cats

We’re continuing our decision-making process regarding whether to keep the oversize puppy that I foolishly let friends deposit on our doorstep a little while back. I don’t really see the point of dogs. Rather than add a second dog to my household, I’d vastly prefer to adopt another cat (or two); but, the dog is likely to stay, and additional cats will probably remain a future acquisition. In the meantime, I’ve been contemplating my cats, past and present.

Otterbein. The first cat of my independent adult life; a big, fluffy, brown and black tabby. When I was at Purdue, my boyfriend and I searched the newspaper ads for kittens that needed homes; one Sunday, we drove northwest from West Lafayette to Otterbein, Indiana to adopt what is surely the only cat ever named for this tiny town. When I left the boyfriend, I left the cat, too.

Banquo. A sleek, black male. It seemed to me appropriate to give a black cat a ghost‘s name. I can’t remember where we got him, but he lived with us in Bloomington while I was in grad school. Alas, he developed habits that were outside the box (great for an innovative businessperson; bad for an indoor cat), and I simply will not have a pet that uses any part of the house other than the designated area as its bathroom. We ran an ad and found him a country home where he could roam a farm.

Pixel. A lovely black and white girl. Somebody (I can’t remember who) mentioned that Robert Heinlein’s book The Cat Who Walks through Walls features a cat named Pixel. This was also not too long after we got our first PC, so we were feeling very computer savvy; those influences combined to help provide a name for our cat. We adopted her while living briefly in Louisville, where she educated us about the ability of a very small kitten to climb very tall drapes in a very short period of time and then make very loud noises until you come help her down. She also taught me the value of owning a cat carrier: I needed to take her to the vet, and I didn’t have a box or other container. “No problem,” I thought. “She can sit on the front seat; it isn’t very far.” The moment the car began to move, Pixel disappeared under the front seat, from which vantage point she proceeded to emit loud and menacing howls. When I reached the vet’s office, I got out and — have I mentioned that it was pouring rain? — ran around the car to fetch the kitty, assuming that she’d be thrilled to come out now that the dangerous machine had come to a stop. Instead, she braced herself under the seat, and I was unable to move her; all I succeeded in doing was raising clouds of hair as I tried to pull her loose. I went inside for advice, and a veterinary assistant came out to help. It required all of that young man’s strength to pry Pixel from her hiding place. Despite this adventure, we owned Pixel another several years, until my son proved allergic (full explanation shortly).

Electra. A beautiful gray girl. I found this name from Greek mythology appealing for a steel-gray cat. We adopted her while living in our first house, where she and Pixel got along tolerably well. After our son was born, he developed serious breathing problems; he underwent a series of tests (far more distressing for his mother than for him), and finally the doctor determined that he was allergic to cats. Herewith, I learned that I actually have two rules about pets: they have to use the bathroom in appropriate places, and the humans in the household always come first. I loved my kitties, but I had no hesitation in immediately setting about to find them new homes. Fortunately we were also in the process of building a new house, and before long we were living in a dander-free zone.

Myra. So, why does this list continue, if my son is allergic to cats? Because, thankfully, he outgrew his allergy. Our first pet in the new house was a python (Severus). Next came a golden retriever (Lily). And then, quite unintentionally, came a cat. Doug was out of town in July 2003, and my kids and I went on a drive to get hot dogs and frozen custard in Palmyra, Indiana. We ate at a table on the porch of the ice cream shop, and a very thin but extremely friendly gray cat appeared and demanded that we share. She gulped down bits of meat and dollops of custard, and allowed herself to be stroked, purring all the while. Throwing caution and common sense to the wind, I decided that this cat was meant to go home with us. We went next door and asked the neighbors if the cat belonged to them; no, they said, she seemed to be a stray. Thus encouraged, we borrowed a milk crate from the restaurant, stowed the kitty under it in the back seat, and headed home. The kids were thrilled and very surprised — what about the allergy? What would daddy say? Ewwwww! Why had the cat just thrown up all over my daughter? (Too much hot dog followed by the stress of the ride, I assured her.) I told them that the arrangement might be temporary; we would see whether the allergy flared up, and if so, we would take the cat to the animal shelter, where her situation would still be better than living as a hungry stray. With the new addition hiding under my bed, I called Doug to nervously tell him what I’d done; he agreed that we’d just have to wait and see. And happily, amazingly, all was well. The allergy was gone; the skinny cat filled out beautifully; and my sweet girl Myra is lying next to the monitor as I type. I can never thank her enough for helping reintroduce the joy of cats into my life.

Roxy. A shy black girl with 10 white hairs on her chest. In the fall of 2003, we attended a potluck dinner at church for the middle school youth group. One family brought kittens in addition to their potluck dish, saying, “If we don’t find homes for them tonight, we’re taking them to the shelter.” A little guilt goes a long way. The tiny black kitten who didn’t like anyone came happily to me and fell asleep on my lap; no one in my family was surprised when she went home with us. I had recently seen the movie Chicago, and it seemed to me that the character Roxy had a heart as black as this kitty. Roxy was mostly my cat. She developed the odd but very endearing habit of following me into the bathroom and jumping onto my lap, where she would lie and purr loudly — other than those occasions, she refused to be held and rarely sat on laps. But she was a sweet and beautiful girl. Then, several months ago, she began urinating on the sofa, on clothes, and on papers. I took her to the vet and tried antibiotics, in case she had an infection, but online research indicated that once a cat develops a bathroom preference outside the litterbox, there’s little hope of a behavioral change. Doug offered to take her to the shelter, but I had to do it myself; I cried nonstop as I filled out the paperwork. At home, my family was sympathetic, but they didn’t understand my pain — this was the first cat I’d given away to which I felt truly attached. It’s as though this new round of cats, acquired after I thought my cat days were over, are a far deeper part of my life than those I had earlier in life. That evening I ended up sobbing on the floor of my closet, curled up by myself, mourning the loss of my girl.

Archie. A big, bold, tiger tabby. In the spring of 2004, I realized that I wanted a third cat. Not just any cat: I wanted a tiger, and I wanted to name him Archie (for Archie Goodwin, of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries — my favorites). After talking it over with Doug, who was neutral on the idea but willing to accept another cat if I found one, I took the kids to the animal shelter to survey the kitten inventory. They had only a few kittens, but lo and behold, one of them was a little tiger boy. He was extremely friendly, climbing over us and purring like a freight train, and home he came. Today he’s the largest cat I’ve owned — not fat, but long. When he wants attention, he stretches his front paws up Doug’s body almost to his waist (a trick that the other cats have copied). Most days he spends hours sleeping under my desk lamp; my lazy, stripy boy.

Harry. A sweet black tabby boy who thinks he’s a dog. Last fall, I went to the Clifton Center to perform with Guilderoy Byrne as part of a Celtic festival. Outside the stage door, a tabby kitten rolled on his back, asking all comers for attention. I stopped and petted him, but then we had to go in. After the show, he was gone. But when we got to the car, a block away, there was the kitten; it was as if he’d scoped out my parking space and decided to hang out and wait for us. Who am I to argue with a sweet kitty who clearly needs a home? I scooped him up and handed him to my daughter in the back seat. There, Doug appeared resigned and unsurprised at the addition of yet another feline to the menagerie. I’d originally been thinking of naming the kitten Nero; but my son spotted the distinctive lightning-like stripes on his forehead and suggested the name Harry (for Harry Potter, of course). Over the next few days we cured him of his innumerable fleas, washed away the dirt, filled his seemingly bottomless stomach, and marveled at the loud purr and extreme friendliness of this street cat. He and Archie became immediate friends, and my wonderful stripy boys are generally never far from each other.

The cats I have today are here because they were boldly friendly. They were meant to be part of my family. Whether or not the additional dog becomes part of the household, if another kitty and I are ever together at the right place at the right time, I’ll know it; and my house is always big enough for one more cat.

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