On Cats

I was thinking about cats today. It’s hard to get away from them if you spend much time on Facebook. But the cats on Facebook are like the babies on Facebook. They represent a sort of generic charm and adorableness, rather than the unique qualities of a particular cat.


I have not been without a cat in the house since before I was three. A few months ago I lost Shadow, probably my last cat, seventeenth in an unbroken line of feline house pets, a small beloved animal with soft, dense black fur like seal fur and a host of horrible habits. I miss her sorely, but I can’t bring myself to replace her. It’s nice to be able to control the way the house smells.

Strangely, I don’t remember the cats of my childhood causing anyone the least amount of trouble. My mother must have taken care of all the cat grief. Okay, there was the time that Haile Selassie took a dump in one of my father’s shoes, and my father chased his furry posterior around and around the house until he got tired and lost the urge to kill. But that sort of thing hardly ever came to my attention. The cats were for petting, as far as we were concerned.

Every one of the seventeen cats was a unique personality. Even Pansy’s kittens. What happened to Pansy and her kittens was too sad to write about, so I’ll just slide over that and tell you about Richard the Chicken-Hearted. Richard came with the house we bought when we moved to Crystal Lake, Illinois, in 1947. He was supposed to be good for the mice, but when my mother put him in the basement he ran away from them.

Haile was our next cat after Richard. I chose him from a litter that was born to the cat next door. He was all black, silky and soft, and when he was grown to adult cathood his fur was long as an angora cat’s. A handsome creature.  We took him with us when we moved to North Plainfield, New Jersey, where he escaped death many times. He was never fixed, so he would roam the neighborhood and get in fights with bigger and tougher cats. The vet bills were so high that my father tried to take him off on his income tax as a dependent.

“I don’t understand,” the IRS auditor said to my father. “Do you raise cats for a living?”

“No, he’s a member of the family,” my father said.

“I’m sorry, sir, you can’t deduct his medical expenses.”

Since Haile Selassie all the cats I’ve had have been rescues or volunteers. We found Persephone in a tree, out in the country. She was mewling so loudly that the neighbors thought she was a catbird. Someone or something had cut off her tail. She became our little child substitute until John was born, and then she had to take a back seat, which put her nose out of joint considerably.

Rex, who would become John’s cat, appeared at the top of our cellar stairs in Lambertville, having got over the joists from the row house next door in hopes of better food than his master was giving him. A young single fellow, our neighbor had the kitten inflicted on him by a girlfriend. When he moved he pretended to take Rex with him, but—surprise!—little Rex got loose and came to stay at our house.

It almost seems strange to me that no cat has come to my door begging to be let in or fed since the demise of Shadow. The neighbors’ cat sleeps on our porch, where she is perfectly welcome. But when we took off for the Southland for three weeks we left no cat behind to be taken care of, and when we returned the house still smelled good. So I’m conflicted. I’d like to have a cat to pet, but I’d like to be free to travel.

Don’t call me and tell me you have a kitten for me.

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