Chapter I, A Softy for Cats
WARNING: This is not a “cute kitty” book. I started out to create just that, but my cast of characters swiftly dug in their claws, insisting I tell their true story, including all the mirth, mayhem and woe. I could not refuse their demands. With that said, welcome to my crazy, cat-cluttered world.
For as long as I can remember, cats have fascinated me. I’ve never laid eyes on an adult cat I didn’t want to stroke or a kitten I didn’t long to tuck in my pocket and take home. Purebred or ordinary alley cat, it makes no difference; they all captivate me with their beauty, grace and unfettered character. They also convey a healing power that’s almost magical. When my spirits are low, all I need do is sit for a while with a contented tabby on my lap, listening to him purr while I run my hand over his soft fur and gaze into his serene golden eyes. For me it’s a better anti-depressant than any drug on the market.
As for the big cats, they take my breath away. To make friends with a tiger, à la Sigfried and Roy, must be like touching the heart of God, Roy’s brush with death notwithstanding. Awesome, magnificent, terrifyingly beautiful, even such superlatives don’t do the great cats justice. Knowing that many species hover on the brink of extinction due to human predation tears at me like a man-killer’s talons. Surely it must make our Creator weep, for I have no doubt He adores his big cats just as much as I adored my six small, furry darlings.
Whoa! Six? Sometimes even I can’t believe it, but it’s true. For several years my house was home to six cats. Most are gone now, their absence filled by newer additions, but this story focuses mainly on that original group of six.
I live in Fort Worth, Texas, with my husband Ken and our feline hodgepodge. Back then, when we were so overstocked with cats, I suspected we might be violating city code but feared to confirm the fact, thinking I might have to part with some of my four-footed children. Sure enough, when I finally worked up the courage to phone animal control, I was told city residents are not to possess more than three cats, dogs, etc.
(Mind you, no one ever truly possesses a cat. You provide food, shelter, a cozy spot to curl up and sleep, and you hope the independent creature will deign to stay. And maybe, just maybe, come to love you.)
Fortunately, I also learned you can obtain an exception to this rule of three by signing an affidavit stating that all of your pets have been either spayed or neutered. Whew, what a relief! While I never applied for said exception, at least I’m not a total criminal, since all members of our gang were duly “fixed” in their youth. Yuck, I hate that word, don’t you? It implies the correction of a defect, a strange and arrogantly human way of looking at animal reproduction.
But, hey, don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting we allow our pets to breed like proverbial rabbits. I love animals too much for that. Far too many unwanted ones are euthanized every day in this country, and it sickens me to see the pitiful dogs and cats wandering our streets, hungry and unprotected. Many will die of starvation and illness, or beneath the wheels of a speeding auto. Others will be picked up by animal control, often leading to the same, if more merciful, end. Some, the lucky few, will find a softy like me to take them in.
Geeze, I’m sure patting myself on the back here, huh? That’s really not my intention. To tell the truth, I think I’m a bit whacko for being so smitten with cats. I certainly never intended to accumulate half a dozen of the little beggars. For one thing, they’re expensive to feed and vaccinate, as my husband will gladly inform you. For another, they habitually deposit hair, slimy fur balls, and other gifts around the house for me to clean up, a job my creaky middle-aged bod does not enjoy.
On top of all that, I developed an allergy to cats after the third one took up residence, leading to years of allergy shots and a close acquaintance with inhalers. My daughter Carrie shared the same problem before going off to college, but she seems to have miraculously outgrown her cat allergy in recent years. A good thing considering she now shares her own home with three mischievous foundlings.
Perhaps I should have banned cats from our house when Carrie was a child to protect her health if not my own, but I couldn’t throw them out to fend for themselves on the mean streets, could I? And finding a good home for aging cats is not easy, especially when some have quirky personalities that would turn most people off. Beyond all that, if I ever ejected any of our furry babies, my dear daughter might have murdered me in my sleep, because they were, each and every one, hers to begin with.
Like many mothers and daughters, Carrie and I don’t always see eye to eye, but if there’s one thing we agree on, it’s our love of cats. We are hooked on them. Some people smoke themselves to death – my father did – others abuse alcohol or do drugs. We do cats. Oh, and chocolate. Not to mention pizza, greasy hamburgers, French fries, nacho chips, and my personal favorite, mint chocolate chip ice cream. Ahh, heaven!
Now you know my other weakness: food, fattening food in all its glorious, waist-expanding, cholesterol-laden abundance. We Americans are so spoiled and overfed, it’s appalling!
Returning to my subject, despite how much I adore cats, over the years I have often longed to be rid of my entire brood, especially when one of them soils the carpet. Hating the clean-up job, I threaten dire consequences every time, but, although they may run for cover while I rant and rave and haul out the carpet scrubber, the offenders know I’m all bark and no bite. Let one of them come winding around my legs a while later, meowing plaintively, and pretty soon I’m cuddling the little imp. Such a weakling I am! Sigh.
So, how did I get into this predicament? Ah, therein lies the tale, or tails. Grin! Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
First, let me introduce my cast of four-footed stars. In order of their appearance, they are Shadow, Tommy, Coco, Pepper, Rumor and Tiger. There have been and probably will be others. But these six are special; through luck and longevity, each occupies a unique place in our family history and in my heart.