I like to think of myself as an animal lover, sometimes to a fault. My daughter and her friends think of me as a “cat lady.” That phrase conjures up a caricature of an old gray-haired woman sitting in a rocking chair on her front porch. She’s surrounded by dozens of cats of all colors and sizes who are busily kneading on, rubbing against and climbing all over her. Better yet, a female Pied Piper sort of woman prancing merrily down the road with a parade of cats melodiously mewing behind her. Ha-ha, that’s sounds like me! At least the kids didn’t include the adjective “crazy” in front of the label, yet. If anyone heard how I speak to (or with) cats on occasion, that term would be debatable. With the exception of the “throwing”, video about sums it up! LOL
In any event, I do enjoy having pets around. Growing up, we owned dogs because my mother despised cats. She thought they were too sneaky for her taste. They are; that’s just their nature. Dogs don’t normally hide under or behind furniture waiting for you to pass by so they can spring out in attack mode, wrap their paws around your ankles and fly off as if catapulted into the air in the blink of an eye just for the fun of it! No, dogs are more sedate, unless of course, it’s a Chihuahua. No offense to Chihuahua owners, but that breed is known to be a tad lively.
I loved all our dogs. They were a kid’s best friend. We learned how to take care of them which was a good lesson in responsibility. It wasn’t until I moved into my first apartment with a girlfriend when I was 19 that I had my first cat, courtesy of my sister. My friend begged me to get one but I knew she couldn’t properly care of herself, let alone a cat. I was right. We got the kitten and I got stuck taking care of it; feeding it, cleaning the litter box, taking it to the vet, etc. All my friend did was play with it. Within three months, I was back at my parents’ house with Pickles because my friend couldn’t handle the responsibility of an apartment and certainly not a cat. The only way I got to keep the cat when I moved back home was if I had it declawed. Since it was still a kitten, I agreed and my mother volunteered to take it to the vet and back since I was working full time, as long as I paid for it.
OMG, every time I think of this story, I crack up. Here is my mother, 59 years old and a brand new driver to boot, taking the cat to the vet. The cat escaped from the box and wound up exploring the inside of the car, landing under my mom’s feet while driving. How she avoided an accident is beyond me. Thankfully when she picked the cat up after the operation, it was still a little woozy so it didn’t get loose that time. My mother, the anti-cat woman, saw this little furball with bandages on its paws and couldn’t help but fall in love with it. She cared for Pickles like she was one of her own children after that. Too bad the cat ran out of the house in the dead of winter a couple of months later and was never seen from again. Well, at least not until my compassionate brother (thanks Peter!) brought me to the back of the yard and opened a blue plastic bag showing me the remains of Pickles, stiff as a board. She probably froze to death. I was heartbroken but eventually got over it. After all, we still had a dog I could care for.
Fast forward to 1993. This was a very difficult time for me. I was separated and living alone in an upstairs apartment of a house. I just started a very good job and was settling in but I was lonely. What do a lot of people do in those situations? Of course, get a pet. My landlady didn’t object to a cat, so I went to a local animal shelter to pick one out. While everyone was checking out the multitude of available kittens, I spotted two older cats that were placed in cages somewhat separate from the others. When I questioned the attendant, she said both cats were more “needy” than the kittens. One cat had cerebral palsy and the other had recently given birth but her kittens either died or were taken away from her. Since I worked full time it wouldn’t be fair for me to adopt the cat with CP; she needed round the clock attention. However the other cat, who looked at me with the saddest eyes, was a possibility. What sealed the deal was her beautiful green eyes and fluffy golden fur. After an interview and thorough screening, I was permitted to take Whiskers home with me. We became a team.
For two weeks, I had to limit Whiskers’ food intake and give her medication until her milk dried up. The poor animal did nothing but mope around all day, probably sad from losing her kittens but also from the changes her body was going through. A few months later, I had her spayed and declawed. She was going to be an inside-only cat. The double operation once again left Whiskers miserable and listless. One day I was on the phone with my sister when I let out a scream. Whiskers pounced on the bed where I was sitting. She snuggled against my legs and purred as if to say, I’m okay now, thank you for taking such good care of me! My sister didn’t know what the heck just happened but I was so happy to finally see Whiskers jump up for the first time feeling like her playful self again, I couldn’t contain myself.
Life got so much better after adopting this beautiful cat. My husband and I reunited, I got pregnant, we bought a house and I was advancing at my job. I truly believe it was Whiskers who brought me good fortune. She was always by my side at home, especially at night, and was a wonderful, loving pet to my daughter. I was blessed with Whiskers for ten years before she got sick. One day she was her normal active, healthy self. Suddenly she stopped eating, drinking and was missing the litter box. By the time I took her the vet, he said she was too far gone. I didn’t understand how she could become so ill so quickly. Apparently she had some sort of liver or kidney failure and medicine wouldn’t help. Our only choice, after much deliberation, was to put her to sleep. That’s a day I’ll never forget as long as I live.
I made the mistake of going into the room with the doctor when he gave her the lethal injection. I knelt down alongside the table and looked into her beautiful but sad eyes as I gently pat her head, telling her she’ll feel much better soon. I thanked her for giving me unconditional love and told her how much I loved her. The first injection missed and Whiskers let out a sharp cry. She looked up as if to say, “Why are you doing this to me?” That was it, I lost it. The second shot worked and she gently put her head back down upon her paws and went to kitty heaven. As I began to cry, the doctor placed Whiskers in the box we had prepared for her to take back home with us. My daughter wanted us to bury her in our backyard and have an “official” funeral. So when she came home from school, that’s what we did. To this day, it’s difficult for me to think back on that day. Whiskers was the first pet I ever became so attached to and I vowed never to love another animal like that again.
While I can say they’ll never be another cat like Whiskers, I did wind up with other cats after her, and every one of them found me – not the other way around. First came Harvette (stupid name I know, but it comes with a story), then Oreo and the following year, her half-brother and sister Ike and Mike, followed by Fuzzy and now Pretty. Six more cats came after Whiskers, but she’ll always hold a special place in my heart for reasons only the two of us know.
So, while I may not look like a gray-haired old woman, I’m more agreeable to accept the label “cat lady” since I really do have a special fondness for the furry creatures. I must be doing something right. I’ve even been able to turn my husband into a cat lover, although he’s reluctant to admit it. Of course, he’ll say he can take them or leave them, but he’s the one I see secretly giving them treats and playing with them when no one is looking. Yeah, he’s a softie for those cats too… I know!
“What greater gift than the love of a cat.” ~ Charles Dickens