In Memoriam of Russell Clarence

Russell Clarence had a rocky start, having been rescued from an abandoned building by Feline Urban Rescue, a Washington, D.C. organization. The mothers found there were in such bad condition, it was too late to save them. Efforts were made to place the litters of kittens, including with the help of local rescue groups. Even then, not all made it. Russell was one of the fortunate few.

I had a feeling I should visit a particular D.C. rescuer. The moment she showed me the litters, my eyes went to him and I knew he was for me. So tiny, he fit in the palm of my hand. He had just been brought there, and not a quarter inch of him was free from fleas, which we picked off one by one with tweezers after giving him a bath, not wanting to use harsh chemicals on such a tiny little being. Russell sat patiently, accepting his fate, even when soaking wet.

Russell (a word akin to russet — so named for the color of his fur) Clarence (because it sounded dignified), had his share of medical problems — no tear ducts in one eye, so he always had to put up with antibiotic drops in that eye, and teeth so soft from malnutrition that the canines crossed, forcibly keeping his mouth propped open, so they had to be removed. He never complained and he never resisted. When the vet brought him back into the room after neutering, the instant he saw me, he began to purr and reached his little arms out toward me, like a child reaching for his mother.

The mother-child relationship was the nature of our interaction from the beginning. He would lie on his back in my arms, like an infant, kneading and purring. I called him my “infanta-cat” and would defer phone calls till he finished nursing. In my eyes, he never grew older. Even as an adult, he liked to reach out one paw and connect with me by touching my face or my hand.

At the rescuer’s, he playfully pounced on his siblings, and at home, on the other cats and even on a Lhasa-Terrier mix, hiding under a blanket on the couch and leaping out as they passed, but he never hurt them. “He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body,” a friend remarked about him.

Mothers aren’t supposed to have favorites among their children, and there were and still are other cats in the house, but my bond with Russell was very close and very strong. Sadly, the deficiencies in his background caught up to him, and he died of kidney failure at only 12.

There never was, nor could there ever be, a sweeter kitten. He will always have my heart. He is buried under a yellow rose bush — signaling my hope that we will meet again — surrounded by pink baby’s breath, for he was a baby cat, and by purple cat mint. The color pink means love, the color purple things of the spirit. My beloved baby cat has gone to Heaven and I pray that we will one day be reunited.

Nina Natelson