Cats I Have Loved
My First Word
If it didn’t cost so much for the pet deposit and the vet fees, and if we didn’t have pet rats and a bird, I would own a cat again. I miss them. I like dogs and wouldn’t mind having one again, but I like cats better than dogs. One reason is that they are always soft and therefore you want to pet them a lot. Petting my beloved wirehaired terrier Mitsie (mentioned and pictured in my other Hub, “Gabriel: Remembering an Exceptional Cockatiel”), was more a favor to her than a mutual pleasure if touch alone were the factor. Also, I love a cat’s grace and independence. They are lower maintenance pets than dogs. They don’t have to be potty trained or taken outside to go to the bathroom. And normally, if they have been spayed or neutered, they can roam freely outside. But not at my apartment complex. I wondered why I haven’t seen them about lately, and finally I got a notice saying that pets are not permitted to roam loose on the premises.
I think that keeping a cat inside at all times is cruel, especially if you declaw them. Declawing is unnatural and takes away a cat’s ability to hang onto things and hunt properly. A cat is more of a wild thing than a dog, which is one of the things I like: a wild thing that with its own will curls up next to you and purrs. Taking away their ability to hunt just doesn’t seem right.
Finally, I love cats because a cat was the first pet I ever knew. Her name was Golddust, and my family had her before I was born, I believe. My first word was “Kitty.” Golddust was an outdoor cat and had had kittens that had suffered fatal abuse at the hands of my brothers. Later, following a car accident, she couldn’t have any more kittens for them to abuse. That was all before I could remember. But I do remember she had been missing for days once and came home with her chin covered with blood. The family thought she must have been in a fight. They took her to the vet, who said she had developed gangrene. Her bottom lip fell off. The vet stapled it to her teeth. She ended up losing those teeth as well as the lip, and continued living the rest of her life with her bottom jaw exposed. She had to eat soft food, but she was the sweetest cat and lived a long life even so. My brother said, “Most cats have nine lives. Golddust has had about 13.” My family kept saying they expected her to die because she was old. I had nightmares of her showing up mutilated in ways that would make it impossible for her to be walking around: Head hanging by a thread, etc.
When I was a teenager, I came home one night to see her curled up peacefully by the fence. I petted her and she purred. I thought, “This would be a peaceful time for her to die.” The next day some kids informed me they had found her body in the orange grove across the street.
I can't remember exactly when it was that a black-and-white cat with raccoon-like markings showed up in our house in the wee hours of the morning. How she got there my brother and I had no idea. She was affectionate with us both, and we both separately thought to name her "Burglar." After reading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, it seemed honorable enough. Burglar took to me right away. At dawn that day we played together in the orange grove across the street.
We had had her for some time when a younger girl I played with saw her in our garage and said it was her cat, Whistler. I thought this a strange name for a cat. She thought Burglar was a terrible one. So she took her Whistler away. I made up a song about this cat to the tune of "Gypsy Rose," and I'd love to share it, but I'd be afraid of copyright infringement.
I asked my friend some time later what had become of the cat I loved so. "Oh, she got sick and we had her put to sleep," she said, as if she didn't care. I was livid. I thought this would never happen if we had kept her.
The next cat was a stowaway from a litter living in a tack room at a local horse stable. I was with a friend at the time who suggested I name the furry little bundle Smoke because she was a gray tabby. I took Smoke home and fed her milk in the kitchen. My mother was in bed sick and didn’t know about it. I kept the kitten on some blankets in the closet. When Dad came home, I showed Smoke to him, and he was happy about her, not knowing that Mom didn’t know. When Mom found out she hit the roof, but I kept her. Perhaps my stealth was the reason the rest of the family didn’t like her. I gave Smoke the last name Stables instead of my own surname because of this rejection. Smoke had a target design on her sides. She used to get on my shoulder and then slide down my back—something I described as part of the introduction to a humorous speech I wrote for school, “How to Take Care of a Kitten” (one you don’t want).
Smoke had several litters of kittens. She would always have two or three black-and-white kittens and one gray like herself.
My family refused to pay to get Smoke Spayed, so they found a cat adoption agency to take her to. I didn’t believe the agency would find a home for her, and neither, apparently, did Smoke. She tore into my arms with her claws trying to get away and then pressed herself against the glass front of the office, crying piteously. It seemed she smelled death in the place. It was horrible.
Shaman Sylvester Valentino Nerd
My brother kept one of her black-and-white kittens, which he named Shaman. He used to breathe hashish smoke into Shaman’s face, which may be why the cat grew up to be so spacey. Shaman was longhaired and luxuriously beautiful. He was very friendly. He would come lie on the newspaper you were reading. He would recline at your feet as you did the dishes. If you stepped on his tail he would cry out but not move. My dad always announced to visitors, “This is Shaman Sylvester Valentino Nerd.” He was the most domesticated cat we could imagine. He surprised us all by running away and becoming wild.
The thing that precipitated that was his fear of riding in cars. We had to take him to the vet one day. He didn’t mind the vet at all. In fact, he purred on the examining table. But when after we got him in the car and then opened the door to get in, he took off like a flash and ran down the street.
I made a “Lost cat” poster with a photo of him and put it all over town. Some people called from an apartment complex that looked like a little jungle saying they had seen him there. He was seen there enough times we knew he lived there, but we never found him when we went there and called. We never saw Shaman again.
Friend of Birds, Greeter of Tourists
After I moved to Oregon, I lived in a trailer by my parent’s grocery store, which I helped them run. A friend gave me an adorable black kitten, which a vacationing friend thought ought to be called “Under.” I thought that sounded like a strange name as it stood, but I looked it up in my Latin dictionary and named her Subi. My friend also nicknamed her “Meatball.” Although I never left Subi in the trailer alone with my cockatiel Gabriel, she never stalked the bird. She enjoyed lying next to his cage, and once in a while would take a friendly swipe at him. Subi was extremely friendly. She greeted all the tourists that drove up to our hilltop market and Laundromat, running up to their cars. One day I think someone in one of those cars took off with her, because she always came when I called her and she disappeared. I was so fond of that little cat that I thought God would return her to me. It never happened.
She Didn’t Kill a Lot of Mice, But…
When I lived in a cabin by myself, I had a problem with mice. A friend gave me a Siamese named Vin by her previous owner. The best way I can describe Vin is by sharing the poem I wrote about her (the longest poem I’ve ever written).
It Means “Friend”
My roommate's breed is a name
whose country abandoned it.
She talks with “Mao”s, “rouw”s and “no”s;
Strange such obnoxious chords pour forth
from the throat of one
with fur of buckskin colors like a rich velvet chair,
the feel of Japanese silk.
Of what country is she?
Her Himalayan ancestors were blacker than the wood stove
she sits behind to warm or search the bricks
for mice playing football in the twilight zone of wall.
Records, plush chairs she scrapes with claws,
will not touch the catnipped post,
hurts my feelings more than flesh she bites
or first nurture-licking as if to numb where
vampire ravage she cannot resist.
She will not learn;
too great her passion,
See my droopy eyes?
she demands door service,
rubs cold wet nose and tickly whiskers
over my skin, inches closer to lie
over my neck or face,
suffocates me with fur-bound weight.
Half her fleas she leaves as souvenirs
Why do I keep her?
Rarely has she trapped a wall mouse.
Once she saw a baby one scurry across the floor,
played with it all evening,
ate it whole.
A mole lies by my doorstep
now a flattened skeleton, long fingers and nose.
She's no orthodox lover,
but constant as no other.
Her name is Vin—Norweigan for “friend”;
I wonder if she knows,
For I call her Pretty Kitty, Pussycat,
When I reach the driveway she rushes “Mao”ing;
If I pause too long
she climbs into the car,
or if locked in the house
at the door she waits.
over a furry body rushing ahead of my feet.
My shoulder is the mountain
she loves to climb
and nestle purring,
Never has enough.
Never talks back, this friend
except in Siamese “no”s
when we argue over who-knows-what.
I do not live alone.
Father, Son, Spirit, and cat
we are satisfying family.
Published in “Sweet Comfort” newsletter, July 2007, and on “Robin’s Nest” website (no longer online)
I’ve heard that cats get more attached to places and dogs more to people. It does seem that going places in cars or moving can lead to losing them. And it always seems to be after taking them to a vet and buying them medicine. Such was the case with Vin. I took her in my car to a new town just fine, but while she was being treated for some minor wounds she was apparently killed by a pack of coyotes mixed with wild dogs.
A Child’s Perfect Friend
When my daughter was small, we searched diligently to find the right kitten for her. At a pet store we found one that just lay there as she carried it about the store draped over her arms. The kitten was all black. We named her Meow-Meow. We took the best care of her: had the more expensive kind spaying operation, bought her food from the cat vet, kept her up on her shots. Meow-Meow would follow us whenever we went someplace and stop at one spot several blocks away, where she would meet us whenever we returned and walk us home. But we were disobeying the rules of the apartment complex where we lived at the time: No cats or dogs. When the managers got serious about enforcing the rule, we advertised to find our beloved kitty a new home. I put out an ad looking for a home for our black kitty “just in time for Halloween.”
Animal Aid (see link below) called and warned us not to give our cat away to strangers before Halloween because cultists had a horrible habit of using black animals for sacrifices on that day. We did get two calls from people wanting our cat. I explained to both why I had decided to wait until after the holiday was over. They never called back. Now that was scary!
Animal Aid paid for the pet deposit at a friend’s apartment complex so that he could take Meow-Meow for us, but he soon gave her to a neighbor, and the neighbor moved. It amazes me how thoughtless people can be about the feelings individuals have for their pets.
Afraid of Rats
The last cat we owned was Magic, whom my daughter accepted as a Christmas present without my permission and snuck in like I had Smoke. He was so named because of the M on his forehead. He was afraid of my daughter’s pet rats. I insisted we follow the rules, so my daughter gave Magic to another friend.
There does seem to be something magic about the cat to me: the way it moves, the way it hunts its prey, the way the housecat resembles its larger wild relatives but still condescends to be a friend to humans. My family and I have owned a variety of animals, but the cat is still my favorite kind of pet…except for some individuals, like one exceptional cockatiel I wrote about earlier.
Newest Addition to the Family
Addendum, January 2009
My daughter's first paying job, bell ringing for the Salvation Army (see my other hub, "What's With These Crazy Christmas Carols," and, coming in October 2009, "How to be a Successful Salvation Army Bell Ringer"), brought an unexpected surprise. Someone left a box near her kettle and walked away. About 15 minutes later, she heard mewing inside. The strangers had abandoned three kittens! She managed to find homes for two of them by the end of the day, and took the last one home. She named him Zidane, after a red-tailed character from the Final Fantasy video game. In spite of a high deposit at our apartment complex, he has easily made his way into our hearts. He is kept indoors, where he runs about maniacally, attacking everything. Unlike most pets, he actually enjoyed his Christmas presents more than the wrappings. We are working hard to keep him from jumping up onto the kitchen table. He is facinated with flushing toilets, having overcome his fear of them, and has discovered the joys of drinking from said appliance--"our litterbox."
Zidane at Christmas
My other beloved pet story
- Gabriel: Remembering an Exceptional Cockatiel
It's said that one should not replace a lost pet too soon, because it will never live up to the first pet's memory. Even after many years, I cannot find another bird like Gabriel. Read how remarkable he was!
Help for pet owners
- Animal Aid, Inc. (Portland, Oregon) - Home Page
Animal Aid, Inc. in Portland Oregon is a non-profit no-kill animal rescue organization which is actively working to better the lives of pets in the Metro Area. Please visit their site to learn more about all of their programs.