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The Life and Death of My Muse: My Cat, Gracie

After years of inspiration from women, a kitten captured his heart

My muse died two weeks shy of her second birthday. Princess Gracie was a Bengal kitten, with marbled zebra-like stripes. Everyone thought she was gorgeous, especially me.

She was my first cat, a gift for my wife, Diana, who had asked for a kitten every birthday and Christmas for the 18 years we’d been married. One year, my son and I went to the humane society to finally fulfill Diana’s dream of owning a cat — and instead came home with a puppy, Buddy. But finally, in 2012, some dear friends bought two Bengals with plans to breed them. Our kitten was one of a litter of seven.

As a photographer and videographer, I documented Gracie’s life from birth until shortly before her death. At a much younger age, my muses were usually girlfriends, beauties of another sort. But as one ages, one’s interests often change, and I think I enjoyed photographing Gracie more than anyone or anything.

(MORE: Capturing Memories: A Photographer’s Images of His Aging Parents)

Occasionally, Gracie would “pose” for a photograph, staying still while I worked. But most often, I would keep a camera close and capture moments that were pure grace and beauty, with some humor thrown in.

She was unaware of the camera, so her actions were un-self-conscious. That purity, I think, made the photos better, and made me even more inspired to study her and share her images. As a “dog” person, Gracie introduced me to the wonders of (some) cats.

A Cat’s Personality

Gracie, like many cats, gave attention on her terms, which meant not very often. But she was endlessly entertaining.

She would scale 35 feet up a tree in search of a squirrel. She would run along a very narrow 8-foot-high cedar fence when the snow depths exceeded her height, to cross from one end of our yard to another.

And the whole neighborhood loved to watch as Gracie followed Buddy and I on our mile-long walks. Of course, it was always at her own speed, with frequent stops to stalk prey or follow a bird flying overhead. She was not afraid of dogs we met, often walking right up to them, putting her nose against theirs, almost daring them to attack her. None did.

(MORE: 13 Weird Cat and Dog Behaviors Explained)

Gracie seemed to think she ruled the neighborhood, and while she was well known to many, she was not liked by all. One resident a block or two away called to complain that Gracie would sit silently below her window, causing her small dog to become hysterical and unwilling to go outside. Another came to our home to threaten to call animal control the next time Gracie entered their backyard, which was surrounded by a fence. The family had pet rabbits and Gracie was intent on having one for her own. Dinner that is.

She was a hunter, and a good one at that, which meant she was a killer, too. She single-handedly reduced a rabbit population that decimated our gardens. She brought home birds and chipmunks, too. These often were alive, and if we didn’t intervene, she would catch and release them repeatedly, continuing the cruel game until they eventually expired. I was deeply troubled by her unintentional killing of birds and other animals, except the rabbits, who irked me because they were so destructive. They ate plants in our backyard that landscapers swore they would not. Hours of labor and much money went to waste.

Gracie brought the same intensity to other play that was fun to watch: climbing into the cupboards, closing the doors behind her, leaping after flies that occasionally found their way into our house and pretending to turn on the lamps.

Horrible News

In the end, her adventurous spirit likely caused her death. We believe Gracie was hit by a car while crossing a busy street a block behind our Minnesota home. We knew her life might be shortened by letting her outside, but we also knew that Bengals need abundant exercise. So we reluctantly let her roam the neighborhood.

Diana and I got the news of Gracie’s injury while traveling in Mexico this past summer — three texts in quick succession from our 20-year-old son who was home caring for the pets and working. A person living a few blocks away had found Gracie lying unmoving in their backyard and delivered her to our home. Somehow, she managed to walk to the front door, into her favorite (family) room, where she laid down and never stood up again.

Our son brought Gracie to the emergency veterinary hospital at the University of Minnesota, where she lived another 12 hours. She had suffered severe internal injuries, and doctors said surgery was possible if they could stabilize her. Throughout the long night in Guanajuato, the vet’s team called with updates. A surgeon was called in after midnight and eventually determined that Gracie would not survive the surgery, since her organs were beginning to shut down. Finally, she was euthanized.

Amazing Gracie

I’ve never cried so much, so loud or so hard as I did as Gracie lay dying in a Minnesota hospital and after receiving the news that she was gone. A high pitched howl came from deep within me as my grief poured out. Cascading tears, runny nose, I shook uncontrollably. My wife cried silently while we held each other close. Our Gracie was gone.

(MORE: Ways to Cope When a Beloved Pet Dies)

I wonder why I was so attached to that mischievous feline. She scratched our furniture, chewed my expensive photo and watercolor papers, and destroyed books, among other things. But she was always forgiven. How can you discipline a cat, especially one as beautiful as Gracie?

Part of my attachment was due to her striking looks and that adventurous spirit.

Yesterday, while working in the garden, I thought I heard the familiar, very loud meow Gracie made upon announcing her arrival back home after a night of untold adventures. Of course it wasn’t her, but I called out her name just the same.

We had her cremated and have her ashes in a beautiful little wooden carved Indian box, along with her collar and nametag and a lovely clay imprint of her footprints that the hospital made shortly after her death, just shy of her second birthday.

Chris Polydoroff is an independent videographer and photographer who spent 27 years working for newspapers. He will soon be moving from Minnesota to North Carolina.

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