MIGUEL, a.k.a. "BABY"




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"There are no ordinary cats."
Colette (1873-1954)

April, 2001.

A scruffy black-and-white cat with ragged ears, a hairless patch on the side of his head, and one oddly speckled eye is dropped off at the Seattle City Animal Shelter—the second time in his life he’s been abandoned. His name is Miguel. If no one picks him out of the ranks today, he’s destined for the Great Mouse Meadow in the Sky.

Enter a tall, gray-bearded man with shaggy eyebrows, a hairless patch on the top of his head, and a twinkle in his eye. His name is Michael. He very much likes critters—sometimes more than people. He especially likes big, affectionate male cats with outboard-engine purrs.

Miguel seems to know it. When Michael walks into the Viewing Room, the cat runs full-tilt to the door of his cage and bonks his head against it, his purr in overdrive. When Michael reaches in to skritch him under the chin, he ramps up the purr even more. And then he flops over in agonized ecstasy: Pet me, pet me!

The rest, as they say, is history.


I must admit, I was skeptical when Michael, my partner at the time, walked in with a cat draped over his shoulder. Oh, I wanted a cat, all right, but somehow Miguel wasn’t the cat I’d had in mind. He wasn’t exactly a beauty. In fact, he had a disreputable look about him, a certain piratical air. I could almost imagine a black patch over his peculiar, dark-specked eye. “Now why, exactly, did you choose this cat?” I asked.

“I didn’t,” said Michael. “He chose me.”

Piratical or not, the cat obviously needed a skritch between the ears. The instant I touched him, he burrowed his head in my hand and broke into his outboard-motor purr. That was it. He had my heart as surely as he had Michael’s.

In the years he lived with us, Miguel was our "baby" and our constant companion. He greeted us at the front door, followed us around the house, and made sure we got out of bed in the morningearly in the morning! He came in from outside when we called him. He had an extensive vocabulary and used it often. (I admit, I usually talked back.) And he loved nothing better than a comfy lap for a long, luxurious nap. What an inspiration!


Miguel was also my writing inspiration. He aroused my curiosity. What did he do in the morning and evening hours he disappeared from the house and prowled the neighborhood? When he came back in, what was he trying to tell us with his meows and mews and squeaks and warbles? What did he think about the fact that we adored him? Did he realize how lucky he was―a "used" cat, abandoned twice, suddenly the center of someone's universe? With these questions, My Life as a Cat, my first children's story, was born.

Eventually My Life as a Cat morphed into The Secret Life of Walter Kitty (Alfred A. Knopf, Spring 2007). Miguel also directly inspired I Like Black and White (tiger tales, Spring 2006). He even inspired me to create a picture or two, including the logo at the top of this page. And obviously he inspired this website! (To hear that story from Miguel's point of view, go to Walter Kitty's Biggest Secret Ever.)

Life with Miguel wasn't always a bed of catnip, though. There was a reason for his chewed-up ears and his bald spot and his speckled eye. The specks, we learned, were the result of a chronic eye infection, most probably caused by a fight-inflicted wound. Yes, he was a lover AND a fighter. Not because he had anger-management problems, of course, but because he was duty-bound to defend his people, his house, his yard and his neighborhood from every other male cat on Sunset Hill. (Technically he wasn’t a male, but you’d never have known it from the way he acted.)


In Spring 2004, Miguel's eye infection worsened, causing a cataract and then a tumor. Eventually the eye had to be surgically removed, leaving him one-eyed and looking more like a pirate than ever. To our great sorrow, the vet wasn't able to remove all the diseased tissue, and shortly after his surgery, we had to say our final goodbyes. We trust he's having the time of his life chasing birds and mice―but only for fun―in the feline version of heaven.

For a long time, the house felt empty without Miguel. We still expected him to come running when we let ourselves in the front door or opened a can of tuna or sat down with the newspaper. We still woke up at 5:30 every morning―the time he always woke us up for a bite to eat before his morning rounds. Then we'd remember he was gone and feel sad. But we know the years he lived with us were bonus years, years he had because Michael dropped by the animal shelter one fateful day and lost his heart. Miguel gave both of us so much and made our lives infinitely richer, and his spirit lives on.

If you and your family have ever thought about asking a furry creature to share your home, we hope you'll consider adopting a cat or dog from your local animal shelter. The need is great―and the life you save may inspire you more than you’d ever guess.

All text and images on this website © Barbara Jean Hicks 2005-2009 unless otherwise identified. Text and images may be used for educational and other non-commercial purposes if copyright and website information are clearly stated. Commercial use of all text and images is strictly prohibited.