November 11th 2007 7:51 am
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I think Mom's going to get another kitty. I'm not sure what to think about this. I've been an only kitty for the past year and I think I like that a lot. I usually don't ask for advice from others, but if any of you can let me know if this experience will be bad (or good) let me know!
July 3rd 2006 5:47 pm
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I'm really not a very talkative kitty. It's just, well, I live at home while my human goes to work and it can get rather lonely. There's another kitty with me, but Flatcar is really too old for me (he's 20, in cat years) to be anything more than a distant acquaintance. Really, sometimes I do annoy him to the point of near-violence: he pushed me down the stairs once-- even though I thought he was too old for such things!
But as I was saying before my digression, I'm not really that loud. But after spending all day alone, it's difficult not to open up and let out some pent-up frustration. I have to let my human know about my day-- about the mourning dove that sat tantalizingly outside my window this morning, or the crazy dream I had about pawing for fish in a bowl (I really wish I had fish to watch like I used to), or even about how I've learned to drink water with my paw, like I see my human do with some of her food.
It's too bad she can't understand me. But I don't know: sometimes I think she does. it takes some repetition, and slower speaking (iiiikkkkk0eeeeow, rather than my usual ik-eow for her to REALLY get it), but I guess thinks could be worse. She could, for instance, get a dog!
July 1st 2006 12:33 pm
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My human sat watching a movie in the apartment she shared with me and a friend. I forget which movie it was: I know only that it was near the end, and the suspense was building, the killer was about to be revealed, my human was rivetted. The music crescendo, the beating drums; danger lurks behind the corner. And the killer is: Thump. Thump. Thump-thump. Their eyes flickered towards me, at the top of the stairs. They decided, however,to ignore the sound; if it persisted, they would investigate after the film had ended. They probably thought: what harm could a cat do in the space of 10 minutes or so?
Thump. Thump. Then came a strange grating noise, slow and deep at first. “What’s that noise?” my human asked her friend.
“What noise? Probably Nermal,” he answered distracted, engrossed in the film. And then, as if on cue, I, attached by my forepaws to the metal banister of the stairs, came gliding down. Down, down, down and accelerating. I didn't think I'd get going this fast. I batted my eyes and held on. And then there was a swoosh—I reached the end of the stairs and was sent flying, flying until my voyage ended on the carpeted landing, merely five feet from where my human sat, now looking at me with very big eyes. I stared back at her. And then, I began to lick my paw, as though nothing had occurred.
Animals are my human's people, particularly cats. She must think there’s something about going home and having me there, rubbing against her ankles that just makes her feel wanted. Admittedly we are, though, a contradiction: at once mysterious and yet so mundane. What is more common in their society than a domestic housecat? And yet, there are traces of a tiger or leopard in my blood, an ancestral instinct that refuses to be forgotten: this usually pops up when I see a morning dove on the window sill outside or a fly, padding against the bathroom mirror. I hunt for my subsistence even though my human feeds me Friskies daily. My tedious silences or long ariettas when excited by a bird on the other side of a pane of glass fascinate even the most inattentive observer, it seems to me. I can blink slowly and I think humans believe I can grasp and understand life's greatest mysteries.
For me, my relationship to my human is often defined by what happens when sshe returns home after a long day at school. After the usual bout of dinner-preparation and the completion of homework, she ends the day by sharing MY bed with what she calls "a demanding feline"-- is it so bad to want the center of the bed, the softest pillows? I only want to snuggle just close enough to steal my warmth and covers, but just far enough away so that she can't quite reach me with her hand. This is our arrangement: she acts as provider and protector; I am orator and bedmate. But that’s only if you’re looking at things pragmatically. I know that she likes to see me as something more than just a cat. In truth, over the two years she's had me, my human has become an essential part of my small world. I would have no one to meow to without her-- no one who knows my likes and dislikes, and no one who caters to them so devotedly.
From Nermal's human:
Human attachments are often fickle. How many times have you broken up with someone you’re dating or gotten mad at a friend? Probably at least once. But I’ve never had those things happen with a cat. There is a bridge in my hometown which is famous for one thing: wedding rings. I have heard that people have traveled to this rather small, Nevada town to pitch their wedding rings over the stone rails of this bridge into the river below, seeking to nullify unions made in the eyes of church and state. Nonetheless, there is no distance I can travel that could annul the connection that exists between my cat and I. Although I do not have a contract written up that guarantees her loyalty and my allegiance, I know she will be waiting for me each day when I return home, waiting for me to serve her dinner, to pet her and tell her about my day and to provide her with warmth through the coldness of the night. And I know that while she runs through the wilderness of my suburban neighborhood, she always keeps an ear open for my call, her cue that home is waiting.
Nermal was given to me as a gift when she was no bigger than my palm. As a kitten, she was deceptively innocent, with large green eyes and ears that were too big for her small head. In snapshots taken when she was merely 4 months old, she appears as the poised epitome of sweetness. I was forewarned that she was part Siamese, but nothing could prepare me for what lay within the small furry bundle. However, I think it’s more her personality than heritage that contributes to her affinity to talk. Just as some people are more outgoing than others, my cat is the ultimate feline orator. Most people, after meeting Nermal, respond by saying: “gosh, she’s loud”—which I have to admit is true. She is vocal, even for a partial Siamese. I’ve told friends and acquaintances jokingly that she talks more than I do. What scares me is that this might be true; not because I am particularly quiet, but because she has so much to say.
To me, she is not simply “loud”, but rather conversational. Just as people have vocabularies and ways of conveying ideas, so does Nermal. Cats in general have more than one hundred vocal sounds, while dogs only have about ten, so perhaps Nermal is only making use of the resources she has. For instance, she has a greeting meow—a broken yet melodic “mmee-eee-www”. She has a “what are you doing” meow that sounds somewhat like “ik-ik-ik-eeooww”; and also (and not to be forgotten) demanding pay-attention-to-me “mmmm-mmeeee-eeeeoo---ooooowww”.
Beyond basic communication, my cat does many things that one would consider not cat-like. I tell my friends and coworkers of these episodes and they often do not believe me. Take, for instance, her latest development, which seems to come straight out of the pages of Darwin’s Evolution of Species. The strange tale began with a night like any other: I was huddled under my comforter, waiting to fall asleep and Nermal was curled into a ball by my feet. She fell asleep before I did and as I listened to her snore—louder and louder—I knew that by 4:00 am she would be screaming to be let outside. To prevent this from happening, I suppose could open my bedroom door and give her the freedom to wander out as she pleases, but my room loses its heat that way, and my tender furless skin does not guard against the cold as well as her thick coat. Normally when 4:00 am rolls around, she awakens, stretches, and hops off the bed and begins to scratch at the door and meow impatiently. This continues until I, groggy and slow, shuffle across the floor of my room and open the door. Some mornings (especially those that followed late nights), I found it more convenient to ignore the scratching and meowing until it was my time to get up. She must have seen this, or noticed the correlation between my waking and the alarm going off. That’s the only sense I can make of what happened next.
One moment, I was sleeping. And the next, my alarm was going off, as usual. But it was still dark outside. Checking the digital display verified my observation. 4:10 am. Why had the alarm gone off? Had there been a power failure? A single triumphant “meow” came from beside the bed. It was time for the cat to be let out. Puzzled, I got up, and walked to the door. The cat gleefully ran out. I shook my head. Fluke, I thought. Cats don’t use alarm clocks to wake their owners up. And I would have left it at that, too. But the next morning, it happened again. And then again. Until finally, three days later, I caught her in action.
I hadn’t been sleeping too well. I stared at the shadow-covered ceiling, troubled by disturbing visions of forgotten homework assignments when I spied a stealthy feline figure slip from bed to nightstand. She stepped lightly, paws making a soundless transition from mattress to wooden nightstand. One forepaw then the other followed silently by two hind legs, she mounted the alarm clock. The music began to play. I was up. She wanted out.
I don’t pretend to think she knows how to work the alarm exactly, or that, given a few months, she could set the time and select my wake-up music to be not country, no, but to her preferred tunes (classical? Jazz? Do cats even know what music is enough to enjoy it?) But she did see the relationship between me and the strange plastic box that makes noises when she jumps on top of it, and that to me, seems to defy common notions of what a cat can do.
Most people love cats, or tolerate the ones they have for keeping the rodent population down. Loving cats is nothing new. Around 6000 BC the ancient Egyptians kept cats around for the same reasons we do today: rodent population control and companionship. They tamed the African wildcat Felis silvestris libyca and made something of an ancestor to the domestic cat we have today. It is hard to say exactly when they did this, for in their writings they did not distinguish between wild and domestic cats. There was one word for cat-and that was miu or mii, meaning "he or she who mews." The modern breed of cat known as the Egyptian Mau is a direct descendant of the domesticated wildcat that had lived in and around the ancient cities that are now dust-covered ruins along the Nile River. Even as I say the word “Mau”, Nermal looks up at me with her wide green eyes: what, she seems to be saying, are you talking to me?
Not only did the Ancient Egyptians domesticate the cat, but they also made it into a god. The Egyptian goddess, Bastet, is a woman with the head of a domestic cat. She was the goddess of all good things to the Egyptians: of the sunrise, of music, dance, pleasure as well as family, fertility and birth. For those who love cats, our views have not changed much. I don’t know of a more pleasing sound than the undulating vibrations of a cat purring (caused by loose tissue in the larynx), or have seen a more graceful figure than the cat bounding across the yard or laying in the sun. In the days when women sought “alternative methods” of giving birth, I recall hearing that some woman wanted a cat to pet while she went through the pangs of bringing her child into the world. Unlike human beings, female cats purr and seem to enjoy producing offspring. I never heard if having the cat near was beneficial to the woman, but in the very least it was a helpful reminder that the situation was not as dire as it might have seemed. After all, the woman only had one child in her womb; the cat usually gives birth to at least four or five.
* * *
I always had cats as companions growing up. This was probably due to the fact my family always lived on the borders of civilization. The quiet life of the Nevada desert is nice, although by escaping one civilization, we were thrown into the midst of another. We were right in the center of the mice’s domain, along with the snake, lizard and coyote, to name a few. Cats kept the mice out of our storage sheds, the groundhogs out of the vegetable garden. One cat we had—Saber—was not only an expert at catching mice, other rodents and large insects, but also at cataloguing them. We named Saber after the extinct Smilodon fatalis because he was the type of cat you couldn’t pet. Well, I suppose you could pet him, but you wouldn’t want to, that is, if you wanted your hand free of burning cuts and bite marks. He tended to mix human hands with acceptable forms of prey—well, most of the time. If you caught him after a frolic in the catnip, he was actually gentle and accepted human attention. You could also caress his face and back if he was sleeping—but only for a few seconds before he woke up. Then your hand was once again in danger.
I say that he was an expert at cataloging species because, after letting him loose at night to do his work, we’d wake up to a doormat filled with killed prey. And not just a pile of prey, but an organized line up of bugs, lizards and mice. At one end, he would place all the large prey, and then at the other, all the small. He arranged his gifts to us according to size. At dawn, he would sit patiently at the doorstop, waiting or us to examine his work and give him his daily bread.
As they say there’s no such thing as a free ride and I think he expected something in return from us for his labor. His list, as far as I could tell, consisted of the two following conditions to be met, by us, his human caretakers. The first was to be fed the sort of food he wanted to be fed. Dry food was acceptable for the morning and afternoon hours, but dinner required that we give him some sort of scrap from dinner. Of those he ate only beef and fowl. Fish was not in his repertoire. I recall the many times when Saber was asked to dine on something not up to par with his expectations and later he let us know his distaste by covering the car in excrement. One evening in particular, my dad had forgotten, I think, to give the cat some scraps and the next morning the hood of the new Toyota Camary was completely covered in wet, dripping cat shit. My dad only shook his head, and smiled slightly. “I never knew so much could come out of a cat,” he’d said and promptly cleaned the up the mess with the hose and a bucket of soap.
The second condition that Saber had was to keep the human population at the house to only my dad and I. When guests stayed for extended amounts of time, the cat found yet another way to voice his distain for the whole situation. My dad habitually wore black loafers to work. Every time a guest stayed at our home whose presence disrupted the diurnal habits of Saber the cat, he’d somehow find the same black loafer and leave a present for my dad inside. You’d think my dad would be angry at such a cat, one who sought to control the household. But he never was. He’d just laugh, clean up the mess and be on the lookout for more piles of unexpected “gifts”.
Saber stuck around until his orange fur faded to white and he could no longer articulate an audible meow. In his older years, he softened. He allowed me, then a small child, to pet him. He even gave up “disciplinary actions” against my dad. And then almost at random, we woke up one spring morning and found the doormat empty, Saber gone. He had lived in “cat years” what is equivalent to our 84 years of life. For a cat in the wilderness, that isn’t bad. We missed him, and in an attempt to nullify the pain of his loss, he was replaced.
There is a list that follows of cats, each with their own peculiarities, just as people have. There was Sabrina, fat and sassy, who loved dry food more than any other cat I have known before or since; Sherlock, a little orange cat who resembled, if he were human, the charming schoolboy who would bring apples to the teacher. As an adolescent cat, he even developed what is called “feline acne” small black hair-like protrusions around his nose and lips, much as human children do when becoming teenagers. Then there was Minuette, Charlie (the manx kitten with a mal-formed digestion system, but who we tried to nurse to health until, as summer ended, he had to be put to sleep), Smith (who was so shy he lived almost exclusively under the propane tank in the backyard), and Wesson, the only cat we had who regularly jumped off the roof to the ground just so you could pet him. Then there was Daisy, Glock—the cat my dad said was “steel-bellied” and tough but who ran away to live at the neighbor’s house and who still does to this day--, then Chloe, Tetris (named after my favorite video game growing up), Ernest and Vern (orange tabbies given to us for free from the receptionist at the veterinarian’s office), Nikita and Charlie II and finally Saber Jr., Pepper, Pugsly and my Nermal.
On the other side of my family, my mom has also had cats. The one she lives with now is named—not quite aptly—Meow. He was homegrown—a kitten of a cat my mom refused to believe was pregnant. “Mom,” I recall saying to her, “that cat’s either pregnant or it’s getting really fat”. Months later, my hypothesis was proven correct. We only kept one kitten of the litter of four—the black fluff- ball with the goofy-looking expression on his face. When he was younger, he cried incessantly for his mother and even she grew tired of him. Hence, my then 9-year old little sister, Amy Lou, christened him Meow.
He was something else. He was the only cat I’ve ever had that fell into the small pond in our backyard. He was gazing into the water, watching the ripples on the surface form from the afternoon breeze and he leaned too far forward. Splash! Luckily Amy and I were there and we ran to his rescue. He had so much hair, it took him 4 hours to completely dry. Because of his excess of fur and calm demeanor, I often carried him around the house, draped across my shoulders as ladies once did with fashionable shawls. The 13th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, was rumored to do the same with his yellow cat, or so they say. Nonetheless, Meow kept my neck warm and I giggled as the furry mass purred relentlessly.
Meow has also been accused of: drooling (like a faucet), getting his teeth stuck in his own hair (normal routine in high school: come home, untangle cat’s teeth from hair, do homework…), laying out in the sun too long, thereby getting a sunburn and catching on fire. That one occurred last Thanksgiving when Mom brought the turkey, Allan (mom’s friend) brought Meow and my sister brought the dog. The cat-and-dog dynamic was entertainment enough, but too ordinary for Meow. When he thought no one was looking, he jumped up on an end table to smell the potted flowers. He didn’t seem to notice the candle on the table, and while staring blankly at speckled leaves, his right flank was in flames. Once again, Amy ran to his rescue and “stamped out” the blaze before the cat was harmed. I went home, amazed. I had been to a family dinner where the cat caught on fire. It was the stuff unbelievable comedy is made of.
There have been many cats. Either by natural disaster, coyote or mountain lion, or the demands of mortality, they have come and gone in my life. I have been lucky to have grown up with so many cats, they are at once our tame pets, but with the heart of a wild creature. They do not rely upon us fully for anything; they can feed themselves and find shelter in any extreme, in the most urban or rural environment. And cats, unlike dogs, leave home when they die. We don’t see them in their hour of need. We wake up one morning and they are gone. The Egyptians, upon the death of a beloved feline pet, shaved their eyebrows in mourning. Although I never went to such extremes, my dad I planted a small garden for our lost cats in the backyard. The plot is only filled with a shrub and some flowers but it was often where they played on summer evenings before the sun went down. To fill the vacancy, we placed plants where there was once a cat. We wanted to forget their absence, but also to remember them as a departed friend. Inside the house, unused toys gathered dust on unoccupied fur-covered pillows—it is the emptiness, I think, that aches so much. Yes it’s true, I was spared the vision of a painful death by my cats who were content to die elsewhere, to leave happy memories imprinted on my mind rather than sad ones. But simply because you don’t see a cat’s passing does not mean it does not hurt; I think this absence hurts us more deeply.
Yes, there have been many cats in my life, and they have each left me with a general appreciation for the species—that cat means so much more than fur, whiskers and an affinity for yarn.
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