BENEATH WY'EAST: Columnist Paul Keller reflects on a stray tabby cat that wandered out of the Mt. Hood wilderness and into his heart.

COURTESY PHOTO: PAUL KELLER - Bobs favorite scratching log is now part of her headstone at her gravesite beneath three big cedar trees behind Paul Kellers Zigzag-area house.Several years ago when I was in training to be a volunteer phone counselor on Portland's Metro Crisis Line, they told us to expect calls from people who were overwhelmed by grief from losing their pet. They cautioned and advised how pets are bona fide family members.

Six months ago, the veterinarians discovered two fatal, inoperable cancerous tumors inside my cat's abdomen. They told me she had six months to live.

Crutcher Sue Bob

Let's start at the beginning.

Paul KellerTwelve years ago, this little tabby kitten emerged from the woods beside my Zigzag area house and adopted me. The wilderness ridge just behind my house is known as Crutcher's Bench. Plus, at that time in my life I was calling everything and everybody "Bob." (I have no idea why.)

I named her Crutcher Sue Bob. But pretty soon I was just calling her "Bob."

The same day that the wonderful hands of fate delivered Bob into my life, I had also moved into this new (for me) home. So, for the past 12 years, this solo bachelor had himself a roommate and good buddy sharing his small abode with him — from day one.

At first, I must admit, I was a bit hesitant to take on the responsibility of providing for a cat. After all, growing up we always had dogs, never felines. And the last time a cat came out of the woods up here and adopted me two decades ago, the coyotes got him.

But, fortunately for both of us, I just couldn't tell Bob no.

More like a dog

COURTESY PHOTO: PAUL KELLER - Crutcher Sue Bob, who once had a catastrophic encounter with a skunk, seemed more like a dog than a cat.Throughout those 12 years of me teaching Bob about life and Bob teaching me about life, I got used to hearing the same puzzled and perplexed inquiry from friends and acquaintances: "You have a cat?"

I would always explain that, thankfully, my adored four-legged roommate's behavior and psyche was much more akin to a dog's.

Bob minded. She knew that she was not to stray from "her" space blanket, that I kept on top of my bed for her during the day, onto "my" bedspread. On those rare occasions when I'd walk into the room and half or all of her would be positioned on the "off limits" bedspread, I wouldn't say anything. I would just point my finger, gesturing for her to get back over where she belonged.

Every time, I swear, without a fuss or without playing dumb, she would oblige me and move. Talk about effective nonverbal cross-species communication.

And more like a canine than cat, Bob never ever jumped up onto any of my tables. Not once. Such a maneuver just wasn't in her DNA.

Whenever it was time for the two of us to get out of the house for some fresh Cascadian air, I would look at Bob and say "Wanna go outside?" Ninety-five percent of the time, off she'd head for the door. I swear it.

Bob was also polite. My dear roommate would allow me to sleep in on the weekends.

Even though, thanks to still-snoring Paul, she'd sometimes miss her morning feeding time by an hour or more. She didn't caterwaul, nor did she jump up onto my bed. The considerate girl would let me slumber. When I'd finally open my eyes and peer at the clock, guess who would be down there on the floor patiently looking up at me?

Backwoods encounters

I was also proud at how Bob was such an authentic mountain cat.

When she came out of the woods and adopted me at 6 months of age (confirmed by vet), she already had a tiny horizontal battle scar etched across her left eye socket — that just barely missed her eyeball — from some critter's claw. My brave little girl obviously knew the true meaning of survival of the fittest.

But Bob's greatest, most gnarly backwoods encounter occurred one winter night. I had just let her outside to temporarily sniff the new snow and look up at the stars before we went to bed.

After a few minutes, I reopened the door. There, inside the white porch light, no more than 10 feet in front of me, Bob and a big spotted skunk (S. putorios) were leerily standing face-to-face with both their necks extended. They were just about to touch noses.

I, reflexively, screamed at the trespassing skunk, who immediately spun and blasted a straight-shot cloudy plume of putrid, noxious spray directly into Bob's face.

The culprit skunk vamoosed and left Bob and me to deal with its long-lasting odiferous assault.

My roommate was drenched in that wild animal's strong-smelling spray. She couldn't open one of her eyes. I tried my best to wash her face and body fur. But even so, Bob smelled so bad, I couldn't let her back inside my close-quarters house.

She had to spend that cold January night out in my metal storage shed. I turned on its small electric heater and provided Bob with her covered "igloo" cat bed. Nonetheless, I worried about her and suffered tremendous pangs of pure guilt all night long.

First thing the next morning, I took poor Bob — who was still reeking — down to her vet. After two days and several professional scrubbings and baths, a skunk-less smelling Bob could finally come back home.

Over its more than one decade of operation, that veterinarian's office had cared for numerous dogs who had been "skunked." Bob was their very first cat.

For the skeptics

So, yes, just like the Metro Crisis Line trainers had once advised, Crutcher Sue Bob most definitely became a cherished and treasured family member.

She ended up bravely battling those damned lymphoma tumors. During Bob's last several weeks she proved to be a courageous patient who let me insert the IV needle into her neck for fluids and inject her with hypodermic needle shots of vitamin B-12.

Eventually, that terrible cancer overtook her. It was time to let Bob leave her pain.

As planned, I called the veterinarian euthanasia service that comes to your home.

I buried Bob in a special place beneath three big cedar trees just west of my house. Incredibly, it was 12 years to the very day that young Bob had ventured out of the woods into my life.

For a very long time, there was a chunk of firewood located on the ground near my porch. Whenever Bob and I would be outside, I could say, "Bob, do you want to scratch 'em out?" And, I swear, 98 percent of the time she'd go over there and really get into it, sort of showing off for me.

That piece of wood has deep scratch marks from Bob's claws. I knew that when she died I would place it near her headstone, which I have done.

I now find myself visiting her out there a whole lot.

For those who might be skeptical about a grown man mourning and grieving over "a cat," I completely understand. To you I can only say that Crutcher Sue Bob was an extremely close friend and faithful roommate, who also happened to be a cat.

I miss her tremendously.

Longtime mountain resident and former Sandy Post editor Paul Keller pens his "Beneath Wy'east" column once a month here on the Post's editorial pages.

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