Shaffer: Comeback cat soothes Garner woman

josh.shaffer@newsobserver.comNovember 4, 2012 

— For thousands of years, the idea has persisted that the soul endures beyond biological death, taking up residence inside a new body. For Sonja Chavez Alarcon, that’s the only explanation for the reappearance her beloved cat – a Maine Coon with golden fur.

She called me Tuesday warning that her story might sound insane, or like something from “The Twilight Zone.” But if I considered the evidence, she promised, I might reach the same improbable conclusion about feline afterlife.

In short, she believes her cat has returned from the dead, reincarnated as another cat.

“It sounds crazy,” said Alarcon, a 56-year-old artist living in Garner. “What are the odds? But there’s too many strange things. I don’t think he was ready to go.”

About nine years ago, while working in a vet’s office, Alarcon rescued a stray cat from a highway median – an oddball feline who liked playing with his reflection in the mirror.

She named him Hairy Pawter, and he lived up to the eccentric ways of his fantasy-novel namesake. He enjoyed watching NASCAR on television. He was frightened of the washing machine. He dug in the litter box like a backhoe. He romped in the bathtub.

Then last December, after having his teeth cleaned, Hairy took sick and expired at age 8, four years short of the conservative guess at a Maine Coon’s life expectancy. As a human, he would have been roughly 56.

For Alarcon, the blow piled on to a truckload of personal misery. Right around that time, she told me, her husband fled with another woman. Her brothers and sisters started fighting. Then her best feline friend died young.

“I was mad at God,” she said.

Hairy’s replacement didn’t just swoop down from the heavens, and no, Alarcon didn’t bury her friend in some horror-movie graveyard a la Stephen King.

Reincarnation, even among cats, is a complicated business.

For some believers, the soul’s destination depends on the quality of the life it led in its last body. For others, life is simply cyclical, and the unchanging soul is continually reassigned to new bodies with no regard for whether it deserves to be there.

In Hairy Pawter’s case, the cat’s rebirth seems a deliberate rather than random act – the workings of some higher power that governs the feline hereafter.

Alarcon had sunk into depression. She stopped cleaning her house.

Then in September, a neighbor asked her to feed a stray cat she had recently adopted. And when Alarcon saw it, she recognized her dead cat’s twin by its golden fur. Only a few white patches on the new cat could distinguish it from the old. It was as if Hairy had returned with a coat flecked by deep experience – Gandalf changed from gray to white.

The new cat took to her home as if he’d always lived there, and she welcomed him. Like Hairy, he feared the washing machine. Like Hairy, he dug excessively deep in the litter box. Like Hairy, he enjoyed watching TV. Like Hairy, he romped in the tub.

Alarcon did some figuring in her head, and considering the new cat’s age plus the estimated time it would have spent in gestation, she guessed it must have been born right around the time Hairy died.

She tried to name him Gryffindor after the real Harry Potter’s house at wizarding school. But he wouldn’t answer to it. She chose Calidor instead, a nod to the children’s books featuring Carbonel, King of Cats.

Name aside, her depression vanished. “This cat,” Alarcon said, voice filled with tears, “he saved me.”

I don’t know about reincarnation. My grandma died when she was 94, and a few weeks later, she appeared to my mother in a dream, explaining that she’d taken up residence in the body of an Arizona woman, and that she was doing just fine.

But true or not, I like to think of cats getting dropped into the lives of the spiritually needy – whiskered care packages from the great beyond. or 919-829-4818

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