About a month ago, I said good-bye to the best friend I have ever had.

While she may not have technically been a human, she was a friend whom I could always count on to listen to me, care for me and give me a warm cuddle when I needed it. Those who never had the opportunity to meet Scout may be wondering how a seven-pound animal could mean so much to someone, but Scout was much more than just a cat — she was 15 years of my life I will always cherish.

Scout played an infinite number of roles in my family: pet, daughter, sister, protector, friend, and consumer of vast amounts of Iams cat food. She first became a part of our family in 2004, which seems like several eons ago now that I am a senior. At the time, we were both babies; I was only two years old, and she was a newborn kitten with enormous blue eyes. For several weeks, Scout was completely convinced that she was a human. We did everything together. She even stood in the bathtub as I read her my favorite waterproof bath-time book, The Rainbow Fish. However, after discovering that water did not feel quite right, Scout decided to pass on bath time.

Over the next few years, Scout and I lived like any other set of sisters; we played together and had a few disagreements -- especially about chewing on the Christmas tree -- but in the end, we got along. It was a long drive from Kearney to Geneva when my family first moved, and by the time we reached the new house, Scout had chewed a large hole through her mesh carrier -- but she immediately took to the home, exploring for a while before falling through the basement ceiling in an attempt to hunt for mice in the rafters. Scared stiff, she quivered as I carefully removed the cobwebs she had accrued from her little adventure.

When my brother was born, Scout became the ultimate babysitter, keeping a watchful eye over him through several years and two more moves. Both of us were older sisters, and we took our job very seriously. Of course, we also saved plenty of time for girl talk as I entered middle school. In eighth grade, I learned how to crochet, and I also learned that the stereotype about cats loving to play with yarn is completely accurate; Scout LOVED playing with (and chewing on) my yarn, pawing at it as she’d lie on my lap. She also started to sit on my lap as I worked on homework or even if I was trying to work on my laptop, in which case she would simply sit on my keyboard until I moved the laptop out of her way. At meals, she would try to solicit bits of meat or cheese, often rearing up on her hind legs and standing like a human. This was a comical sight as her tuxedo-like coat pattern made her look like a waiter at a fancy restaurant.

Even in high school, I could always talk to my kitty, and there is no doubt she could understand. In our family, the word “tuna” was forbidden to order to keep Scout from barreling into the kitchen like a hungry mountain lion. When I struggled with pain before finding out that I was gluten intolerant, she would place her warm, furry body on the exact spot that hurt, rendering her our first and only feline physician. She watched movies with us, played games with us (or rather, sat on the game boards as we played games), and even took naps with us, though none of us could have ever hoped to beat her in a napping contest.

Then, one Saturday turned everything upside down. It was one of the most painful experiences I have ever had. As we drove her to the vet, I thought of the 15 years of life and love I had shared with Scout. I remembered crocheting hats for cancer patients, studying for tests, and discussing my college and career plans, all with her on my lap. She had always been there for me, waiting for me to come home from school or work, waiting for a hug or a cuddle, waiting for our next adventure.

Now, when I see an unoccupied blanket, a basket of towels, or a ball of yarn, I remember how much Scout cared for us as a family. Never have I had a friend for so long, and never one so close. Though I am saddened that I will be going through my first year of college without her, I am thankful for the time I had with her. Kitty taught me the meaning of friendship, and that is something I will never forget.

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