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Halloween Haunts: For the Love of a (Mostly) Black Cat by Sumiko Saulson

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On October 31, 2009 something magical happened. That was the day that my then-fiance Gregory Hug and I adopted the approximately three-year-old predominantly black tuxedo cat we would come to know as Bootsy Catlins from Oakland Animal Services. We had been looking for a cat on Craiglist when we found a special Oakland Animal Services had on black and mostly black cats for Halloween. As a couple of goths, we were completely tickled by the idea of adopting a black cat, so we came in.

The kind woman working at Oakland Animal Services explained to us that thousands of years old prejudices against black cats made it so that they had the lowest adoption rates of any cats at around 10.0%. Mostly black cats, such as Bootsy, are the second lowest. As a result, they have the a 74.6% chance of being euthanized, more than any other coat color. In 2018, the BBC reported that black cat popularity was falling because of their failure to photograph well for social media posts.

Black Cat Awareness Day (August 17th) was developed to bring attention to the plight of black cats.  Both black cats and black dogs have been stigmatized due to old myths, which have often become worse in the retelling. For example, the superstition that a black cat crossing your path from right to left is bad luck got simplified to just a black cat crossing your path is bad luck. In addition, October has been declared Black Cat Awareness Month. It is very common for humane societies around the world to have adoption specials offering free or very discounted adoption for black cats on Halloween. Although there has been some criticism that offering black cats on the holiday could lead to their torture and ritual killing, this is actually another myth inspired by the equally fallacious Satanic Panic. No one is ritually killing black cats on Halloween.

When we went to adopt Bootsy, we had our hearts set on an all-black cat, and we looked at and interacted with the cats who were available, but they were mostly kittens. We were thinking we wanted an older cat, and Bootsy caught our eye. He was a big boy ~ a healthy weight for a cat his age at the time would be between eleven and twelve pounds at a healthy weight, and he weighed about twelve pounds when we met him. He would later become a chunky boy of about sixteen pounds for most of his adult life. He was a sweet boy, and affectionate, purring easily. We asked to spend some time with him in the special room they had to see if cats and their potential owners bond. We swung a ribbon on a stick around, and Bootsy started playing with it, just as if he were a kitten. Luckily, the special sale included mostly black tuxedo cats like Oreao (as he was known at the shelter). We decided to adopt him.

Despite the fact that black and white cats like Bootsy are supposed to be good luck, they are the most common cat color and the coloring type that most fills the shelters. Most black and white cats have green eyes, just like Bootsy. They are known to have the loudest purr… Bootsy’s purr can be heard clearly from five feet away. They come in a variety of patterns, including tuxedo cats like Bootsy, who always look dapper in their suit-like pattern.

We changed Bootsy’s name to Bootsy Catlins when we adopted him. He is named after William Earl “Bootsy” Collins, the fashionable bassist for Parliament-Funkadelic. Bootsy is a wonderful cat, and we love him very much. He lived with Greg and I until we broke up at the beginning of 2015. For a little while, he moved in with Greg. After two months, he came back to live with me, and my other cat, Marla, a spunky calico who is two years younger than him.  Marla is 14 and Bootsy is 16 years old today.

Sadly, Greg died in May of 2017, two and a half years after we separated. After he died, I got half of his ashes. They arrived in a box, which Bootsy quickly tore apart trying to get inside, almost as if he knew that some remnant of the Greg he loved so much was still inside. Greg’s ashes are on a desk, part of a small memorial I keep there. The ashes of a senior cat we adopted, Tigerlily, sit there with him, as well as ribbons, photos, and funerary pamphlets of other friends and family.

Bootsy reminds me of a time when my parents — and Greg — were still living. Both of my parents died of cancer, and now Bootsy has it, too. On August 9, 2022, he was diagnosed with Feline Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Cats with that kind of cancer have a poor prognosis, with only 10% living longer than a year. Those with the best prognosis have the tumors surgically removed. Unfortunately, due to the location, which is at the back of his tongue, he can’t have surgery. It would be too invasive. The cancer is locally invasive but slow to metastasize, so the main issue with it is making sure that the cat is able to eat.

My father died of liver cancer in January 2013, just a year and a half after he recovered from lung cancer. He complained about pain in his liver, but they didn’t follow up on it for six months. It was at his one-year wellness check-up for the lung cancer that they found the liver cancer. He was told he only had three months left to live. Five months later, he was gone.

My mother was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in August of 2009. It is a blood cancer in the same family as leukemia and lymphoma. It affects African Americans at a rate twice that of the general population. Her oncologist was the kind who would never say she only had a certain amount of time to live. He treated her cancer very aggressively, and although some relatives (including my father) did Google searches and found out that her prognosis was a life expectancy of only a year and a half, my mom lived another nine and a half years, dying of cancer in January of 2019. She was on not one but two experimental treatments for cancer, which helped to extend her life. My aunt Yvonne was just given a clean bill of health after battling breast cancer. She is cancer free, after less than a year of treatment.

Cancer affects humans and cats, and it’s a part of life. Death is a part of life. That does not change the fact that cancer sucks. For now, it’s day by day with Bootsy. I try to offer him a variety of foods he might like to keep him interested in eating. I have to pay attention to if he eats, how much he eats, and other things such as how active he is, and whether he is enjoying things in life, such as smelling the flowers in the garden, and pets and scritches.

He started oral chemotherapy on September 21, 2022. So far he is tolerating it well. It does kind of remind me of when my mom was on the oral chemo drug Revlimid. But I feel that Bootsy has taken care of me – being there with cuddles and purrs and loves while I survived the deaths of both parents, and my former fiance Greg. So, I feel it is my honor and duty to be there for him.

October 31, 2022 will be the Thirteenth Anniversary of the Halloween on which I adopted Bootsy Catlins. Just as when my parents died, it is now a countdown of the last holidays and last anniversaries together. If Bootsy doesn’t eat for two days in a row, I have to consider humane euthanasia. The clock is running down for my beautiful cat, and I hope he will make it to see one more Halloween.

 

Excerpt from “The Rat King” – this is a poem I wrote after Greg died.

 

Crumb Cake

 

Love life lost broken and scattered dust

Shattered little pieces of you

In thimble-sized vials and canisters

Tiny silver hearts

Sent to loved ones, tokens of remembrance

Now that you are gone

 

Dusty tomes about ashes to dust

The ashes and dust of the two of us

Your body in tins and plastic bins

Odds and ends

Of the life of you

 

Crumbs of your flesh reside here beyond death

They arrived in a cardboard box

It was claimed by your cat

I had to remove the box

Bootsy tore it to shreds

Trying to get you out of there

 

Reunited in death, master and pet

Your cat Tigerlily closer yet

In a box by your box on an old wooden desk

Like the one where you sat

Chainsmoking cigarettes

 

 

Ashes in ashtrays piled high

Debris of your disease (depression)

I guess that I will live with you forever

As you wanted me to in life

Forever my fiancé,

Though I’ll never be your wife

 

I live here with ghosts of our many days

And your body in pieces

And all four of our cats, two living, two dead.

 

 

GIVEAWAY: A signed paper copy of “The Rat King” by Sumiko Saulson (2022, Dooky Zines), a book of dark prose and poetry.

 

THE RAT KING, A Book of Dark Poetry: A heady mix of horror both light- and heavy-hearted with intimate perspectives on homelessness, racism, mental health, and death, each poem in this anthology will confront you with the things society prefers to ignore. Always grounded in speculative fiction, the works herein nonetheless remark upon our real world with a comfortable and revealing familiarity.

 

BUY LINK: “The Rat King” https://dookyzines.com/2022/06/09/the-rat-king/

AUTHOR WEBSITE: https://sumikosaulson.com/

 

 

BIO: Sumiko Saulson is an award-winning author of Afrosurrealistmulticultural sci-fi and horror. Author of the LOHR Reader’s Choice Award-winning collection Within Me Without Me (Dooky Zines), and the novel Happiness and Other Diseases (Mocha Memoirs Press). Winner of the Carry the Light Award (2016) BCC Voice “Reframing the Other” contest (2017), Mixy Award (2017),  Afrosurrealist Writer Award (2018),), Ladies of Horror Reader’s Choice Award (2021), and the HWA Richard Laymon President’s Award (2021). They write a column called “Writing While Black” for a national Black Newspaper, the San Francisco BayView, and teach courses at the Speculative Fiction Academy.

 

 

 

 

 

4 comments on “Halloween Haunts: For the Love of a (Mostly) Black Cat by Sumiko Saulson

    • Thank you for caring about Bootsy. He passed away in early on the morning of October 19, 2022 and didn’t quite make it to his 13th Adoption Anniversary on the Halloween, but we had a lot of wonderful times with him in his last week and a half and it means the world to me that you stopped by to show him some love and read his story.

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