I’ve always wanted a kitty. A nice kitty, a purring machine to nuzzle under my hand and snuggle in my lap.
But, no, there will be no cat in this house, declared my husband with his authoritative voice. The only pet around here will be, and is, my hunting dog. Cats are extraneous, useless. I mean, you can’t train them to point out in the field, or retrieve, either. Nope, I’m not having a cat. Period.
We did have one once over thirty years earlier. He adopted us the way cats do, hanging around for days looking woebegone until someone in the house softens and puts out a dish of milk. Then he was ours. I started putting a few cat things in with the groceries as I shopped, feeling guilty at spending money, in short supply with the demands of our young and growing family. “But you can’t just let him starve!” I argued. He had obviously been well cared for before choosing us and did not appear to be scruffy or flea ridden. He quickly adapted to life in our household, soon learning it was safer to hide during the hours our three year old was awake, and come out to be that purring machine in the evening. One day I had looked out the window to see Mark, the 3 year old, holding a wet, soggy, cindery cat by the neck, dousing him in the gutter after a rainstorm. Another time he baptized him in the bathroom sink. This perhaps explains why kitty was never to be found during the day.
Naturally, we had to name him. His black and white markings did it for us: Boots. It wasn’t long before a few cat toys made their appearance in the grocery cart. He was fully ours. Except, now and again he would disappear for several days. Calling him, searching the neighborhood, was futile. He just vanished, leaving a hole in our daily routine. After awhile I would sadly put away the cat food dish thinking he had been killed, and just about then he would show up as if he had never been away, looking for his usual handout.
Has scolding an errant cat ever done any good? Do they ever explain their whereabouts? He had the insouciance of a man about town that said in cat speak “None of your business!”
Eventually I noticed he seemed to have another problem – something was the matter with his plumbing because he was always needing to go out. (Buying and maintaining a litter box was not in our budget so the whole yard served as his “facility.”) Knowing little about kitty care, I assumed he had diarrhea. Ah hah! We had just the answer to that problem: Pepto Bismol, our tried and true family remedy for such ills. I got the bottle, a spoon, and held the cat in my arms.
Have you ever tried to get Pepto Bismol into a cat? Have you ever tried to get anything into a cat forcibly? Pushing a peanut across the street with my nose would be easier.
The next few seconds – I wish I could freeze-frame this – was a whirr of spoon, pink stuff, yowling, pink stuff flying, angry cat escaping, spoon flying, me dabbing at blood seeping from cat scratches.
I guessed that was not a good idea.
His problem continued and seemed to worsen. Eventually I prevailed upon my husband that something had to be done; we could not just let him suffer. So with a fair bit of muttering about the expense, he drove the cat to the vets. There it was learned that our wandering Lothario had a serious urinary problem, peculiar to cats, and he would not survive. It was not long before he was gone, out of our lives for good.
Now, moving forward a number of years, I wanted a kitty. A purring machine to sit on my lap. We had had several hunting dogs in the intervening years, dogs that chewed on my chair rungs, or would escape the garage to rifle the neighbor’s garbage. Rusty, Rimbo, Luke… nice dogs, and good hunters, but not a pet that would sit adoringly at your feet, let alone warm your lap.
It happened again.
A scruffy, scrawny, back alley tomcat showed up at the door. “Don’t feed him!” my husband warned. “He will never go away.” The thing is, he didn’t go away anyhow. Day after day he sat outside the door looking pitiful, mewing and gazing up at each of us as we came and went. By now our family had grown from two sons to five, and we had moved to another state. Life was full, busy. The current hunting dog was in a run outside our new home. My husband was deeply engrossed, developing his new job. Did anyone have time for a cat?
Finally someone weakened, melting under the continual pitiful cries. A dish was put out with a little milk. And he was ours.
This sad excuse for a cat was obviously not from a good home, but had been a survivor on the streets of our town. He was worm and flea ridden, with a bad case of gingivitis as well. If he were to continue with us something had to be done. Better able now to afford a vet bill, we took him to see what should be done. Or rather, what had to be done to make him socially acceptable. It was a lot. Our “free” kitty ended up being quite an investment.
But there was something about him, some character trait developed by being a fighter and over-comer, which endeared him to us from the start. For reasons beyond understanding we named him Christopher.
Christopher always spent the nights out somewhere. Sometimes on his return we would notice wounds from cat fights. Sometimes he would simply curl up on his bed to lie very still, and we would know he was in recovery. He was a feisty old thing; once after another night out, we felt something in the fur under his chin. It was the tooth of another cat, apparently dislodged in the fracas. Another time, he did not come home for three days and nights. This was a cause of alarm to the house. Calling his name morning and evening was fruitless. When he suddenly showed up at the door, it was with a serious limp. He dragged himself to his bed and stayed there for days, only leaving – with help – when he had to go outside. It was obvious he was in great pain caused by an accident. I feared he had been hit by a car.
Time passed; he improved and got back to his normal self. He did such a thorough job of endearing himself to us that even Husband would sit holding him in his lap, stroking his head. I had the purring machine I had always wanted.
It is remarkable how a cat can communicate without speaking the language. After one of his fights he had to have another trip to the vet for repair. A collar was placed to keep him from tearing into the repair while it was healing, and we were sent home with the admonition to keep him indoors for several days. Right. Try telling him that. He sat like a stone statue with his back to us, staring at the door by the hour. He was not to be placated. For some reason that immoveable stance was more impressive, more annoying than if he had yowled and howled.
One day something happened to him as he jumped down from my lap, putting him in great pain, hardly able to move. Even with help he could not get to the food dish or outdoors. His old injury had caught up with him – his pelvis fractured. We made yet another trip to the vet, cradling him gently. “Please, sir, if you can do anything for him, let me know.” Walking to the car, I burst into tears. Sadly, I knew the call would never come. That old scruffy back alley tomcat had worked his way deeply into my heart.
When a pet is gone, you have to deal with their “things,” the reminders of a life now past. Bowls, collar, special food, toys, favorite cushion – all have to be put away, given away. It is a part of saying good bye, a closure if you will. It is a necessary step in the grieving process. Once we were connected to another life; now that connection is broken and we are aware of the loss at a deep level. It is one of life’s mysteries, seldom recognized, that we are spiritual beings and as such can experience a connection with another life that goes far deeper than a casual knowing. This may explain the elaborate graves some people have for their pets. There was once a life, of whatever type, a life with which one had a relationship, and the broken cord has left them dangling. It is as if the break, without being sealed, continues to leak one’s very life away.
We do connect; it is written into our very structure, part of the original design. Moving into healing following a break in a relationship can be a long, slow process. We begin, by closure.
Time passed. The boys were all grown and gone. We had geese in the freezer and a dog in the yard, but no kitty for my lap.
One day I came into the kitchen and found proud Husband standing by a laundry basket with two kittens mewing and crawling over each other. “What’s this?” A natural response, given his years of professed cat disdain. “Well,” he replied rather sheepishly, “my hunting friend, Doc, has more than they can handle on the farm and asked if we would like one.” Ah so, in the interest of maintaining their relationship, he volunteered to let me have my choice of the litter. “One is a female. I thought you would like to have another girl in the house. If you pick the boy, Doc can neuter him at 6 months, but the girl would have to be done at the vet.” Since Doc was a urologist, neutering the boys was all in a day’s work.
Nothing is quite as endearing as a kitten, unless it’s two of them. It was a hard choice. Orange as a sunset, they scrambled around on the kitchen floor. The boy kitty seemed to be the sweetest, and would cost less, but yes, it would be nice to have another female around here.
Decision was made. Girl kitty was mine. Since she did seem quite frisky, we named her Ginger.
It soon became apparent the name should have been Fireworks; biting and clawing were her favorite activities. I was constantly under attack. She would sneak out from under a chair when I was tying my shoes and bite me. Any time I went down stairs, holding the hand rail for support, she would jump up to bite my hand. If I tried to take a swat at her to let her know what I thought about that, her eyes would get round, ears lie flat and the demon within would glare out at me. War was constant. My dream of having a lap-sitting, purring machine was growing dimmer by the day.
The time came for a routine trip to the vet. I managed to get that little fireball in the carrier, with only minor wounds. Vet looked her over and raised his head. “Nice little boy kitty you have here.”
“What?! We were told it was a girl!”
“Sorry, Ma’am. But sometimes it’s hard to tell, you know.”
Well, that explains a lot. At least it won’t cost anything to neuter ‘him’ because Doc had volunteered to do it. But we have to wait until he was 6 months old first. I didn’t know if I could last that long. Instead of a nice little girl kitty, Ginger, I had the “Cat from Hell.”
Warfare continued. Neither the cat nor I liked each other very much by now. I kept my eye on the calendar waiting for “The Day” when Doc would come and hopefully readjust the cat’s attitude somewhat. At long last…
The kitchen island was deemed a suitable operating table. Doc opened his kit bag. Husband stood at the ready to help. Ginger immediately “smelled a rat” and took off for far parts of the house. I finally corralled him, turned him over to the men and left the room to wring my hands. Doc pulled out a big syringe, and pulled up the neck fur to sedate the very suspicious animal being held in a firm grip by Husband. Suddenly there was a yowl, a curse, a clatter as enraged cat bit Husband’s thumb, jumped down with syringe still stuck in the fur and exploded out of the kitchen for points unknown.
I found him clinging to the back side of a sofa in the farthest room upstairs. As I reached over and grabbed him to pull him up, he actually elongated like a rubber band to twice his length, all the while still clinging to the sofa with a Herculean strength. Desperation in his eyes, it seemed he was saying “You are going to do what? To me? No way, Jose.” I overcame him by brute force, wrapping him tightly in a drop cloth from our current remodeling project. Back down stairs we went, with his eyes wide, ears laid back, terror in the tension of his body. Swaddled as he was, he could not fight the syringe, the drug which was sure to put him to sleep.
Only, it didn’t work. His eyes still darted and glared; his body was still a coiled spring in my arms. Doc gave him another dose. He glared. We waited. And waited. He never did close his eyes. There was enough adrenalin in him to overcome any drug in Doc’s kit bag. At last, I felt the tension ease just a bit. Doc said, “he’s ready.”
The deed was soon done. He was placed in the dog carrier to recover.
Three hours later we opened the carrier door to our “adjusted” cat. He came swaying out, with the ease of a sailor on leave, or the town drunk trying to find his way home. Our beast of terror was now hopefully a transformed tiger, a mellow pussycat indeed.
Altered he may have been; mellow he was not. We continued in a Mexican stand-off relationship, he apparently having a good memory of the indignity forced upon him. No comforter, his sneak attacks continued.
Comfort would have been appreciated, as just a few months later I was suddenly widowed. Sons arrived, flowers arrived. The head-spinning, stress-causing requirements of a family loss kept me occupied and less focused on Ginger, the Attila cat. Then I noticed that when our youngest son roughhoused with him, he was a delight! No more unexpected attacks. What?
I had been missing it all along. This boy cat, with or without his identifying equipment, wanted a rough and tumble, playful relationship. None of the sissy sit-and-purr-on-the-lap nonsense for him. Since roughhousing was not my style, we were a mismatched couple all along. So when youngest son returned to his school there was a large dog crate in the back of his truck, with all the accoutrements a cat could want fitted inside. Ginger happily sat on the cushion inside as the truck pulled away down the driveway out of sight. You know, there are some relationships that were just never meant to be.