By Phil Duncan
Nine lives, they say cats have. Never truer than with our Trilby. Life #1 was at the shelter of the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, where we cat-shopped in September 1996. As I walked down the long row of cages looking at prospects, she poked out her paw and snagged my shoulder. I figured that a critter with such initiative would be an entertaining companion. We adopted her and named her Trilby, after an itinerant acrobat in a kid’s book my daughter Meredyth liked. To keep Trilby company, we took another kitten, also six months, and named him Casper (he was ghosty white, of course). Once home in Falls Church, they became fast friends.
Though Trilby and Casper were indoor cats, we let them out occasionally to explore the backyard. Trilby, nimble and curious, defined “backyard” more broadly than Casper: He was a plush homebody, she was prone to roam. Once, she disappeared for most of a long summer day. Finally, we tracked her meows to a tree four houses away, where she was stranded, seeking refuge from our neighbor’s two dogs. Life #2.
For almost a decade, Trilby and Casper wove themselves into our lives. They were there for every first-day-of-school sendoff for Meredyth and her brother Tyler; for birthdays and holidays; for visits from my parents up from Tennessee. When we took family vacations out West, to the beach, and to Knoxville, Trilby and Casper kept each other company at home. But in 2005, while we were at the Delaware shore, Casper died, of kidney failure. We had other cats in the house with Trilby after that, but none was such a buddy to her. Life #3.
Though Trilby was no fancy breed — just a domestic shorthair — she had the slender lines, springy step and insistent yowl of a Siamese. Even as she advanced in years, she’d bounce up stairs, leap into kitchen cabinets, jump onto our laps. She was a spry 16 when Meredyth graduated from Swarthmore in 2012, and a still-active 19 when Tyler graduated from West Virginia in 2015.
But inevitably, with age comes infirmities. One Christmas she retreated to a dark corner and groaned in pain, prompting an emergency trip to the vet to treat dehydration (Life #4). Some time around her 20th birthday, she went deaf (#5). And at her “silver whiskers” checkup that year, her bloodwork showed signs of kidney disease (#6). Our vet said we might extend Trilby’s life by giving her subcutaneous fluids at home. So we learned to wrangle the fluids bags and needles, and Trilby learned to tolerate the needle pokes.
Extend her life it did — far beyond our expectations. To 21 and 22 — her 7th and 8th lives — and, finally, in April of this year, to 23, earning her the undisputed title of Oldest Feline in Falls Church (and possibly in all of Virginia). The cat that had seen Tyler off to Mt. Daniel kindergarten welcomed him home at the completion of his master’s degree in criminology from Florida State. She outlived my mother, who died in 2017 at age 92. In 2018, she saw Meredyth head out to San Francisco State for graduate school in marine biology.
Trilby made the best of her old age. She patrolled the yard, annoying the birds and squirrels. She basked by the fireplace, or curled into her heated cat bed, or slept in our laps for hours, purring softly. She ate what she pleased — sardines, salmon, Popeye’s chicken — the reward for making it to 110 (the human equivalent of her cat age). Just two weeks ago, on her daily stroll outside, she spied a mouse, gave chase, and caught it. Feisty even in her 9th life!
But nine was the end of the line. Last week, she declined quite abruptly from just frail to nearly immobile. She lost interest in food. The soft purr stopped. On Sunday night, Tyler came by the house, and brought in Meredyth via video chat from California for one last siblings visit with the extraordinary cat who’d been a constant in their lives since Tyler was 3 and Meredyth 6. Just before dawn Monday, in the living room chair Trilby and I had shared so many times, she slipped away quietly as I held her in my lap.
Heartfelt thanks to Trilby’s many Facebook followers. With the news of the world stirring so much rage and despair on social media, it’s sweet to see the other face of humankind — likes and comments for our simple cat, who gave love, got love and made some mischief in her time. For years, whenever a friend lost a beloved animal companion, I hugged Trilby in memory of the departed. Now, I hope you’ll hug your dog, cat, hedgehog, whatever, and bid a fond farewell to our dear Trilby.
Phil Duncan has lived in Falls Church since 1985 and is serving in his second term on City Council.