Remembering the Brightest Jack O’Lantern

The thing about your family acquiring multiple pets in their youth over the course of a few years is that they grow old together and then break your heart while it’s already broken. This is my third cat eulogy post in the span of a year.

Jack O’Lantern gave us 11 years of happy and funny memories as we watched him change over time: from young to old, feral to domestic, outdoor to indoor, playful and adventurous to mellow and always sleeping. Perhaps the biggest change was when he went blind and, his eyes needing annoying drops a few times a day and doing him more harm than good, we had his eyes removed. With or without eyes, he was always handsome in his own goofy way.

The day after we said good-bye to our Jack, I was wandering around Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant and found myself spontaneously wandering through the National Zoo. I sought out the black and white animals, in honor of the black and white Jack. The Von der Decken’s hornbill, skunk, and giant pandas all had coloring that reminded me of him.

I thought about the phrase “charismatic megafauna,” and the fact that giant pandas are a prime example, and I got to wondering if there was something especially appealing to people about black and white animals. Pandas are widely beloved. A preschool child I taught a decade ago loved zebras; a six-year-old I know claims puffins as his favorite animal.

Jack, for his part, has been given the role of a few black and white animals for celebrations like Halloween, taking on some extra accessory just long enough to take a photo. Put little orange puffin feet cutouts on top of his front paws and turn him into a puffin. Buy panda ears at the National Zoo’s gift shop, put them on Jack’s head, and voilà, he’s a giant panda.

Black and white cat wearing black and white panda ear headband

Jack the panda, Halloween 2010

But it’s not just Jack’s black and white fur, including his adorable black diamond-shaped nose, that made him a charismatic fauna. I once wrote that he possessed an “effortless charisma.” He did not cling or beg for attention the way some of our other pets did. But he hung out in the same room as us, followed my mother around when she did yardwork back in his semi-feral days, and got along with everyone. Jack had the most easygoing, laid-back personality, and he won everyone over without really trying.

In his younger days, he loved having a buddy. First there was his feral cat friend Purple, then there was his feral cat friend Noodle. We provided food and vet care and Christmas presents for Purple and Noodle, who sadly both died young. Jack taught them to trust humans, went on adventures with them, snuggled with them, and occasionally had to assert his dominance by swatting them or eating first but overall was best buddies with them.

Jack also loved his dog, Duncan. When one of us humans walked Duncan, Jack would follow for part of the way. It ranks among the top ten most adorable things that have ever happened in the history of the universe.

Some of Jack’s other adorable moments include rolling around in the dirt and leaves and becoming black and brown instead of black and white (and then grooming himself and making his fur pristine again just minutes later), meowing in a way that sounded more like the quacking of a duck, climbing trees, and, even in his last days, perking up and walking over as fast as he could whenever he heard anything that sounded like a bag of treats being opened.

We will always remember Jack and his long, exciting life. He brought joy to humans, cats, and a dog (who was probably also a bit perplexed by him). Just like his name suggests, Jack O’Lantern was indeed a silly, cute face on the outside; and on the inside, a source of bright, warm, peaceful light.


About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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