(Cat haters might want to hit the “Next” button, but if you do, you’ll miss a photo of Otis, my neighbor’s Golden Retriever puppy, a serious candidate for the world’s cutest puppy.)
I love dogs. I will pet any and every dog that crosses my path (as long as their owner says it’s okay). When I was growing up, we couldn’t have dogs or cats because of my brother’s allergies. As a result, we became the neighborhood reptile experts, with a rotating array of lizards and snakes occupying terrariums in our house (usually alligator lizards and gopher or bull snakes – garter snakes don’t do so well in captivity). Our mom was cool with that, and it made for great show-and-tell days at school. Neighbors would call us to say there was a lizard or snake in their garage and ask that we come get it. It was fun, but I would have loved having a dog.
That said, my non-human domestic companions have all been cats. I understand the responsibilities of dog ownership, and I am not up to the task day in and day out. My late mother was always disappointed that I never wanted children. “You’d make such a great father,” she would say. My reply was “Mom, I have a cat because I don’t want the responsibility of a dog – if I don’t want the responsibility of a dog, I got no business having kids!”
I think I’ve had pretty good luck with cats. I have never had a finicky eater or a furniture destroyer. A later kitten did do a bit of damage to a few record album covers, but that was nipped in the bud. I thank my lucky stars that speaker grilles have never been a temptation.
I got my first cat when I was in my mid-20s. It was a young female that my girlfriend and I named “Kitter,” a sort of play on the name of actress Margot Kidder. Kitter was a sweet girl and a champion fetcher. I could throw a ping pong-sized ball of tinfoil down the hall and she would chase it, bring it back and drop it for another run. We even set up a couple of hurdles over which she would bound – forward without the ball and then back with it in her mouth.
We were waiting for her to have her first heat before we planned to have her spayed. Thinking we had caught her in the very beginning of the cycle, we kept her inside for two weeks, during which she yowled and perched on the windowsill, hoping for “you know what.” Neighborhood toms came by and threw themselves at the window. After things calmed down, we let her out again. A few weeks later, we noticed her belly was growing. Dang! She must have found “love” in the hours before we confined her.
Kitter gave birth to four kittens. We had set up a birthing box and I sat next to it when she seemed ready, but she jumped on my lap and started pushing, so I quickly relocated her to the box. As we had planned to give all four away, we didn’t name them, thinking that would be the new owners’ privilege. Instead, we called them by their birth order number. We ended up keeping “One,” so coming up with a proper name was our next task. This began a tradition of naming my cats after British musicians whenever I could. “One” spelled backwards is “Eno,” and that became his name (after Brian Peter George Saint John the Baptist de la Salle Eno, founding member of Roxy Music, producer of U2, and innovator of ambient music). Eno (the cat, that is) picked up his mother’s fetching habit quite readily.
All was well until one day when I came outside to find Kitter lying dead in our front yard, with no signs of trauma. We had to assume that she had been poisoned somehow. Eno was hiding in the narrow space between our house and the next. It took some coaxing to get him out, but he ended up adjusting pretty well to life on his own.
Then, another tragedy – he had followed me as I walked across the quiet street to the little grocery on the corner. When I came out, he was lying in the street, with a little bit of blood from one claw, but no other indication of trouble. We took him to the emergency vet clinic, and an X-ray revealed a broken hip. I think that he may have been hit by a bicycle rather than by a car. We couldn’t afford the treatment necessary to properly address the injury, so we took him home and hoped for the best. Within a day or two, he was jumping on my lap, with his leg just dangling. He recovered to the point where he could run and climb almost as though nothing had happened.
After a year or two, and a move to a bigger house, we figured it was time for a companion cat for Eno. Some friends were having a “kitten adoption” party, and one little guy jumped on my lap and started purring away. We took it as a sign and brought him home in a box. When we set the box down, Eno took one look inside and swiped at the new boy. Uh-oh, might be trouble.
We decided to put the new kid in a bathroom with food, water, and a litter box to spend the night. Eno slept on our bed with us as usual. The kitten, of course, was not happy, and proceeded to yowl and scratch at the bathroom door until I couldn’t take it anymore (sleep was out of the question). I picked up the little fellow, who was all purrs instantaneously, and set him down on the bed to see what would happen. I crawled back under the covers and in a matter of minutes, I heard a mixture of purrs and slurping sounds. The kitten was nursing at Eno (a neutered male, mind you) and he was just lying back and letting it happen. They got along famously after that.
It was naming time again, and I felt there was no other choice but to name him after Robert Fripp, founder and guitarist for King Crimson. What made it mandatory for me was the fact that Fripp and Eno had done an album together called No Pussyfooting. So, for a few years, I had both Fripp and Eno. Of course, names tend to get messed with, and Fripp’s litany of monikers included Fripper, Fripp Dip, Fripper Dipper, and even Chip Dip.
Shortly before a vaccine would become available, feline leukemia (FeLV) raised its ugly head. Eno was diagnosed with it and had to be put down in the hope that Fripp would not be infected.
Fripp was smart, sweet, and probably my favorite cat. He accompanied me through several moves of domiciles (and girlfriends). At the age of 16, he developed cancer in his jaw and it was his time to go. We had the vet come to the house for the euthanasia, and it was the best decision. If you have to say goodbye to a pet, I highly recommend that you find a vet who will do a house call. That way, your pet’s last experience in life is being comforted by you, not a trip to the place they hate (the vet’s office).
A relationship change meant that I was back in an apartment that didn’t allow pets. After a couple of years, I moved to one that would let me have a cat. A friend told me about Hunter, a beautiful Bengal cat who was in need of a new home. His owners had gotten him as a (probably expensive) kitten, along with a dog at the same time, but Hunter wasn’t comfortable around the dog and chose to live outside for five years. Feeling he deserved better, his owners had decided to give him up. I went to visit him and was smitten with his looks. He became my fourth cat.
As is recommended when relocating a cat, I kept Hunter inside for a couple of weeks, during which he made no moves to go out, even when I did. Eventually though, he felt the need for the great outdoors and tentatively ventured out, only going down a few stair steps before running back in. In time, he got to the bottom of the stairs and explored his surroundings. One time, he followed me out and didn’t come back for a week. I feared he might be trying to find his way back to his old place. I posted flyers and left food by my door. One quiet night, I could hear the food being eaten, but when I got to the door, the culprit was gone. Was it Hunter? After a couple of nights like that, I found Hunter meowing at the door, and he became a reliably indoor/outdoor cat.
About a year later, we (Hunter and I) moved in with a new girlfriend who had two cats of her own, George and Nikita (a female), along with a large Rottweiler. I was concerned that Hunter might not want to be around the dog, but they all got along well. Over time, her cats disappeared one by one, possibly victims of predators. A few years later, one of our friends passed away, leaving two cats, Smokey and Sammy. Smokey was a robust and confident black cat, full of personality, while Sammy was an orange tabby with a much more laid-back demeanor. The friend had left her house to her (less-than-responsible) teenaged son. It soon became apparent that the cats were not being cared for, and I ended up surreptitiously feeding them every morning on my way to work. They quickly learned to recognize the sound of my car. After a while, my girlfriend insisted on our “catnapping” them and bringing them to our place. I was apprehensive at first, but I did it. The son never even acknowledged what we had done.
(Part Two, which will explore life with Smokey and Sammy, Mr. Earl (nee Miss Pearl), and Maddy (my current cat), will appear in Issue 167.)
Now, as promised, here’s Otis the Golden Retriever!
Header image courtesy of Pexels.com/Kelvin Valerio.