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We Named Our Cat Spatula -- And We Refuse to Explain Why

A dorky vet asked about it instead of rushing a crucial transfusion. Come ON, people.

 |  Mar 6th 2013  |   24 Contributions

When I met my wife, Juliana, she'd had a cat named Caligula for many years. He wasn't even her cat; a roommate had brought him into the household, and when the roommate moved out, he didn't take the cat. They had an agreement: Juliana would feed him and clean his litter box, but if Caligula required any more extreme attention, he would have to get it himself.

This arrangement worked fine for 18 years, notwithstanding the occasional good-natured cursing and mourning the clawed furniture, until Caligula passed away peacefully a few months after Juliana and I married. We both cried a lot as we put him to rest. Afterward, Juliana took full advantage of the cat-free environment, reupholstering the couch and enjoying having it to herself on sunny afternoons.

Spatula, calm and indifferent.

This lasted for a few months. Then Juliana started making noises about how maybe getting another cat wouldn't be such a bad idea. We started frequenting the shelters, with Juliana pointing out likely candidates, saying, "That one's cute. Ooh, that one's cute," until I pointed out that all kittens are cute, and we needed a more definitive distinction to guide our choice.

One afternoon at San Francisco Animal Care and Control we came upon a litter of kittens. Half of them clung terror-stricken to the back of the cage, while the other half shamelessly flung themselves to the front. And one little tabby sat calmly in the middle, licking his paw and regarding us indifferently, neither psycho nor strumpet. We had found our cat.

Spatula being regal.

Unfortunately, Spatula (I can't explain the name here, for reasons that will become clear later) had not made Caligula's covenant with Juliana, and within a few years came down with asthma, but by that time our fate was sealed -- before we knew it, we were spending more on his health than on our own. His condition has stabilized, but we have to maintain a regular regimen of two spritzes and one pill a day.

A few weeks ago, Spatula was acting listless and sleeping a lot and complaining a lot (in other words, being a cat), but we took him to the vet in Pacifica anyway.

“Oh," said the vet genially, "just leave him for a couple of hours, I’ll run a few tests and call you.”

Fifteen minutes later he called back: “Spatula has severe anemia and needs a blood transfusion immediately," he said. "We can’t do it here, so you have to come pick him up and take him to a place that does do it.”

Snowy and Spatula: detente.

We retrieved Spatula, whereupon the vet issued Diagnosis No. 1: The cat might have gotten into some rat poison. We hastened to the vet hospital that does transfusions, and we received Diagnosis No. 2: “Spatula? What an unusual name. You know, a lot of people give their pets unusual names, but I’ve got to say that’s probably the most ... wait, no. Earlier this week someone brought in a cat named Archimedes. However, I’m pretty sure Spatula’s an even more unusual name than Archimedes. I suppose a story goes with his name?”

At that point, my options were: 1. Leap across the examining table, place my hands firmly around the person's throat, and scream in gentle, measured tones, “My cat is dying, can we talk about this later?” or 2. Try fighting fire with fire: “Hmm, ‘Dr. Al Stewart,' what an unusual name. Did you decide to get into veterinary medicine before or after you had a big hit with 'Year of the Cat?'” (That's a famous 1970s song by a person called Al Stewart, for you kiddies out there.)

But we did neither. Juliana and I, without saying anything or even looking at each other, simply shared a thought balloon that said, “This man will never learn the story behind Spatula’s name.” And that’s why we’re married. And that's also why I'm not explaining the name here, in case Stewart reads this column.


The blood transfusion went fine (turns out Stewart was merely a goofball, not a jerk), and Spatula was placed on steroids, which we hid in pill pockets. These devices did not sweeten the deal sufficiently to attract Spatula’s attention, but they did find favor with Snowy, our newish dog. What kind of dog? The usual answer is “cute,” occasionally the waggish “mostly Rottweiler and Pit Bull,” and more often the direct “Terrier mix.”

Do you remember the story of the Barbie Liberation Organization, whose members broke into the Mattel factory and switched the Barbie and G.I. Joe voice boxes, so you had G.I. Joes whining “Math is hard” and Barbies exclaiming “Vengeance is mine?” Imagine this adorable little furry headed, waggy tailed puppy dog sneaking some steroids, and all of a sudden she’s stomping around the house bellowing “Vengeance is mine!” as Spatula looks on disdainfully.

Anyway, we finally got the meds all sorted out. Spatula's blood count is back in the double-digits, Snowy has resumed her puppyish ways, and the couch needs reupholstering again.

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