Driving home from my job at Oregon Caves National Monument, I realized I needed milk and so made an unplanned stop at a market in Selma, Oregon that would change my life.  As I was leaving the market, two little girls approached me.

“Miss, Miss — we have two little kittens from our farm.  Won’t you take one of our kittens?”

There were small black kittens, really small.  I already had one cat at home, and hadn’t planned to adopt another.  But they were really cute.

The one little girl thrust one of them towards me.

“This one is calmer, you should take this one.”

Ummm, ok.  I put her in the back seat of my car.  I didn’t even have a box or carrier, so just set her on the back seat.  As I continued my drive home, no sounds came from the back seat.  Oh my gosh, is she still alive?

I initially took her to my boyfriend’s house, as he was currently catless.  She was so small, she could sit in the palm of his hand.  But, boy did she have energy, as she zipped around the room.  What should I call her?

“She’s awfully zippy, maybe something that begins with a Z?”

We pulled out a dictionary, thumbing through the Z section — and I spotted Zuni, a native American name for a tribe from the Southwest.  Zuni it was.

Zuni somehow turned into my pet nickname for her Zoon-monster.  She grew into a big tall, lanky cat.

I wasn’t sure how she would get along with my 1-year old Calico cat, Maya.  Maya chased her hissing at her.  The internet said I should separate them, which is what I did, but keep letting them together when I could supervise them.

Ten days later, as I put them together in the living room, I went into the kitchen to fix dinner.  Moments later, I found the two of them curled up together, with Maya bathing her face.  From that moment on, they were bonded together as best friends.

Zuni was true to her name, playful as anything and smart as a whip.  I would let her play in the backyard of my Oregon apartment and work on my computer.  When she wanted to come in, she would climb the oak tree, climb onto the roof and come to my window, batting on the screen to let me know she was ready to come back in.

She also loved to burrow, something I found out in the oddest way one night.  I had a sleeping bag inside it’s storage bag on the floor of my office.  As I worked on the computer, the bag started to rotate back and forth — what was going on?

Zuni had weaseled her way inside the bag and was cuddled up inside the sleeping bag.  She would continue her burrowing ways through the years, burrowing into the covers on our bed, burying herself in laundry baskets.  We always had to be careful to look for her lumps, lest we sit down on top of her.  Then I would raise the covers and this sly little black face with white whiskers would be peering back at me.

She proved to be an excellent hunter as well.  While patrolling my back yard in Oregon, she caught mice as well as garter snakes and would bring them inside the kitchen, proudly presenting them to me.  Later on, while living on Cape Cod, she caught voles and mice, bringing them inside my bungalow.

But the oddest and most impressive was at my house in rural Maryland.  One day while gardening, I spotted her slinking through the backyard, with something incredibly large hanging from her mouth.  She had caught a full-size rabbit!  I could see the bunny was still alive, so managed to lure Zuni with a cat treat into unclenching long enough to allow the bunny to escape.

Zuni led a life of adventure both around the house and during our 17 years together.  After two years in Oregon, I took a job with Cape Cod National Seashore.  Zuni and Maya accompanied me on my 7-day, 3500 mile drive from coast to coast.  Many friends told me I would have to tranquilize the cats, as they would surely drive me crazy.  But in fact, Zuni handled the trip in stride, sitting atop a box with a blanket surveying the scenery.  She even went for walks on a leash with me at various rest areas along the way.

And to this day, she possessed a skill I think I will never see with another cat as long as I live.  I, of course, had cat carriers for my feline friends.  With most cats, it is torture to get them to go in.  I usually end up wrapping them in a towel, putting the carrier on its end, and shoving them inside, with said cat caterwauling the entire time.

But not Miss Zuni.  I would just open the door of the carrier, and she would prance inside like she was going for a walk in the park.  To the very end, she was the perfect traveler.

Her journey with me led us to several different states including Oregon, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland and ultimately Colorado.  Along the way, for her safety, we stopped letting her outside.  Here in Colorado, outdoor cats are at great risk of being eaten by the various foxes, coyotes, bobcats and other wildlife.

But she enjoyed the views of the great outdoors at our Colorado home.  She particularly enjoyed a great view from our dilapidated cat tower that Bryon brought home one night.  He’d found out on the sidewalk, a remnant of someone’s stuff they were giving away and brought it home.

Zuni loved that cat tower, preferring to take the top perch, so she could be Queen Bee and survey the rest of the house as well as look outside from her penthouse.  She was amazingly adept at climbing it at lightning speed.

But more than anything, Zuni became my constant companion and best friend.  She had personality plus, and loved nothing more than to snuggle on someone’s lap or against a warm body in bed.  Even people who didn’t like cats adored her, my parents being one of those.  My mother assured me if anything happened to Bryon or me, they would gladly take Zuni in.

For most of the last 17 years, she slept next to me, pressing herself next to me, either in the crook of my knee, or between my legs.  It got so that I was afraid to turn in the middle of the night, for fear of crushing her.  Even during the last nine months, when she was clearly ill, she continue to clamber into my bed and sleep with me.

Zuni crossed the Rainbow Bridge to join her buddy, Maya this past Saturday.  The loss I feel washes over me in waves.  I have lost a special friend who gave me constant, unconditional love for 17 years.  I feel like there is a hole in my heart, that I am broken and don’t know how I will go on.  I will never forget the joy and love she gave me.  Zuni, you will stay in my heart forever and I will always love you.