Tue 06, Jun, 2017
First, second, or 45th choice, whatever, I’m glad he picked me, because the five years we had together were some of the best of my life. And, I’d like to think, his.
Hawkeye the Cat was my faithful pal through a series of major life events – my engagement, marriage, a move, and my wife and I becoming proud parents of our first child, a boy.
How Hawkeye adopted me, and how he got his name, are tales worth telling.
(B)Lazing on a Sunny Afternoon
I’d left my apartment front door open, to try to cool off my un-air-conditioned bachelor pad at Moorpark and Beck, in a quiet, verdant part of Studio City, in the San Fernando Valley “just over the hill” from my job in Hollywood.
As I kicked back on the couch, watching a “M*A*S*H” rerun on TV, a medium-sized jet black cat casually sauntered through the doorway and into my living room, where he started eyeballing the accommodations and the help (me).
My mental jukebox cued up “Ain’t Superstitious,” and the line, “….but a black cat just crossed my trail….”
He was an outside cat, obviously, but wore no collar, no tag.
Staying motionless, I casually watched him reconnoiter my living room for a couple minutes, hoping he wasn’t just casing my place as his new litter box.
Through the years, since toddlerhood, I’ve had tuxedo, tiger and tabby kitties, but not a jet-black one, and always wanted one, but hadn’t made it happen yet.
This guy was a beautiful shorthair male (his big cojones gave him away), fully grown but no more than three or four years old, I guessed. His head and face were perfectly proportioned, his eyes a bright emerald green. Smooth, shiny coat; no evidence of damage from outdoor life.
Looked like he had a pet parent, maybe on our quiet block, who cared about him but not enough to give him an I.D. tag.
I started talking to him, calmly. Didn’t want to rile him and get sprayed.
“Yo, mister – what’s your story?”
Blur of Black Fur
The cat ignored me and headed toward the kitchen. With no pets at the time I had no pet food laid out, which he soon discovered.
As he padded back into the living room, I reached out slowly, carefully, so he could see me, just to touch him, but he freaked and bolted out the front door like the proverbial cat out of hell, a streak of sleek, a blur of black fur.
I stood there in his cloud of imaginary dust, thinking, “Yeah, that’s the last I’ll see of him,” and watched the rest of the “M*A*S*H” rerun.
A couple days went by. My neighbors told me they’d seen this cat around the ‘hood recently but but he didn’t belong to any of them.
Back then I was working long days during the week, but had weekends off when I worked on my editorial projects. The next Saturday, with my door open again, I was typing on a Selectric (!) at my kitchen table when the little bugger walked in again.
Blew my mind.
This time, seven days later, he seemed a little less wary, but still wouldn’t let me get close enough to touch him.
The only food I had handy was some canned tuna in water, which I wouldn’t normally give to a cat. But I figured a little wouldn’t kill him and dished a spoonful into a little bowl and put it out on the front porch just outside my door.
He followed me onto the porch and made a beeline for the bowl. But before taking a bite, he looked up at me, green eyes closed to slits.
Whoa. If a cat could give you a stinkeye, this guy sure fired one at me.
The Adoption Deal
Got the hint. Went back indoors to let him eat in peace, but watched from the doorway. He inhaled the tuna, cleaned himself up, then sat on the porch looking up at me, as if to say, “Okay, now what?”
The rest of the telepathic conversation went something like this:
Cat: “Invite me back in, dude. I think I like it here. I’m adopting you. Promise I won’t pee on your rug, spray the bedroom, or crap in your shoes, okay?”
Dude: “Well, okay, I don’t want to have to cut your nuts off so you don’t funk up my place. I’ll trust you. But one slip and you’re out of here.”
Cat: “No problem. Just feed me on time. And no physical violence.”
Dude: “Done. That means no scratching or biting me or my furniture, either.”
Dude: “One more thing – I have to give you a name. I’ll call you ‘Hawkeye,’ because that’s the look you were giving me last week when you first walked in here. And because I happened to be tuned in to ‘M*A*S*H’ just then and Hawkeye was my favorite character.”
Dude: “It’s either that or ‘Stinkeye,’ like the one you gave me a few minutes ago.”
Cat: “Ah, okay, Hawkeye’s cool. Let’s roll with that. Deal.”
And with that telepathic agreement, Hawkeye adopted me as his Human, and I invited him to move into my swingin’ Studio City bachelor pad. I was a Pet Parent once again.
Wary, Quirky, Lovable, Loyal Killer Cat Dog
I watched him constantly that first weekend. I was still very paranoid about him peeing or crapping in my place, so kept a hawkeye on him.
If he walked over to the front door, I’d let him out. Later I’d hear a scratch and a meow at the door and, let him in. He was really easy to read.
My girlfriend (and soon to be wife) Nadine, who lived about a mile away with a roommate and a couple of spayed female kitties, came over to visit, and thought Hawkeye the Cat was as cool as I did. But he bit her hand the first time she reached out to him. She won him over fast, though.
The first Monday morning, leaving for work, Hawkeye followed me outside, watched me drive off. I had no idea what he did during the day, but when I returned home, he showed up right away. He’d already learned the sound of my car. He met me at the edge of the parking lot and walked into the house with me, and hang out in the kitchen while I fixed dinner for both of us.
This became a really fun routine.
He’d let me pet and rub his back, tickle his head, ears and chin. But the one time I tried to rub his belly, he almost bit my hand off, so Nadine and I just steered clear of that region.
Eventually he’d let me pick him up, but only if he could ride on my shoulder, upright. He would not be cradled.
We got him a black studded collar and a name tag with our phone number stamped on it.
I took him to the vet for a checkup, shots, etc. Getting him into the cardboard fold-top cat carrier was difficult and I got scratched up. He just about shredded the box from the inside out by the time we got home and I finally let him out.
“You stick me in that box again and I’ll rip your eyes out!” was the look he gave me. But he soon got over it, as soon as dinner was served. I tossed the shredded cat carrier into the recycle bin.
Droolin’ on a Sunday Afternoon
Within a couple weeks all three of us were nicely bonded. We discovered Hawk’s favorite spot for rubdowns was my chest.
When I was on the couch or in bed, he’d jump up and sit on my chest, sphinx-style, with his face about a foot from mine.
I’d pet him head to tail, alternating hands so it was a non-stop power stroke. He’d squint or close his eyes and be gone from this place, lost in the love zone.
And when he was that content, happy, feeling all that love, he wouldn’t just purr.
Hawkeye the Cat would drool, too.
He’d get my shirt wet. We had to keep a little tissue handy to wipe his chops.
Only cat I ever had, or knew about, that drooled like that.
Hawk liked to stretch out on Nadine’s chest, too. She knew how to work him to a drool, too.
I think he actually preferred her chest to mine, but then again, what’s not to prefer?
Hawkeye lived in my pad for more than a year, with no litter box, and not once did he pee or crap in the house. Not even by accident. First cat I ever had who didn’t, and I’ve had more than a half-dozen fabulous felines in my lifetime.
When Hawk would come into the apartment at night, he’d apparently already taken care of his bidness outside. So he’d be fine inside all night, sleeping on my bed or easy chair until morning, when he’d patiently stand by the door like a puppy if he had to go out to TCB.
He kept his end of the bargain, all right.
A year or so later after Hawkeye the Cat adopted me, Nadine and I tied the knot. We decided I’d move out of my small crib into her duplex unit on Colfax because it was bigger. When I moved in, Hawk came along with me, and I introduced him to his new front and back yards, his new eating spot, new kitty playmates, and so on.
Hawk didn’t seem terribly pleased. That both Nadine’s girl cats were fixed and uninterested might have had something to do with it.
Hawkeye Goes Missing
After a couple days at Colfax, Hawkeye disappeared from our yard.
We wigged. We didn’t know if he was lost or had been cat-napped or what. Whatever, I felt responsible for uprooting him, freaking him out.
We had to find him. We couldn’t assume someone will find him and get our number from the tag. He might not even let them get close enough. We’re the only humans he seems to trust.
Nadine and I walked and biked around the neighborhood for several hours on the first search, until well after dark.
No trace. We had to give up for the night.
As soon as we could get home from work the next day, Nadine suggested we go back to my old apartment. We’d both seen and heard stories about pets who found their lost humans over long distances.
We sped over to the old place, and there was the Hawk, kicked back on the cool concrete in the shade on the porch outside my old front door.
Hawkeye must have had ah, radar. He just honed in on the old place’s vibe, or smell, or something. There were side streets the entire mile between the old and new places, so fortunately he didn’t have to cross any big streets. Nadine and I were elated. The relief was so intense, we busted out in tears.
As we rushed up to him on the porch, Hawk was very happy to see us. He rubbed up on our legs, let us pet him head to tail, and even pick him up. We hopped back into the car and I held him on my shoulder for the five-minute drive back to our new place.
We doubled up on the love and affection and spent a lot of time with him the new yard, so he’d get used to this being his new turf, too. Plus, he discovered he had a whole block full of new yards and foliage and fences and stuff to explore outside our yard.
This time, thank goodness, Hawk stuck around, and never strayed again.
Nadine’s cats lived inside, Hawkeye stayed outside, except at night. Her kitties kept their distance from him, and vice versa, so there were no hissing fits or territorial peeing wars. We were a cool little DINK-MC (double income, no kids, multiple cats) nuclear family for a few years.
Hawkeye Guards Firstborn Son in the ‘Nurfice’
Our second bedroom was my office, where I kept my large vinyl record album collection and reference library for my music-related editorial business. When I worked at home, often late into the night, Hawkeye was always there with me, keeping me company.
Nadine and I had been blissfully married four years when she gave birth to our son Scot in September 1985. During her pregnancy, I helped her nest by moving half of my office into the garage, leaving only a desk and a wall of albums behind a floor-to-ceiling curtain.
That freed up half of the room for a nursery, with baby changing table, cradle, crib, playpen, rocking chair, wall stickers, mobiles, etc. We dubbed the room the “Nurfice,” half nursery-half office.
There was room in the garage to set up an alternate work station. Whichever location I used, Hawk would hang with me.
He especially enjoyed lying on Nadine’s tummy as it expanded with boychild. Those were special moments. I think he and our baby bonded in the womb.
When Nadine and I came home with infant Scot from the hospital, the first thing we did was introduce our son to our feline family members, and vice versa.
Scot and Hawkeye seemed to bond immediately. From the time we came home, Hawk slept nights in the Nurfice on an Ottoman next to the crib, as if he were watching over the tyke.
A few of our fellow young parent friends freaked out when this came up in conversation. They told us the cat would jump into the crib, suck out the baby’s breath and suffocate it, and other weird old-wive’s tales. But we never feared Hawk would do Scot any harm, and he never did.
In the first few months Scot was home, Nadine and I took a daily walk around our large, tree-lined block, pushing the squirt in his stroller.
Hawkeye usually accompanied us, running ahead, circling around, darting in and out of bushes, over fences, through houses’ yards and apartment walkways as he kept up with us, as though he were showing us all his secret pathways he’d learned on the block. We’d swear he was half dog.
During the day when both Nadine and I were at work, Hawk would go off on some secret cat adventure. But when he heard one of our cars pull in the driveway after work, he’d appear out of nowhere to greet us.
Those were wonderful, idyllic times.
Hawkeye the Cat Checks Out Too Early
Until late one afternoon in early 1986, when Scot was about five months old. I went into the Nurfice to check on him. The baby was fine.
But when I began stroking Hawkeye, who was in his usual spot on the Ottoman, he felt very thin and bony.
Just a day earlier I had noticed he wasn’t eating his entire dinner. But he didn’t appear or feel emaciated, like he did this day. This was sudden and alarming.
He didn’t respond to affection as usual. Maybe I’m reading this into it, but when we made eye contact, I got the message something was seriously wrong.
I called our vet and took Hawkeye straight to the clinic. The intake folks were very nice, told me they’d watch him closely overnight and to call in the morning, which I did as soon as the office opened.
“Hello, Dr. (Whatever), how’s my black cat Hawkeye doing?”
“He didn’t make it through the night. Appears to be feline leukemia. We’re very sorry. What would you like us to do with his body?”
I couldn’t speak. I managed to say “I’ll call you back,” hung up and called Nadine.
Hawkeye didn’t deserve such a fate. He loved us so, was so loyal and devoted, watched over our baby like a four-legged uncle.
We were shattered. It felt horrible. It all happened so fast. We never got to say goodbye. We cried hard.
I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child, and hope I never find out, but losing Hawkeye was one of the toughest events of my adult life.
We retrieved Hawkeye’s body from the vet and ceremoniously buried it the Santa Monica Mountains, off Mulholland Highway, at about 3,500 feet, overlooking a beautiful valley below.
Nadine and I found solace in our grief by redoubling our attention to her kitties, who were warm, fuzzy and lovably goofy on their own right. We also double-checked their vaccination schedules and made sure they were protected. But neither followed and cavorted with us on our daily walks with Scot as Hawkeye had. We still love him and miss him like a lost child.
If there’s any positive to Hawkeye’s demise, it’s that it was in 1985, and today vets know a bit more about feline leukemia prevention and treatment than back then.
All your pet-loving friends at Pet Me Happy urge you to see your vet, protect your pets, give them lots of affection, and treat them to the best-quality foods and snacks.
Years later, another jet-black bad-ass male cat came into our lives unexpectedly – and we named him Radar. He was a completely different animal, not to be tamed. Radar will get his own page soon.
Stephen K. Peeples is CEO of Pet Me Happy Treats, which he co-founded in summer 2015 to pursue his lifelong passion for pets. In his previous life, he was a veteran music industry executive, an award-winning radio producer and newspaper website editor, a Grammy-nominated record producer, and a WAVE-nominated TV producer-host. He and wife Nadine (Pet Me Happy co-founder) raised two wonderful children, now grown and gone. Now, their cat, Batman, rules the empty nest.