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Goodbye, Black Jack

So long to old Black Jack
by Barb Ickes

His food and water dish sits atop the freshly turned dirt.

Black Jack's final resting place couldn't be more restful - under an oak tree along the 8th fairway at Palmer Hills Golf Course in Bettendorf. In his younger days, the all-black cat would nap on the thick branches of the trees, reminding his caretaker and golf course superintendent Brad Peterson of a leopard in the wild.

Friday was a tough day for Peterson. He had to do what every pet owner fears the most: He had to put old Black Jack to sleep.

But what a life he had, making it 22 years in a busy maintenance garage filled with chemicals, mowers and tractors. The old cat, rescued as a kitten from a fireplace at Devils Glen Park, roamed freely outdoors, managing somehow to stay away from the perilously close Middle Road.

That's one way Peterson knew it was time - when the smart old cat ventured past the fence outside the maintenance garage Friday, coming within a few feet of the busy road.

"I think he was disoriented," he said. "In all the years we've had that cat, I've never, ever seen him on the other side of the fence.

"I knew it was getting bad, because he came into my office this morning (Friday) and just sort of staggered. He fell over a couple of times. His legs buckled, and he fell against the filing cabinet. And he was getting so thin from not eating."

It wasn't for a lack of supplies. Black Jack had a lot of friends.

"Several of us would pick up cans of soft food for him at the grocery store, and we knew what kind of cream he liked best," said Jeff Jackson, equipment operator at Palmer Hills. "The last couple of days, though, he just wasn't eating, and he was losing hair.

"He always drank the grossest water - the smelly, grassy stuff that pooled in the parking lot after we hosed down the mowers. You'd think that would've killed him along time ago, but maybe that's what kept him alive all these years."

Twenty-two years is a long life for any cat. The depth of the loss - and the void it creates - can surprise even the most devoted animal lover.

"You know what, though?" Peterson asked. "I'm doing fine, because I know he wasn't doing fine. When we got him away from the road, he just sort of dropped under an oak tree by the garage here, and I sat with him for quite a while.

"I just sat there and talked to him. I stroked his head, and I told him, 'Buddy, I'm gonna make you feel better.'"

But staying with him for the lethal injection was too much for Peterson. He left him in the good hands of two veterinary assistants while he retrieved the personalized casket that was made for Black Jack by his neighbor/friend, Denny Benes.

The casket was made of pine, Benes said. He stained the inside a dark color and painted the outside white, using a router to smooth the edges. He then cut individual letters out of hard maple and painted them black, spelling, "Black Jack."

He then added a little bag of cat treats and a note, "You may need these along the way."

Sound kind of elaborate for a cat? Maybe. But this wasn't just any cat.

"Everybody around here has been kind of down today," Peterson said Friday. "I've got some pretty tough guys who work for me, and they all took care of Old Black, even the ones who said they don't like cats.

"Our seasonal guys would bring in table scraps every morning, and they'd all pet him when they stopped working for lunch. The old guy just seemed to be able to get your attention."

As much as he'd like to get another cat - both for companionship and mousing - Peterson fears the dangers of the nearby road.

"Having him around has been really great for morale," he said. "I just don't know if I'd ever be so lucky as to find another one as smart as Old Black.

"He'll be missed, but I know he's not suffering. That's what gives me comfort."




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