsroom work, close to midnight, he was always waiting for me downstairs with a triumphant meow and run up the stairs in front of me. Probably hears the taxi coming a few blocks away, Thomas said. When I got into bed he'd be curled up on the pillow behind my head, fast asleep. Until about 4 A.M., when he'd utter a throaty purring-whine next to my ear: Get up, time to give me a snack and then let me out.

One day Dufus decided he too wanted a pet. He brought up a frisky black-and-white orphan kitten. Everyone in the building loved the newcomer. The neighbors on the third floor, below me, put out a mattress and a bowl of milk and called him Menashe. The single woman on the first floor let him in to eat tuna each day and called him Simcha. Everyone thought he was theirs but we knew the truth – he belonged to Dufus and his name was Patch.

Two weeks ago I found Patch under the tree downstairs with multiple fractures to his rear section. Maybe he was run over or was kicked really hard, the vet said before operating. Two days later we got him back with titanium pins in his leg. He was not to leave home and move as little as possible for three weeks.

Finding Dufus fatally injured so soon after Patch, and also at bottom of the stairwell, seemed strange everyone said. The neighbor from the ground floor said she was afraid to let her cat out anymore. The woman from the next building, who feeds street cats, said all kinds of sadists were out there and people with big dogs, which they let run loose on Saturday morning. Someone is targeting the cats, Thomas said - a neighbour with cat issues had threatened to call municipal inspectors to “take care” of cats wandering up and down stairs to and from their homes.

The post mortem revealed the immediate cause of Dufus' death was a heart attack. Natural causes, they said. Nobody's fault. Thomas remains unconvinced - neighbour hearing the cat scream and a door slam, his torn claws, internal injuries, two cats in two weeks at the bottom of the stairs. No!

Patch, still recovering himself, misses his friend. After all, Dufus found him as an orphan, and brought him to a new home, and played with him every day. Dufe was a better mother than many a mother cat. Patch looks under the bed – maybe Dufe is hiding there as he used to, waiting to pounce out again.

Yes, one-eyed Dufus is gone. He won't be pouncing on Patch. He won't be greeting me downstairs in the morning anymore. He won't run to meet the taxi when I return from night shift, nor trot up the stairs ahead of me, tail held high, all important, wiser than his six years, happily meowing out the events of his day.

One-eyed Dufus

'Bye, Rufus MacDufus, Legendary One-eyed Laird of Glen Felix

Patch

His injured friend, Patch

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