Dear Dennis,

You were a barn kitten: born in a stable to a dam who had given birth to over two hundred kittens previously. That’s the story they told us where I worked one summer as a horse show venue groundskeeper.

At the time I was in veterinary school. I heartily disapproved of keeping a cat into her teens, allowing her to have multiple litters of kittens each year and bragging about her fertility. I didn’t know enough to make sure she was healthy and safe yet, and I certainly didn’t have any say over how she lived. But I had enough sense to worry about her. I also had enough sense to keep my unwanted and possibly unpopular opinions to myself.

When the kitten watch of summer 1996 was over, she had given birth to three kittens, two females and you. I used to sneak into the tack room during lunch break and spend time watching these tiny things as they went from sightless, almost motionless, mewling little bundles of fur to three mobile, curious, boisterous little beasts.

The females looked more like your mother, with beautiful tabby coloring. You were black and white, well, it was tack-room-dust tan at that time. And you were a scrawny thing with a bottle-brush tail and a thin hair coat.

When you were about six weeks old, the old gal had had enough of this new batch of kittens and started heading out, probably looking for a new boyfriend. The pretty kittens, your siblings, had already been spoken for and they went home in new carriers.

And there was just you, alone for the first time. When we went to say goodbye at the end of the day you squalled and darted out into the aisle of the barn. Until then, you’d lived inside the tack room with food, water and company close at hand.

I couldn’t resist. I packed you into the car on my lap and you squawked the whole way home. My bewildered husband hadn’t learned yet that many of our pets would arrive with no notice at the end of a work day, but he took it with good grace.

Max wasn’t thrilled, but you couldn’t climb or jump, so he was able to observe you while staying safely out of reach.

Gosh, you were so cute. And such a handful.