We had this bright little border collie in the early 1990’s. 1992-93 we lived in New York City for a year or so. K’s sister, Beth, and son, Taylor, lived in Vermont at the time and agreed to allow Cosmos to stay with them while we sojourned in the Big Apple. Returning to WV in the summer of 1993, Cosmos had difficulty adjusting. The vet told us to get the dog a cat.

In September of that year, Araceli and Greenbrier, K’s brother, discovered a tiny kitten someone had left on the road in front of their home. They took her in, shampooed her, and brought her to us. Enter Justine. 

Justine ruled. She loved Cosmos. And even, though only a kitten, she helped Cosmos settle down. Then, she was our only pet for a while. She intimidated our next dog, also a border collie, B Coz.

In Kingwood, we lived in a historical parsonage. The drapes and curtains the parsonage committee hung in the formal living room and dining room cost thousands of dollars. Of course, the temptation was there, and Justine had to see what it was like climbing the lace all the way to the top. We had Justine de-clawed. Such a horrible decision. We will never do that again to any cat for any reason. Justine seemed so sad for such a long time, holding her little front paws up in front of her.

In the Morgantown parsonage we invited our friend, Jay, to live with us while he attended WV law school. He occupied the finished basement along with his huge white cat who was blind. Justine and Jay’s cat met often at the basement door in the kitchen and growled and hissed at each other. We kept that door open an inch or two when Jay was out. So, the two cats would claw and hiss at the door, a way of being present to each other. They were a hoot to watch. They never actually touched, never went beyond their boundaries.

At our friends’ Joe and Vicky’s, 50th birthday gathering in 2006, we came home with two baby cats barely old enough to be weaned. Justine did not approve.  She never ever made a place in our home for other pets. At best she tolerated them. At worst she gave a shriek and a hiss once or twice a week; then, peace would reign for a while with her utter ignorance of their presence.

For the last four years we have had a balance in our menagerie: the characters have been Queen Justine, Franny (my cat, who ignores everyone else in the house—except, this is funny, visitors who do not like cats), Briar (our WV) brown dog who loves everyone, including the cats), Nada (the black Tomcat Briar brought home one morning), and then last year Patches (a rescued border collie puppy who dearly loves Briar and Nada). A harmony has existed. Peace. Only an occasional cat squall or hiss, following a puppy snarl or two. 

Justine. The Queen. K’s. But not exclusively. She loved me and would come when urged to do so. The kitchen was her throne—in front of the heat billowing out from the duct under the sink cabinet. She loved sleeping in my rocking chair by the kitchen fireplace. Either she or Nada would have to be coaxed by gravity to leave the chair as I gently tilted the rocker.

Justine. February 2014, she had a tumor on the left side of her neck. Infection. Treatment included cleaning and injections with several visits to her vets. Last night she became incontinent. K spent part of the morning holding her in her lap, and then I took her on her final trip. We told her it was okay to let go. I stroked her while she was gently given a sedative, later followed by a small injection that stopped her 20-year-old plus heart. Driving there and then back home, I had big tears in my eyes. Our home and hearts now have a Queen-Justine-size hole.