(Cat haters might want to hit the “Next” button, but if you do, you’ll miss a new photo of Otis, my neighbor’s Golden Retriever, formerly the cutest puppy, with three tennis balls in his mouth.)
[From Part One (Issue 165): 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.]
Part One left off with the catnapping of Smokey and Sammy, a covert operation to rescue them from a neglectful owner. Smokey was a robust and confident black cat, full of personality, who became the alpha cat in the neighborhood, but he was not mean about it. When I would pull into the driveway, he would greet me, rearing up on his hind legs to meet my outstretched hand as I bent to pet him. Sammy was a sweet, very affectionate orange tabby. At this point, the household also included Hunter, my Bengal cat, and Ben, a young Rottweiler who had joined the menagerie following the death of Henry, a gentle giant of a dog. All of the cats were indoor/outdoor.
My chronology is a bit fuzzy, but somewhere in there, we also fostered a young mother cat and her four kittens. Although she and two of her kittens were subsequently adopted, we decided to keep Lily, a black female, along with the runt of the litter, a cute little guy who I felt just had to be named Spud. Spud’s mother had shunned him, stunting his physical development, resulting in his having a rather awkward gait. (Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of either of them.) Although Lily was very sweet with me, she did not like Sammy, and tormented him to the point where he would spend most of his time hiding behind the couch. My girlfriend decided we should give Sammy away and, over my objections, took him to be a classroom cat at a school for developmentally disabled children. I just didn’t think it was a good environment for him, and my apprehension was borne out. Within a couple of days, we got a call from the teacher saying Sammy had escaped and was nowhere to be found.
I was really upset and went to see if I could find him. That night, I patrolled the school grounds, calling out to him. I used a Sony Walkman D3 cassette recorder as a sort of hearing aid, putting it into record mode with the volume up and using earphones. After about an hour, I had to give up. Imagine my relief when the teacher called the next day to say he had been hiding somewhere in the classroom all along. I convinced my girlfriend that we should take him back.
Some time later, Hunter and I moved out into an apartment. He took being an indoor cat again in stride. Maybe a year later, a small black cat started showing up on my patio. Hunter seemed to be interested in her (I just assumed it was a female based on its build), but I wasn’t sure if I should let her in – the last thing I wanted was for Hunter to get territorial and start spraying. I should note that all of my cats have been spayed or neutered, but that doesn’t always guarantee against their marking territory. The visits, with the two of them separated by a sliding glass door, went on for weeks. I finally took a chance and let her in. Within minutes, she and Hunter were having fun playing and chasing each other around the place. I asked my neighbors in the complex if anyone owned her, but no one said they did. I hadn’t been feeding her, and I didn’t keep her just yet, but I ultimately decided I would. She needed a name, and my girlfriend chose “Miss Pearl.” I was cool with that, until one morning when she jumped on the bed, walked toward me, and then turned to walk away. The view was educational, to say the least, as I thought, “How did I miss those balls?!” Miss Pearl was a boy! She then became “Mr. Earl,” without the need for any complex gender-reassignment procedures (aside from the requisite neutering).
Hunter and Mr. Earl did just fine in the apartment for a few more years, after which I was finally able to buy a house. Once I was all moved in, my girlfriend suggested I take Sammy, since Lily was still harassing him. Soon I had three indoor cats. Although I live in a quiet residential neighborhood, a lot of wildlife passes through my yard, including raccoons, foxes, skunks, and opossums. It just seemed too risky to let the cats out.
All was well until young Mr. Earl developed a bad case of asthma. His first serious attack resulted in a clinic stay where he was given oxygen and steroids, but he recovered quite well. Some time later, he had another attack, leading to the same treatment and result. Unfortunately, the third time was too much for him, and I had to call the vet come to the house for euthanasia.
A few years passed (uneventfully, in the cat world) before Hunter started to decline. In 2015, he was approaching the age of 19, and was losing control of his body in various ways. Once again, euthanasia was called for, but this time the vet couldn’t work in a home visit. I had to bring him to the office and hold him while he got the injection. Sweet Sammy (whose age I had estimated to be about ten) adjusted quite well to being an only cat. He had gone from being skittish (to the point where a knock at the door would send him into the farthest reaches of the closet) to welcoming visitors. He even won over my current girlfriend, who had not been particularly fond of cats in the past.
Three years later, he developed health issues that required daily fluid infusions. I never thought I’d be able to put a needle in my cat, but the vet showed me how, and Sammy was very cooperative. Sadly, though, soon it was his turn to go. His timing was actually fortuitous, as we were going to be taking a three-week trip to England in a month or two, and it would have been difficult to find a cat sitter who could do the fluid infusions. In the living room, after the vet had done her job, she said she didn’t know of another man who loved his cats as much as I did.
For the first time in over 20 years, I was without a feline companion. It was very strange to come home from work and not have a cat greet me. I even re-wrote the lyrics to “Town Without Pity” as “House Without Kitty” as a form of closure (but now I can’t find them). After our vacation, I started thinking about getting another cat.
I checked out the online listings from our local shelter and saw a beautiful two-year-old female. The shelter workers called her “Aretha,” due to the fact that she was quite vocal. They said she didn’t get along with the other cats and should go to an “only cat” household. I think they thought she would be difficult to place, because when I went there and asked to see Aretha, they lit up. She was in a large outdoor enclosure that was tall enough for me to walk into without stooping. I sat down and she came to me, jumped on my lap, and started purring, so I decided to take her. She made herself at home instantly when I opened her carrier in the house. She found the litter box, water bowl, and food dish in a matter of minutes, then curled up to sit with me on the couch.
With no disrespect to the “Queen of Soul,” I renamed her Maddy in keeping with my tradition of naming my cats after British musicians. Maddy Prior, whose voice I love, was the lead singer for Steeleye Span, a folk-rock outfit from the 1970s. She was also one half of the Silly Sisters (with June Tabor) as well as being a guest vocalist on Mike Oldfield’s Incantations album.
Maddy (the cat, that is) is definitely feisty. I found out later from a friend who volunteered at the shelter that it wasn’t that Maddy didn’t get along with the other cats; she was actually attacking them! I have seen Maddy’s aggression on several occasions when neighborhood cats have passed by the sliding glass door. She puffs up, yowls, and seems fully ready for battle. The same reaction happens with dogs. I don’t dare let another creature in the house. This made it impossible to accept my ex-girlfriend’s offer to give me Lily when she was moving into a place with limits on pets.
Maddy has some behavioral quirks that are pretty amusing. She is a champion tail-chaser, reaching brief bursts of over 100 RPM. She will then fall over, grabbing her tail and a hind leg, kicking her chin repeatedly in the way cats do with their prey. Like a lot of cats, she really enjoys playing with rubber bands. I am grateful that, unlike a lot of cats, she does not eat them. Maddy is now around six years old, and looks to have a long healthy life with me.
Now, once again, here’s Otis the Golden Retriever. His puppy picture was in Part One. He is now almost fully grown at 60 pounds. Otis is ball-obsessed, and he delights in catching tennis balls in midair with an acrobatic leap. He can fit three tennis balls in his mouth!