I love cats. I love dogs, too, but I made a decision long ago that my schedule wouldn’t be fair to a dog — being away 12 hours a day, worrying about walking him or leaving him alone at the house. (Sarah likes dogs as well, but seemed reluctant to get one for the same reasons.)
So cats it is.
I’ve had a cat in my life since I was 8 years old. There were Kip and Sunny, Snowy and Scarlett (or Birdie, or simply “Cat,” because a name never stuck to that kitten my father and I found on a golf course), and then there were the cats I’ve had on my own: Queenie, Thelonious, Gillespie and Oscar. (Sarah, a jazz aficionado, suggested the names … except for Queenie, which came from a friend.)
Thelonious, who may have had a kitty version of Marfan’s syndrome, died suddenly in February 2000. He was 4. Queenie died two years ago at 19. That leaves Gillespie and Oscar:
He was a farm kitty, a country cat born near Macon, Georgia, in September 1999. In spring of 2000, I was bereft after Thelonious’ death, and Sarah suggested taking in this growing kitten. He lived on a farm owned by the daughter of one of her colleagues, and he needed a forever home.
A sucker I was, and took him in.
There were problems. He and Queenie didn’t get along. (Queenie, who used to play with Thelonious, seemed perfectly content to be an only cat after his death.) He was skittish, prone to bolt if you scared him. For a time we had him on kitty Prozac when he started chewing his fur, an issue that arose after my mother stayed here with her cat, Angie … or maybe it was her dog. Either way, Gillespie took out his displeasure on his belly fur, and for a time, his stomach was as pink and round as that of a middle-aged man mowing his lawn.
But he’s always been good-natured, the kind of cat who will nuzzle you and curl up beside you if you want company. He’s also been particularly loyal and, perhaps, has taken after me a little much. Check out this picture, one of my favorites (sorry about the manspreading):
Like human, like cat.
That was Gillespie right after tail surgery, hence the cone. He needed surgery after Oscar swatted him and cut his tail, which made Gillespie chew at it, which led to infection. Fortunately, all is well now, and he and Oscar are great pals.
Speaking of Oscar …
I found Oscar at the Humane Society of Huron Valley during my fellowship year at the University of Michigan. Sarah couldn’t come to Ann Arbor with me, and it was going to be a lonely apartment without a companion, so I went over to find a cat.
Oscar, from what the staff told me, was a stray — he’d been found emaciated on the side of the road, fending for himself. I like to think that he inadvertently escaped from a student house, but I wonder if his former owners just let him go when the school year ended. People do that. (Irresponsible people.)
Either way, he came home with me.
After camping out in his litter box for a week, he warmed up to his surroundings and his new human. He started talking — not English, unfortunately, but cat sounds: meows, guttural clicks, questioning grunts, a whole language of curiosity and amusement. He’s the chattiest cat I’ve ever known.
When I brought him back to Atlanta, he was suddenly faced with two other felines. Queenie, naturally, didn’t approve, but Gillespie was curious. They battled some, but since Queenie died, the two have become best pals. Oscar will playfully bat Gillespie’s ear and groom the top of his head. Gillespie has stopped chewing his fur. They both pursue treats with a passion.
Gillespie is getting old. He’ll be 17 in September and I give him weekly fluid injections to combat kidney failure. But he still can jump on the bed and has the spirit to leap after a Cat Dancer.
Oscar, amazingly, will be 9 in August. He’s still a kitten at heart. He’ll race you to the top of the stairs and dare you to come after him when he scratches a door frame. (Sigh. At least the furniture’s in good shape.)
I used to think Oscar was lucky I found him. Now I think it’s the other way around. Gillespie, too.
I volunteer at PAWS Atlanta and have been tempted to add to the menagerie, but right now it’s best to maintain shalom bayit — “peace in the home” — among cats as well as humans. Little Mulligan (or Ella) will just have to wait.
(But don’t let me stop you! Please adopt — you’ll be doing yourself a favor.)