This story was originally written for Tenx9 - a live storytelling event in Belfast. If you would like to listen to me reading this story, you can find the podcast from that evening at:

It has been ten years since Dodger died, and I am still convinced he was the best cat of all time.

And I feel qualified to make that judgement.
I am what you would call a cat person. I am a person who is into cats. I just find them the most endlessly watchable, interesting animals to be around, even when they’re being boring -  which is, let’s be honest, most of the time. Even then they are fascinating to me. My Facebook feed is just a flood of image posts from various cat-based groups, washing away any chance of me seeing genuine life updates from my treasured friends and family. My instagram account is mostly pictures of my cats. If I see a cat in the street, I will point at it and shout the word “CAT” like some kind of massive overexcited toddler.

For almost my entire life, I have lived with cats. Right now I have two: Vera and Onion. Vera is a tiny white cat with a demure, almost regal air, yet is afflicted with farts I can only describe as “hate crimes”. Onion is what you would get if you stuck a pair of novelty googly eyes on a chimney sweep’s broom and then somehow gave it a shitload of amphetamines.
Before Vera and Onion, it was Diva, a beautiful little ginger cat who loved cuddles and watching Match Of The Day. Before Diva it was Buddy, my then-housemate’s hulking bruiser of a black cat.
But Dodger, Dodger was the one.

Dodger was our family cat. He was adopted as a 10th birthday present for my older sister. I was 5 years old at the time, and such is my memory that I really can’t recall any childhood memories without Dodger there. I grew up with him, and for large parts of my childhood and adolescence he was probably my best friend.

Dodger got his name because, when my Dad and my older sister went to pick him from a foster home, he was dodging around the room frantically, until he found himself dangling from the top of the living room curtains. His love for dangling continued into his new life with us, and he quickly saw our dog, Shelley, as a free method of transport around the house. Dodger and Shelley were both the same deep shade of black, and so we’d often not spot the tiny, wild-eyed kitten hanging from the ears of that endlessly patient dog.

Dodger was definitely a cat with sense of opportunism, such as the time he wandered home with an entire ham sandwich in his mouth. Or the time he found his way into a neighbour’s house and attempted to make off with their Sunday roast chicken. The peak of Dodger’s audacity was summarised by one evening when I was peering out of my window in the early hours, watching a fox leading her cubs down our street. A blur of black suddenly shot out from beneath a parked car, and I watched in awe as my cat punched a baby fox in the face and then legged it to safety.

Dodger’s mischievous nature was easily forgiven, simply because he was also an incredibly affectionate and lovable cat. As a kitten he’d sleep nestled in my older sister’s hair, and as he grew up he would alternate between all three siblings’ beds. But god help you if you dared to shut him out of your bedroom on a night he demanded cuddles: Dodger would take to charging the door with his forehead, a sort of furry Jack Nicholson from The Shining, but with snuggles instead of murder.

As I got older and entered the awkward, lonely wilderness of adolescence, Dodger’s friendship became a real source of strength. I was bullied in my latter years of primary school, yet the days were easier knowing I’d get to hang out with him as soon as I got home.
Some days, he’d walk most of the way to school with us in the morning, our own guardian cat. They say it’s bad luck to cross paths with a black cat, but for us the day couldn’t truly begin until we had.

As my late teens approached, and I dealt with the stresses of school, exams, hormones, unrequited love - about once a fortnight, that one - Dodger was always there to take your mind off things. Sure, sometimes his method of distraction was to bring you a live mouse and release it at your feet before immediately deciding it was now your problem to deal with. But the thought was there. And to be honest, I was always impressed by his prowess as a hunter, as well as the amount of fights he won against neighbourhood cats. It meant my cat, my Dodger, was the king of his domain. How could I not be proud?

When I look back on growing up with Dodger around, I just keep thinking about how he did everything you could ever want from a cat. The affection. The aloofness. The sudden bursts of unpredictability. He was just absolutely brilliant at catting.

Even his death was perfect.

I was 23. I’d moved back home after University for a year or two. It was great being back home and around my family again, but it was even better being back with Dodger. He was an old cat by now, 18 years old, and he was certainly slowing down. But he was still Dodger. Still headbutting bedroom doors in pursuit of night-time cuddles. Still bringing mice into the kitchen and watching with amusement as we all collectively lost our shit.

It was a Saturday morning he died. I was heading out somewhere, so I popped my head out of the back door to wave goodbye to my mum, who was gardening at the time. I spotted Dodger walking down the garden towards me. He walked up to me, and let out a slightly confused meow. Then one side of his face seemed to droop suddenly.
Almost immediately I knew what was happening. I didn’t know if it was a stroke or what, I could just tell that he was ready to go. He walked into the kitchen, started limping a little, then flopped onto his side.
At the time, my brother in law was working at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, so he was experienced looking after sick animals. My mum got in her car and went to pick him up, hoping that he’d be able to do something to help. But I knew Dodger was about to die. I sat down on the floor next to him, and put a hand softly on his side. He lay there looking at me, letting out the occasional meow, his breathing quickening at first, but gradually slowing down.

You often hear of sick cats taking themselves away to die, which is why a lot of old cats simply vanish one day. I guess it’s a defensive trait they’ve evolved, where they head off somewhere secluded when they’re at their most vulnerable. But our cat, our Dodger, decided to come back home when he knew his time was up. And as I sat there on the floor with him, watching his breaths getting further and further apart, all I could feel was gratitude. Gratitude that I got to be by his side as he went. Gratitude that he spent his entire life - right up to the end - feeling loved, and safe, and comfortable. Gratitude that I had had this little guy in my life right from my earliest memory.

My partner and I have this concept of a sort of cat heaven. Neither of us actually believe in any sort of afterlife, but we have this strange, comforting idea of what we call the “cat gang”, which is a gang of all the cats we’ve ever had, who all get to hang out together when they leave this earth. Her childhood cats, Freddy, Katya, Percy, Mog, Small, are there, as are Diva, Buddy, and my parents’ first trio of cats Scampi, Chips and Pernod. And I like to think Dodger is there too, looking after them all: bringing them roast chickens and ham sandwiches; teaching them all to hitch a ride off Shelley’s ears; showing them how to punch a fox cub in the face. The best cat. Dodger.