She’s the only cat I ever trained to do tricks, and trust me: there’s a long line of cats in my story. One year, in what I can only imagine is desperation borne of having absolutely no gift ideas, The Engineer gave me a small stuffed Dogbert. (Yes, like in the comics. That Dogbert.) Every night we’d head upstairs to bed, The Engineer and I, and Pipp would join us. As we brushed our teeth and readied ourselves for bed, I’d say, “Where’s Dogbert? Has anybody seen Dogbert?” Just like that, Pipp would stop her preening (you could almost see her snapping her claws and thinking “Dammit. I forgot Dogbert again.”) and trot off down the stairs, grab Dogbert around the scruff of the neck, then bring him back up the stairs (complete with the jungle kitty guttural growl) and deposit him at my feet with a satisfied smile.
And when she went missing, all I had to do was call out “Is there a Pipp in the house?” and she’d come a-running. I’ve had children who wouldn’t come when called.
I named Miss Pipp after the protagonist and narrator in Great Expectations because the two lives paralleled in such Big and Important ways. Both were destined to live unimaginably hard lives at the hands of cruel, heartless others until, in an unexpected turn of events, a kind stranger happened along to catapult them into a better life. For Dickens’ Pip, it was an unknown benefactor who brought the good luck. For our Pipp – the kitty with the German shepherd markings – it was my daughter, Alison, who, when leaving for lunch one day about 16 or 17 years ago, spotted Pipp with her head between the jaws of another animal actively performing the death sling maneuver. We suspect it was a loss of oxygen to Pipp’s brain from this brush with death that caused her to have a love/hate relationship with those who would pet her – especially should they go to pet her behind the ears – allowing them a few gentle rubs before scooting away or trying to bite them. She was obviously a little tender and skittish about being touched in the neck area. I think we can all understand why.
In her later years we began calling her Miss Pipp as she commanded the respect of all the other animals, refusing to run from them, refusing to give up her spot, refusing to be bullied any longer. She was tired of that nonsense and would stand for it no longer, drawing her boundaries and honoring them. At bedtime, she got her treats first, and her very demeanor warned others against encroachment – a warning others had the good sense to heed.
Ordinarily a cat of few words, it was impossible not to notice how the sound of Miss Pipp’s voice changed with age, too, becoming louder – perhaps from hearing loss, we don’t know. But I’m pretty sure that if Maxine the comic character had volume, she would sound just like Miss Pipp.
As the years accumulated, Miss Pipp became surer about what she wanted and with the clarity came a determination to get what she wanted. Take the day she wanted to go outside. “Oh no, you can’t go outside, Miss Pipp,” I told her. “It’s a big world out there. It’s loud, and there are other animals. It’s just not safe. What if you get lost? No, Miss Pipp, you’re not going outside and that’s that.” Eventually the door opened, and because she’d been waiting patiently in the vicinity, she was able to dart right out between my legs. All she wanted to do, it soon became clear, was not to run away, but to stretch out on the bottom step and catch a few rays, to warm her bones, to breath in the fresh air and maybe chew on a blade of grass. When she was ready to come back inside, she let those wishes be known, too – in a volume that went right through closed doors – so the outings became frequent occurrences, and not once did I forget to let her back in. Of course having her very own sentry helped immensely.
This morning in a private service, we wrapped Miss Pipp in her favorite towels and buried her near the spot by the falls she loved so much. She is survived not by a biological litter but by her litter of choice and chance: Phoebe the Corgi, God the Cat, and her peeps: Jeanne, Andy, Alison, Kipp, Marnie, Ada, TJ, Kevin, and Debbie, along with a host of others who came to love this beautiful strange cat who always marched to the beat of a drum only she could hear.