Friday, February 5, 2016

Cat Fancy

Yeah. He had me at "hello."

How odd to find myself, at 54, falling for a skittish ball of fur.

I am not, by and large, a fan of other people's pets. It's not that I'm hostile to animals--I've been known to give an occasional stroke to a cat or dog, and I did care for and love both cats and dogs when I was a child--but for the most part, I'm much more interested in what the children of the house are doing. That suits me well for my profession, as I spend my work hours stimulating the musical creativity of 5-11 year olds and delighting in seeing what they come up with.

I think this is, in large part, due to a deep sense of responsibility I feel for the well-being of any creature in my care. There was a time, toward the end of my first marriage, when I acceded to pressure to buy a puppy, a lively black Lab/golden retriever mix. My reluctance to do so came out of my sense that our dual career household just didn't have the spare time available to care for a dog properly. And that's what happened: the lonely dog barked excessively, ran away twice, and was never completely house trained. After a year and a half of trying to make it work, we gave her to a farm family who could give her both the attention and the space she needed.

The lessons of that experience stuck with me a bit too well. During the long lonely stretch after my second divorce, only one pet passed through my household: a cat I adopted for my daughter, who was never able to have him live with her. As I found myself in my first solid relationship in years, I also found I was not able to be home with this cat very much, and so I gave him to a couple who had cared for him while I took vacations, and who were very happy to have him.

Being pet-free had many advantages over having an animal in my home: I could go away for weeks at a time and never have to worry about who was feeding the cat, cleaning the litter, and most importantly, giving him attention. It also saved me a bundle on kenneling, as I would've had to do for a dog who could not travel with me. It saved my furniture from being used as a scratching post, it kept my rent down (not to mention making "no pets" rentals available to me in the first place), saved me from veterinarian bills, and was quite simply far more convenient in every regard.

But convenience is not companionship. And there were times when I was very, very lonely in that apartment, that house, that empty place that had no one in it to welcome me when I came home at the end of the day. When a relationship ended, when my teaching job was cut, there was no creature to curl up in my lap or at my feet and let me stroke my sadness away.

And then I met Amy, and I wasn't lonely anymore.

For the first six years of our relationship, we were renters, and it was simple to reply to the kids' appeals for pets that we weren't having them because of pet deposits or no-pet policies. But then we purchased our house, and that argument went away. Just over a year after becoming home-owners, the pressure to acquire a pet began to pick up. In contrast to my puppy-buying experience, we handled this the mature way, talking it out, weighing the benefits and challenges, insisting on a strict litter box regimen. And then one day between classes, I pulled out my phone to see that Amy had sent me a photo of a kitten.

From the moment I heard his first mew, he had me.

His name is Clyde, and he's now about six months old. He has beautiful fur, deep eyes, an alternately playful and affectionate nature (don't even try stroking him when he's hunting!), curiosity up the wazoo, claws he seems not to mind having trimmed but which he'd rather sharpen on our year-old leather couch (groan) and, in the words of a cat-loving friend of ours, he makes the world a better place.

In some ways, it's like the first time I tried a Belgian beer, and realized what I'd been missing for the first 49 years of my life. How could something so wonder, so satisfying, not have been known to me for so long? How had I gotten by all those years without experiencing it?

At bedtime, he plays pillow mountain with us, pouncing on Amy's wiggling fingers. He likes to drink from the bathroom faucets, stick his nose into the shower, chew on the corners of cardboard boxes. He'll chase anything that can be moved across the floor. He sits for hours in the window, staring hungrily at the birds that visit the feeders on the patio. He can jump incredibly high. He would like to climb on the kitchen counter and dining room table, two surfaces that are forbidden to him, but knows not to do it when anyone's watching. He goes hunting in the garage, then scratches at the door to be let back in. His purr is audible from rooms away. I can hear it now as I write--he's sleeping next door.

Am I gushing? There's a reason, and his name is Clyde, and much to my amazement, I'm very happy to have him in my family, my home, my life.

If you've talked yourself into petlessness with hard facts and logic, you may want to reconsider. Pets really do make the world a better place.

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