I can never remember a time in my life that a cat was either not a part of the family or part of a scheme to get one into the family and I certainly could not possibly begin to remember all the cats that I have had or that have in some way been a part of my life over the years, each of them unique in their personality and characteristics, all of them loved and cared for, not just by me but by family, neighbors and strangers alike. Growing up, I sometimes had to go down to Fresh Air, the family barbecue restaurant with my father or my grandfather and inevitably I would end up behind the storage building where there always seemed to be a litter of new kittens, hungry, wild creatures who ran at the slightest noise. It’s a sad fact that many unwanted animals are born around restaurants, presumably because restaurants throw out food scraps and these can provide a meager sustenance that draws stray animals and the barbecue place was no different. I always wanted to play with the kittens when I was my son’s age and sometimes would have several hours to work up a strategy for capturing one. Aggressive tactics soon would prove futile but I found that if I sat very quietly on the tree stump and talked to the kittens, sooner or later one of the braver ones would approach and might even let me touch it before darting away to the safety of the delivery porch. This became a regular thing and before long, they got used to me and would venture out as soon as I called them. In this way they became tame but I learned a very hard lesson from this because once wild kittens became tame, they would venture up to patrons trying to eat lunch on the outdoor picnic tables and this was something my grandfather would not allow. This was before local animal control shelters existed so there were only two ways to get rid of unwanted cats at the restaurant. One was permanent and unpleasant, the source of probably the only acrimonious argument my grandfather and I ever had-the other, preferable alternative was to take them home with me and try to find homes for them. In this way, kittens got a good home and I usually got one for my troubles.
Calico was one such cat, a little older than the typical kittens I encountered, wild as a buck and one that Dad swore I would never tame. He wagered me that if I could tame it, I could keep it and I set to my task with the tenacity of a Georgia tornado going after a mobile home park. It wasn’t easy and my tactics on the field of battle gained me little advantage in taming this frustrating animal but little by little I gained some ground and in about two months, I had him attuned to my voice and coming out to see me when I visited. My father was as good as his word and Calico went home with me. Sun Tzu would have been proud of my strategy in this cold war of wills, for “To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting”. While certainly not my enemy, by not fighting him or trying to take him against his will, his resistance broke down and he became my friend. My grandmother, who always liked calico cats (and any other cute, furry animal) encouraged me in this endeavor and had the honor of giving him his name, choosing it because of his obviously mixed ancestry and myriad colors. Calico was one of my favorites and we were very good buddies for the two years he was with me, though he never adjusted to my parents move into a new house the next year. I guess he decided to strike out on his own one day soon after because I never saw him again but I never forgot what I learned in the taming of him.
Caesar was our first indoor/outdoor cat, a pure-blooded Himalayan cat that my parents brought home one day as a kitten. Proud, regal and arrogant beyond what was even normal for a cat, he could be very affectionate when it suited him but most of the time he was disdainful of human company and preferred to sit on his perch in the house and watch the activities of the day. He enjoyed going outdoors and hunting squirrels, asserting his dominion over other the area cats and terrorizing the neighbor’s poodle into an early grave. He was the alpha male of the neighborhood before that term became popular and any dog, regardless of size, approached Caesar at his own peril, for he was a ferocious fighter, well skilled at the art of canine terror tactics. Most of the day he did his own thing but at night he would settle down to sleep and his favorite sleeping place was by my feet at the end of the bed. Caesar lived quite a number of years but his war wounds from many a neighborhood scrap eventually overcame this proud warrior of many battles.
Snowball was a neighborhood cat when I befriended him, called this by all the neighbors because of his pure white fur that had not a trace of color in it. He could be both affectionate and aggressive depending on his mood and I bore many scratches on my hands from bouts with him where he would suddenly go “postal” but he was very playful when he was younger and provided many hours of entertainment. I would hear from the neighbors often how Snowball had “made his rounds”, stopping at his favorite homes for a meal, always gladly provided. He knew who his friends were and took shameless advantage of their generosity, giving in return permission to pet him and rub his stomach. My mother was pretty adamant that he stay outdoors but he managed to get in quite a lot and many nights, he would jump up on the ledge of my window and cry until I opened the window and let him in. He would sleep in his spot on the bed and I would let him out the next morning so he could come around to the garage and eat breakfast. He was a people cat and always popular with the older citizens on our street, spending time with them and then moving on to the next house, always returning to mine at night. I suppose in the legal sense, he belonged to me as I was the one who finally took him to the vet to get his shots and ensure that he never had to worry about “child” support, but in every other sense, he belonged to everyone. When I moved out of my parents home, Snowball was fairly old and I decided he should stay in the neighborhood he had known all of his life and for several more years, he was still the surrogate cat for those families and kids who didn’t have one, getting his daily rations but somehow always managing to look neglected and pitiful when he needed to.
The last year of my bachelorhood, I found a stray kitten in the parking lot running with the other cats that belonged to others in the apartment complex I lived in. The kitten was probably about 4-5 months old and at first, I thought he had been a victim of an accident because he had no tail to speak of, just a vestigial nub where his tail should have been. He was a cute little fellow and I decided he needed a home and I needed a pet to I dusted off the old tactics and went to work seeing if I could tame him. This one was a hard nut to crack though so I eventually resorted to the oldest trick in the book, enticing him into the apartment with a can of Star Kist tuna, a treat that no hungry kitten could resist. I put the can by the door and he would come in and start to nibble but run back out as soon as I moved towards him. I would move the can another couple of feet in and wait as he slowly ventured back in, looked around and crept to the can. After a few rounds of “move the can” he was far enough in and I closed the door. This proved not to be a brilliant move, as he went berserk and started running all over the place howling and carrying on like a deranged lunatic. I had no choice but to just sit and let him run it out of his system so I sat in the floor while he prowled from one end of the apartment to the other crying. I talked to him softly and waited him out and after an hour, he tired out and decided if he was going to be a prisoner, he was at least going to eat the food that got him in this mess in the first place. After finishing his “bribe”, he settled down and watched me, trying to figure out if I was friend or foe. I fixed him a bed and a makeshift litter box in the laundry room, went to bed and hoped for the best. The next morning there was clear evidence that his instincts were good and that he could be domesticated so I gave him another can of tuna and some water and went into the living room to watch TV. A little while later, I looked down and there he was, sitting on the floor staring at me, and when he saw he had my attention, he made a pleasant trilling noise that I had never heard come from a cat. I extended my hand and held it there and he tentatively came over, sniffed and then he rubbed my hand. I scratched his head between his ears and he began to purr and after that, he was my new cat. Lesson learned: “If your adversary is hungry, give him tuna and remove all the breakables”-me, from “The Art of Cat Taming” a work in progress.
I named him Churchill because his face reminded me of the famous British Prime Minister, always wearing a dour expression with his short legs and very round body completing the picture. He was unlike any cat I had ever seen and after a trip to the vet, I found out I was the proud owner of a Manx, a fairly rare breed in this area and according to the vet, likely a pure-blooded one because he was a perfect specimen of one. Most Manx cats have no tail and this was a normal thing for him and the soft trilling noise he made was another Manx trademark. He was both an indoor and outdoor cat but after an accident that resulted in a broken leg, he became a permanently indoor cat. He could be very affectionate but he liked to dole his affection out in doses when it best suited his purposes. It became very clear that I did not own the cat; the cat owned me. His name became shorter as he grew fatter, becoming just “Church” to me and “Mr. Bob” to the neighbors, so-called because of his tiny bobtail. He never stopped wanting to go outside but eventually resigned himself to the spoiled life of being an indoor cat and he bore it as best he could.
My fiance had a cat as well, a two-year old named Tyson, a typical bengal striped cat who earned his name from his desire to bite or nibble on the ear. When a pipe burst at her apartment and workers were going to have to be there, she asked me to board Tyson for a week and I decided this was as good a time as any to get Church and Tyson acquainted as they would soon be roomies. Tyson had never been good around other animals and it took some doing but eventually he and Church became best buddies and I enjoyed hearing them romp and chase each other through the house. After we were married, an odd thing happened though…..Tyson bonded with me and became “my” cat while Church clearly favored my wife. Church was always loving and affectionate to me but he had a special bond with my wife, who had taken extra special care of him during his recovery and time with a cast, often favoring her with the coveted “head butt” that was the ultimate reward for lavishing him with attention. Church was much smaller than Tyson but far more intelligent and Tyson always deferred to him.
When we moved to a brand new house, the “boys” made the trip with us and we got little sleep the first night as neither of them could get settled down. Added to that, we had hardwood floors for the first time and they sounded like a herd of horses as they raced around all night-fortunately, this passed quickly and they settled right in. When Church was five, he developed a kidney disorder that our vet tried diligently to treat but as time went on, it got worse and he began to decline. Despite all our efforts, the day came when all possibilities had been exhausted and his life was becoming a struggle. For the first time in my life, I had to make a decision to end the life of a pet who had been a special part of my life. Fortunately, I didn’t have to make that decision alone and my wife and I knew it was the right thing to do. We took our little cat, who had given us his love and his affection, many laughs and a few trials, to the vet one last time. The procedure took only took minutes but it felt like a lifetime to us both. When the time came, we were determined we would not just give him to someone and walk away so we stayed with him to very end and was there when he left this life behind and went on to a better place. We never realized until then that it really was possible to be that close to an animal and to feel such a sense of loss at his death and his absence from our lives. Tyson too, knew somehow that his buddy was never going to come home and he grieved as we grieved for him.
A few years later, our son was born and a misdiagnosis from his doctor led us to believe he was allergic to Tyson so it became necessary to find him a good home. We found him a place with a family and today he is approaching his 14th birthday….but we again, felt the absence of a pet in the house and missed the sounds of a purring, happy cat in the family. A stray took up with us briefly and our son became attached to him and we soon realized that he had no allergies to a cat or anything else for that matter. A puppy helped fill the void but it just wasn’t the same and the puppy was lonely during the day. Tyson was happy in his new home and we knew he was no longer ours so we put it out of our minds but our son didn’t. On Christmas Eve, 2009, my wife’s boss, a local insurance agent who also happened to be the Mayor, asked my son what he wanted for Christmas and he told him that he wanted a cat. Before we could utter a word, the Mayor told him that he just happened to have several stray kittens living under his office and that he could go pick out the one he wanted! The toothpaste was out of the tube now and there was no putting it back so that is how “Atticus the Catticus” came to live with us on Christmas Eve, our first Christmas present of the year.
Atticus was selected because he was the friendliest of the bunch and he came right up to our son and rubbed his leg. It didn’t take him long to worm his way into every aspect of our lives and become one of the family. Friendly, affectionate and fully aware of whose cat he is, he adores our son without reservation, has my wife wrapped around his paw and enjoys spending time with me helping me type on the computer and sleeping on my leg when it is propped up on the footstool. My son loves to call him “Atticus the Catticus” and Atticus greets him every morning when I go to get him up for school. I made the mistake of telling someone that Atticus was an alley cat, whereupon my son quickly corrected my mistake, informing my friend that Atticus was NOT an alley cat, he was an insurance cat because he had lived under an insurance office and not in an alley. Best of all, the puppy, Snoopy, now a grown dog, is his best friend and they will spend hours play fighting and chasing each other. When the Snoopy goes out for a walk, Atticus runs to the front window and cries until Snoopy comes back in the house. They keep each other company and when we board them at the kennel, they are allowed to spend a lot of time together playing. Atticus is one of the rare ones that has claimed a special place in our lives and our hearts.
Cats are special friends that come into our lives by many different means….some by choice, some by accident and sometimes as a gift. They need us to give them food and provide them shelter, to take care of their health and see to their needs. Those of us who own them, whether we know we do it or not, make adjustments every day in our lives to accommodate them and to keep their welfare in mind in the decisions we make that might affect them. In return, they give us company on cold winter evenings, laughter when they do something funny, affection when we feel down and peace when the world feels chaotic. They can be therapeutic when worry assaults the mind, their calming purr soothing and relaxing to hear and they can be aggravating when they climb the Christmas tree or try to get in the fireplace to scatter the rocks under the logs. They sometimes come into our lives when we don’t expect it and oftentimes they leave it when we aren’t ready to let them go. Statistics say that any cat that has a home is a lucky cat, for there are far more out there that haven’t got one. What statistics don’t say is that a home that has a cat is a lucky home and a happier place to be. Find a shelter and give a cat a home. You will both be better off for it. Next time, I may name him “Sun Tzu” just for the heck of it. Or maybe just “Sunny”…..