A Tribute to Bruno

Posted by on Dec 18, 2014 in Holiday Stories 2014 | Comments Off on A Tribute to Bruno

“Tut, Never Fear Me: I Am as Vigilant as a Cat to Steal Cream”

Uncle Bruno and kitten

Uncle Bruno advises a stray kitten

Although I was never fortunate enough to know him very well, Bruno always reminded me of Shakespeare’s magnificent, roistering knight Sir John Falstaff. Like Falstaff, Bruno had a tremendous appetite for all the good things in life: a deep bowl of meaty kibble, a soft and welcoming lap, and the smell of earth-thaw and melting ice when spring finally rolled round the shelter once more. Though scrawny and beat-up when rescued by For Animals five years ago, Bruno quickly discovered the joys of ready dry food and swelled to his full eighteen pounds. He asked little more of existence than its simplest pleasures, and he gave back abundantly in love, charisma, and élan to all those whose lucky paths he crossed.

I’d met Bruno any number of times before during my various trips to the shelter, but I first got to know him well in the early winter months of 2014, when I was coming by most every Saturday to spend time with Olivia Tusca, featured here. While Bruno had run of the shelter, inside and out, during the warmer seasons of the year, he stayed in the detached garage out back when it was cold out, comforted by a toasty space heater and by the aforementioned kibble. The garage was his fiefdom, and like a benevolent feudal lord, he governed its other inhabitants with magnanimity and great affection.

I always felt better knowing that O.T. was in that garage with Bruno, that even though she stayed in a cage for that portion of her stay at For Animals, he would be perched nearby, looking after her. Bruno was like that: he exuded a calming, steady presence that made you feel all was right with the world. “I’ve been to the School of Hard Knocks out there on the street,” he’d seem to say. “And it was no fun at all. Much better to be safe and warm in here with food and water and friends.”

When I’d sit in a folding chair next to O.T., her cage door open as I read aloud to her, Bruno would seek out the comfort of my lap. I am not an enormous human being, and my lap is moderately ample at best. Bruno, on the other hand, was a jumbo-size cat. Undeterred by the dubious ratio of human lap space to feline adiposity, he would invariably launch himself skyward, a furry Spruce Goose, onto my jean-clad thighs. Once there, he’d secure his uncertain purchase by digging deep into both denim and flesh with his claws. And then he’d butt my hand, over and over again, with his great cudgel of a head, purring like a Harley and fixing me with that irresistible look on his face. (And what a face! Jet-black save for a little Hercule Poirot mustache of pure white.)

If I was there to comfort O.T., then Bruno was there to make sure I received comfort in turn. His presence reassured me every time I visited that it would all be all right, that O.T. would mend from her various traumas, and that nothing ill would ever possibly transpire as long as Sir Bruno was guarding the castle.

O.T. did indeed recover, and came home to live with us, and I lost track of Bruno until this September. On the 11th, my wife emailed me at the school where I teach, just before a faculty meeting I was supposed to chair, to let me know that he had slipped loose of his long, full life at last. Theresa had found him sprawled out and seemingly asleep on the pavement outside his beloved garage; it was a beautiful early-autumn day, and his soft bulk was still warm.

Although Bruno wasn’t ever my cat, a quaking sadness ran through me at the news. My colleague and friend stepped into the room where our meeting was scheduled to take place, and I looked up at him with tears at the corner of my eyes. “I’m sorry,” I choked out, “but a magnificent cat has just died.”

And he was magnificent, in every sense of that word. Bruno was a great fat roisterer among cats, a massive paragon of affection and lordliness who ruled that detached garage and its environs at For Animals like a benevolent Tudor. My wife always called him “Uncle Bruno,” and that fit him; like one of those rotund, avuncular Zen masters out of legend, he was never a bully, always a gourmand and a Zorbaesque sensualist. Bruno taught many a young kitten, and perhaps even a few humans, how to savor the simple and essential pleasures of life.

Though I did not know him as well as many, I still miss him terribly. Yes, it was his time, and yes, he made as good a death as anyone can, but the world is simply a colder and less generous place now that he’s not in it.

Remember, please, as you read this that animals in their grace and enlightenment enrich this life as much as humans do. (I know I don’t need to tell you that, but it’s good to remind myself.) And remember Bruno, even if you never got to know him. Like Falstaff, he was one of the greats.