Oliver: Here’s the story of a very good girl who lived a long, happy life

From tiny kitten to more demanding senior feline, Harriet provided comfort, companionship

This is the story of Harriet Oliver.

Although her story ended last week, the memories of the laughter and love that filled her life will linger with me forever.

Harriet came to us as a 12-week-old kitten, a tiny fluff ball of black and white that could fit in the palm of one’s hand.

At the time, we had a 7-year-old cat, Hooper, and it wasn’t my intention to add to the family. Hooper had been in a multiple-cat family and was the target of bullying from the resident Siamese felines. She was more than happy to come live with us and be the center of attention.

Tony, however, had other ideas. He seized on the suggestion that my strong attachment to Hooper might cause problems later on and that a second cat would do me good.

PetSmart one day had a litter of kittens. Tony fell hard for one with a half-mustache, and talked me into going to have a look. When we got there, that one wasn’t there, but there was one left. Guess who?

Harriet had a quiet way of weaseling her way into hearts, including Hooper’s. Harriet and Hooper would peacefully co-exist for 11 years before we said goodbye to my beloved Hooper.

Harriet was there to ease my pain. She wasn’t the lap cat that Hooper had been, but she had her own ways of making her people know that she needed them.

She lived up to her name – from Louise Fitzhugh’s book “Harriet the Spy” – finding places to hide so that she could assess the situation on her own terms. Her favorite spot was atop a hat box inside a closet.

For many years, she remained the shy one, often high-tailing it downstairs when we had guests. When we went on vacation, our friends who would stop by to feed her often would not see her unless she accidentally left her tail showing from under the bed.

Oh, and that tail! It was almost as long as she was and the fluffiest part of her body. When she was in a good mood, she would hold it high. The top of it would curl so that it looked like the top of a question mark (?). And when she would sleep, she would curl it around herself, using it to keep out the light.

She also was fiercely protective of that tail, never allowing me near it when she would let me brush the rest of her. I found ways to get the job done, but oftentimes my efforts were greeted with a growl.

Harriet never got bigger than 7.5 pounds. She was long and lean, but her profusion of hair always made her look bigger than she was. It also masked her weight loss when she got sick.

Harriet in her heyday loved to play. I have photographs of one incident where she and Hooper teamed up to make quite a mess of our living room. I was in the process of knitting an afghan, and I made the mistake of leaving several balls of yarn out in a basket. Perhaps I thought they wouldn’t find them. I was wrong.

Around every leg of sofa, chair, table and whatever else was there, there was a string of yarn. No doubt the two of them had a grand old time that evening. I, on the other hand, learned a valuable lesson.

As the years passed, Harriet to me seemed ageless. She was just our tiny cat who was full of life.

As she aged, she became more demanding. She loved to drink water from the faucets and she expected her humans to help her with that. Even later in her life, she expected me to stroke her gently as she drank from her water bowl.

I always laugh when I think of my two furry “children”: Hooper was the one with the big personality, the drama queen. Despite looking to be the stubborn one, she could be cajoled into things. Harriet, the quiet one, was the more stubborn one by far.

I wasn’t ready for Harriet to be a senior cat. To me, she was always that little fluff ball that we brought home more than 19 years ago.

I’ve been grieving Hooper all these years, taking solace that Harriet was there to comfort me. Now I will have to grieve my dear, sweet Harriet, too.

We love our pets every day that they are with us and every day that they are not. Sometimes we have to love them enough to let them go.

Though my heart is broken, I know Harriet fulfilled her purpose.

She was a very good girl. And I will love and miss her forever.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.