On Tuesday 19 January 2021, I lost my dear fur buddy Charcoal to cancer. What I thought was a respiratory infection, which Charkey got every winter, turned out to be a mass in his mouth. While waiting for the biopsy appointment, the faint swelling I had observed on his left side blew up dramatically over the weekend, becoming so large it looked like he had a tennis ball in his cheek. I dropped him off for his appointment that morning, the vet confirmed the diagnosis a few hours later, and shortly after that, I held him as he passed.
Charcoal was a beautiful grey cat, with a traumatic history, part of which is told in my memoir of cat rescue work, “Cat o’ Nine Tales”. He and other local strays had taken to accessing the basement of an abandoned property near my West Philly home, retreating from the rain or cold to its relative shelter. The house had been empty for over a decade, until new owners bought it and planned to renovate. In the meantime, they secured the property, boarding up the basement access. Charcoal, always afraid of human contact, hid when he heard them coming, and never got out when the other cats fled.
The house had a stair down from the street which gave onto a front cellar access door, and weeks later, I heard an insistent meowing as I passed on my way to the market. It took awhile to identity where the sound came from, and then a locked door prevented me releasing Charcoal from his prison. We inquired with the neighbors, but no one knew who owned the building.
My rescue partner went online, researched tax records for the property, and found the owner. When our calls went unreturned, he drove to their home address, pounded on the door and demanded they come to release the cat.
Once the door opened, Charkey flew into the street, a grey blur. He was thin as a rail, totally traumatized by his ordeal in captivity, and took out his distress by terrorizing every cat in the colony we managed. He became very aggressive at feeding times, swatting and swiping at every feline that came within reach, running some off, attacking others.
It took months, but he finally began to calm down. That was in the summer of 2012. In time he found his way into the fenced garden in the back of our property, where he became a regular fixture, making his way by circuitous routes over fences, atop garbage cans and through alleys. I never kept a feeder out back; we discouraged most of the cats from the garden, instead keeping fresh food and water on the front porch at all times. But I always had a soft spot for Charkey, and began hand-feeding him, setting down small piles of Meow Mix when I found him in the yard. In time, as his teeth deteriorated, I started giving him wet food daily, a treat none of the other colony members received.
Charcoal was an intact male, and formed bonds with first Cleo, a coal black female, and then Taffy, white with buff and ginger spots, both spayed. Once we had him neutered, he remained close with these companions, and the trio became my “neutral tone lunch club”, each staking out one of the steps of the cement stoop with their white, grey and black coats gleaming in the noonday sun as they munched their meal. Despite the personal touch, it took Charkey a long while to trust me, and often as not, I’d receive a stinging cut from razor-sharp claws that slashed like lightning, when I leaned down to feed him or tried to pet.
But over the years his reserve lessened, and he softened towards me. Eventually he allowed petting, though it was always a good idea to keep a close eye to his tail – if it twitched a certain way, attack was imminent. Within about five years, he was happily sitting in my lap as I lounged on a stack chair, or sat cuddling him on a step.
When my father passed in 2019 and I inherited this house, we decided to wind down the rescue. We found homes for all the friendlies, and did Trap/Neuter/Release for the ferals. But there were some in an intermediary group, whom we judged were not truly adoptable, but had formed bonds with us. Charkey was one of these. Although he had bonded with me, he was still very shy with people, and could be sketchy with other animals, bullying smaller, weaker animals. Finding a single-pet home with a guardian who was willing to give him the time and space he’d need to adapt proved impossible.
There were four cats in this group; Taffy had passed a year before, so I agreed to take Charcoal and Cleo with me, and my partner kept the remaining two. With my girl Ashes’ special needs, high blood sugar and a low-carb diet, bringing them indoors was impossible, but I had the yard here fenced in, with a berm built up beneath the vinyl slats so they couldn’t get out that way, and would be safe from local wildlife (including fox and coyote) and the dangers of the busy road. A cat door allowed access to the laundry room, with its food and water bowls, and litter boxes.
Charcoal adapted quickly to the new setting; Cleo was a tougher sell, but Charkey was instrumental in helping her settle in – within two months she had relaxed and begun to enjoy her new life here. She even allowed me to pick her up, and now jumps readily into my lap for petting. Charkey and I became even closer, with me now able to spend more time with him comfortably. He loved the new space, finding quiet nooks and hideaways where he would laze for hours, basking in the sun or sheltered from the rain.
Like a dog, he would come for affection when called. All I had to do was ask, “Do you want to sit with Uncle Alex?”, and he’d pop up and trot after me or run ahead to our chair in the shade, waiting for his snuggle. I will miss his sweet meow, and I’m sorry he didn’t have more time to enjoy this new paradise he’d found.
Charcoal was the first animal I have held as he passed. I had been in the room for euthanizing before, off to one side when the vet gave the injection, petting and talking to them. This experience was more immediate and intense.
Of course, being an astrologer, I took note of the time, which was 12:37 PM EST. It was a fraught period in general for felines, with asteroids Anubis, named for the Egyptian deity governing funerary rites, and Katz, homophone of “cats”, traveling together for weeks as they approached station. Anubis tuned direct on January 16th, just three days before Charkey’s passing, and Katz followed suit on the 23rd, four days later. When he died, these were rising on the 28 Taurus Ascendant.
But what is truly astounding is a Grand Cross formed from these, with an opposition to asteroids Alex and Miller at 3 and 4 Sagittarius, and squares to asteroid Rip at 5 Pisces (which functions as a death indicator in the acronym “RIP”, “Rest In Peace”, a common tombstone inscription) and asteroid Vet at 3 Virgo, which conjoins my natal Pluto, modern lord of death, at 4 Virgo. The terrestrial circumstances could not be portrayed more clearly by this celestial combination, right down to my name (Alex/Miller), the death (Anubis, Rip) of a feline (Katz), and the involvement of a veterinarian (Vet) in that passing.
As well, transit asteroid Kitty at 18 Gemini was exactly squared Neptune at 18 Pisces, representing the animal hospital where he passed, and the pharmaceuticals used in the euthanizing; Neptune was also widely conjunct my natal asteroid Katz at 10 Pisces. These form a T-Square with my natal Moon at 19 Virgo (conjoined natal Kitty at 13 Virgo) and natal asteroid Vet at 19 Gemini. My natal Sun and Ascendant, at 4 Leo and Scorpio, are also drawn into the pattern, with the Sun semisquare Vet/Kitty, and the Ascendant sesquiquadrate.
The vet’s name was Karin Breitlauch, and my natal asteroid Karen (traditional spelling of the name) is also here, at 18 Gemini, one degree off natal Vet and exactly conjoined by transit Kitty. Transit Karen at 14 Capricorn conjoined transit Venus at 13 Cap, and these conjoin my natal Saturn, ancient lord of death, at 13 Capricorn and natal asteroid Alexander at 14 Cap, describing the passing (Saturn) of a loved one (Venus) for whom I stood in loco parentis (Saturn also), with Karin’s assistance (Karen).
I am using asteroid Charcot (pronounced “char-KOH”) for Charcoal, whom I used to call Charkey, Charkoo and Charcuterie (for his earlier slice-and-dice affinities). When Charkey passed, asteroid Charcot at 26 Aquarius squared the Ascendant, conjoined Damocles at 25 Aquarius, and also squared asteroid Nemesis at 29 Scorpio, on the Descendant. Damocles represents the doom hanging overhead, about to descend at any moment, and Nemesis refers to ruin or destruction. In my birth chart, Charcot at 13 Leo conjoins Venus at 14, helping to explain my instant affection for Charcoal, despite his initial wayward habits. These are inconjunct to natal Saturn/Alexander and transit Karen/Venus, and these points in turn are part of a natal T-Square with two additional death indicators, asteroid Requiem at 14 Cancer, named for the funeral mass for the dead, and asteroid Osiris at 14 Aries, named for the Egyptian god of the dead. When he passed, transit Requiem and the Moon at 15 and 17 Aries conjoined natal Osiris and squared natal Saturn/Alexander and Requiem.
Charcoal’s loss has left a void in my life; although he was not my pet, he was family to me, and a valued friend I had known for almost ten years. I’m so grateful I was able to take him from the mean streets of West Philly and give him some months of peace and joy. I just wish it had been longer.