I first spotted Danger Cat climbing around on the roof of the student house across the street from our apartment in the spring of 2012. My first thought: “what kind of a maniac would allow their kitten to run around in a rain gutter three stories over a cobblestone street?” At the time, he was about six or so months old and was wearing a bright, red collar that wasn’t long for this world. It was the one and only time I ever saw him wearing it.
It was an early sign that this was one kitty who was beholden to no one. His extreme distaste for collars was comparable to his passion for exploring the world around him. Danger Cat belonged to the students and served as a sort of mascot for their house. As I’ve noted elsewhere on this blog, the Dutch love felines and many cafes and businesses keep “shop cats” around to control rodents and because, well, everybody loves the little furballs.
When I heard that the students were ready to let Danger Cat become an outdoor kitty, I was rather perturbed. Our neighborhood sits in the middle of downtown Leiden. While the narrow streets here are laden with cobblestones, shoppers and sidewalk terraces, these obstructions do little to sway local motorists from bombing down them at positively insane speeds. I tried to warn the students about the dangers but they were unswayed. Plenty of other outdoor cats live in the neighborhood. Feeling like an overprotective backseat driver, I kept my further objections to myself.
Over the course of the remainder of 2012, Danger Cat quickly became a local celebrity. His insatiable curiosity, indomitable personality and love for human company kept him perpetually on the move. He happily wandered in and out of many of the cafes, pubs, offices and shops in the neighborhood, becoming a regular at many of them. While not everybody approved of a cocky tomcat wandering into their place of business like he owned it (I once saw the feline blast out of an art gallery at top speed after quickly wearing out his welcome), many doors were open to him.
Danger Cat could typically be found sitting on the counter at Velvet Records when he wasn’t listening to live jazz bands at De Twee Spieghels, a bar a few blocks away from the student house. He became a common fixture at the Cafe Jantje van Leiden and could often be spotted sitting on a bench outside on warm days (he would typically hang out at the Leiden Bierwinkel, a bottle shop across the street, during inclement weather). Danger Cat also spent many a night snoozing on the bar (not just in but *on* the bar itself) or one of the stools when he didn’t feel like going home. Unlike all of Jantje’s other barflies, he was the one that never got booted out at closing time. He was practically the tiny, furry equivalent of Norm from Cheers. It wasn’t uncommon to hear the regulars shout “BLEDDER!” as he entered, much like the character on that old American sitcom.
My girlfriend and I dubbed him “Danger Cat” because, for one thing, at the time we didn’t know his real name and, for another, there was no escaping the fact that he was a reckless adventurer, the feline equivalent of James Bond or Indiana Jones. He no qualms about running out in front of everything from bikes to scooters and delivery trucks. It was almost like a game for him.
One afternoon, Danger Cat decided to take up swimming and dived into a canal around the corner. He was rescued by one of the students and his trusty field hockey stick. On another occasion, Danger Cat found himself stuck out on the roof of the student house after a window swung closed behind him. His owners were off on a weekend retreat and he sat up there all night and through a pretty scary thunderstorm. My girlfriend discovered him the next morning, very angry but no worse for wear. We called the Leiden Fire Department and they sent out a truck to rescue him. The very second the long arm of the truck’s retractable ladder hit the ground, he ran down the street and into the stairwell leading up to our apartment.
A local business owner caught wind of his adventures and decided to start a Facebook page for the cat that, at the time of this writing, has attracted exactly 700 fans from around the world. The page caught the eye of reporters at the daily paper in Leiden and De Telegraaf, a national daily. Both wrote wrote stories about the cat, one of which revealed that he was know by many names around town. In addition to Danger Cat, folks around here knew him as “Prinsje,” “Champagne,” and “Sweetheart” but his real name, the one given to him by the students, was Jacco. Meanwhile, on his Facebook page he was known as “Buurtpoes Bledder,” which roughly translates as “Neighborhood Soccer Cat.” He was given this title due to his white and black coloring, which resembled a soccer ball, in addition to his tendency to get under people’s feet.
At some point last autumn, he decided that our apartment would become one of his preferred crash pads. On many a morning, we opened up our front curtains and found him sitting outside the student house waiting for us to get out of bed, perhaps well aware that it would be 11 AM or later before his owners woke up. One of us would go downstairs to let him in. Almost like clockwork he would give us each a quick rub before darting over to his food bowl. After eating his fill, he would typically jump onto the couch and pass out for anywhere from 5 minutes to 7 hours. Being a freelancer, I work from home and he kept me company on many a weekday. I often run out for coffee in the mornings and it became routine to have Danger Cat greet me upon my return, sometimes even running down the street so he could follow me back to our front door like Mary’s Little Lamb.
People who knew the late comedian John Belushi have told countless stories about his insatiable appetites and irresistible charms. While working on location during the filming of a movie, it wouldn’t be uncommon for Belushi, typically exhausted from far too much partying, to wander over to the nearest house, knock on the door and ask, “Do you know who I am? Ever seen Animal House? Fantastic, can I have a snack?” He would then help himself to fridge and pass out on their couch where he would later be found by a frustrated member of the production crew.
Much like Belushi, nearly every door was open to Danger Cat and behind every one of them was a potential meal or a comfortable place to plonk. No matter how badly each of them behaved, it was impossible not to love them. On dozens of Sunday mornings, the cat blasted into our apartment like one of Belushi’s freewheeling characters or Kramer on Seinfeld. If he could have spoken, I’m sure he would have regaled us each time with his prior night’s adventures. “Oh, man. You wouldn’t believe what was going down at Jantje’s. Het was zo vet! After closing, I wasn’t tired so I snuck into the church and bombed around the bell tower to wake up all the pigeons! Serves ‘em right, lazy bastards! Then I headed over to the bakery to hang out with the guys down there until dawn. Honestly, I’m completely and utterly zonked. What’s for breakfast?”
The entire neighborhood freaked out when Danger Cat went missing last January. We all assumed the worse. After three weeks of worrying, he was returned to the student house by a married couple who live nearby. They had come across him and, given his hatred of collars, they assumed he was a stray. It wasn’t until someone told them about the cat’s Facebook page that they realized he was a local celebrity. While we all fretted, he was living high on the hog. According to the couple, Danger Cat spent these weeks, the coldest of the winter, snoozing next to a heater in their living room when he wasn’t gorging himself on free kibble.
Given Danger Cat’s perpetual hunger for freedom and excitement (except when it was too cold or rainy outside), it was impossible to keep him indoors when he felt like it was time to hit the road. Pity the poor fool that tried. At our place, he had a way of making his desires known that involved everything from jumping on the nearest shelf with beloved heirlooms to climbing the laundry rack. Sometimes, when he was in more of a hurry, he’d jump in our laps and stare at us intently. If all else failed, he’d bite whatever appendage he could get his teeth on. While the students were visiting their families over Christmas, we babysat Danger Cat for a few days. He spent Christmas morning shredding wrapping paper and diving in and out of a stack of it in our living room.
Last night, a night like so many others, he greeted my girlfriend as she got from work and followed her upstairs. He ate a bit, had a quick snooze and was ready to head back out around 9:30. I followed him downstairs and watched as he darted over to Jantje’s. Figuring that he wanted inside the tavern, I walked over and opened the front door. In typical Danger Cat fashion, he changed his mind, refused to enter and decided that he’d rather wander off down the street. As I headed back to our apartment, I looked over my shoulder and muttered, “Ugh, stupid cat.”
40 minutes later, our doorbell rang. It was one of the students. There had been a terrible accident. My girlfriend and I headed downstairs where we found a group of regulars at the tavern standing in the street. One of them, a lady named Anne-Marie warned us. “Niet goed…niet goed….” Around the corner, outside a wine bar, another regular was holding the cat in her arms. She was bawling her eyes out.
Minutes prior, a car had hit Danger Cat about thirty feet from the front door of Jantje’s. With what little strength he had left, he crawled over to the sidewalk and collapsed. He did not suffer. His death was a quick one.
They say that cats have nine lives but Danger Cat is feline that had at least 30. He cheated the Kitty Grim Reaper more times that I can count on my fingers and toes. Like so many celebrities before him, his appetites eventually got the better of him and last night he moved out of danger’s path a little too slow. For this little kitty who charmed so many in his short life, perhaps it was better to burn out than it was to rust. So goes the cliche. He experienced and lived and loved more than most cats ever will.
UPDATE: There’s been an outpouring of grief from Danger Cat’s fans, both here in the Netherlands and abroad. There’s currently hundreds of condolences on his Facebook page. De Telegraaf posted a news segment on their website about his passing and a film crew from TV West is interviewing the students for another segment while I’m trying this. The Leidsch Dagblad also ran a short obit about him in today’s edition. Here it is: