Art Boy and I were cat-free for over two years. We lost our little Zoe when she was only 12, and decided not to torment our surviving cat, Sheena, then 18, with a new kitten. Let her live out her days in peace, that was our motto. Without rambunctious Zoe around, our household felt very old, although our remarkable, people-frendly, tortoiseshell Sheena, even in her dotage, was as lovable as any dozen kittens. (Just ask anyone who ever met her at Open Studios.) We wanted Sheena to live forever, and, as agreeable as ever, she tried her best. But after nearly 20 years in our family, she let us know it was time to let her go.
We’d had Sheena longer than a lot of our friends had had their children. And this time we didn’t have a back-up cat in the household to ease our loss. Despite the private rejoicing of our allergy-prone friends, it was weird for us to be suddenly catlesss in Cruz, for the first time in our marriage.
“You should travel!” said the cat-loving cashier at the store where we used to buy our Friskies. And we did. We spent a month in Europe the summer after we lost Sheena. The following winter, we had the house tented (which I would never consider when we still had cats—to the unalloyed delight of generations of ravenous termites), after which Art Boy spent the summer re-siding the house. At the end of that year, he took the plunge and got off the asthma inhalers he’d been using his entire adult life—now that we lived in a cat-free zone.
There are many compelling reasons not to have cats. No grundgy towels all over the furniture. No cat fur clogging up the trackball of your keyboard. No crunchies underfoot in the kitchen. No furry tails circling the bed like shark fins at five in the morning to remind you it’s time to fill the kitty bowl. You can leave things lying around the house (food, doll beads, art projects) without fear of them be eaten or slept on the minute you turn your back. You can sit wherever you want, whenever you want, without having to dislodge 14 pounds of meatloaf with fur (which will immediately crawl right back into your lap and bolt you in place for the next four hours). Can you tell how much I missed them?
People who don’t keep animals don’t understand pet lovers. Why burden oneself, they wonder, with some needy living thing that takes so much energy, and whose true temperament may not be apparent until it’s too late? But, hey, that’s how I feel about plants. Animals, I get. Especially cats. You feed them, you shelter them, you water them daily with tons of affection (which they may or may not appear to return). And in return you get a connection to a wild, natural world beyond petty human affairs, a deliciously pagan bond of instinct and empathy and alliance with an alien, yet simpatico fellow creature. Those of us who take in pets understand that we will probably outlive them, and so agree to participate in an entire life cycle with all its potential joys and sorrows. Opening your heart to an animal is like unlocking a valve in your soul that might otherwise remain shut tight, an optimistic act of embracing life, a commitment to the future. (Not to mention the entertainment value: with cats in the house, who needs TV?)
I was reading the paper a day late, as usual when I saw them— two sisters, so entwined you couldn’t tell whose paws were whose, gazing out with feline aplomb from the “Pet of the Week” box in the Sentinel. Pagan love drums began pounding in my heart: the call of the wild.
They must already be gone, I rationalized to Art Boy, who said, well, it wouldn’t hurt to find out. So I e-mailed the foster cat mom mentioned in the paper, and that’s how we met Terry. Miraculously, both sisters were still available; most people wanted kittens, Terry explained, or were unwilling to take both cats. So we went to meet them in the Aptos home Terry shares with her remarkably understanding husband and sons, and a rotating cast of foster animals. A long-time volunteer at the Animal Services shelter in Watsonville, Terry reckons she has placed nearly 50 animals in permanent homes. If you’re looking for a cat, dog, bunny, or any other kind of wildlife companion, chances are Terry can help you out.
“Belle” and “Bambi” (the son who named them was having a Disney moment), mellow, paint-splashed torties like Sheena, were one year old exactly on the day we brought them home. So they’re not kittens any more. Who is? Of course, they dropped the mellow act the minute we set them down in a new environment. The social one hid in a more public place, where she could keep an eye on us and we could still reach in and pet her. Her sister disappeared for three hours.
After a week they are getting used to us. We’re calling them Bella and Roma, not that they respond to their names. Who knows what they call us? Giver of Food? She Who Must Provide Lap? But the four of us understand we’re involved in this pagan ritual together. We’re a family again.