News and Views

Our beloved Bonnie
My cousin, Carrie, who lived 450 miles away from me at the foot of Lookout Mountain, Georgia, gave me her cat when she became allergic to him. He ran away soon after I got him back to Mississippi, and I thought it better not to tell Carrie. Eight months later, she called to tell me that she had heard a scratching at the door, and when she opened it, her cat ran to where his food bowl used to be.

One summer afternoon I was walking across the backyard when I passed my blue heeler, Bonnie, walking in the other direction. “Hello Bonnie,” I said and continued on my way through the shut gates that separated the front yard from the backyard. When I got to the front yard, Bonnie was lying in the sun, sound asleep. Now that she is buried in the backyard, I sometimes look toward her grave hoping to see her.

Scully and Ollie

Yesterday I awakened to Peggy threatening to strangle our kitten, Scully, for wrecking her Christmas decorations. Peggy has always been able to have a perfect “Christmas house” despite many dogs and two other cats, but Scully has put an end to that. We can’t even keep her out of rooms, cabinets, and closets by shutting their doors because she’s so good at slipping past us and hiding until we’re gone. Ollie and Brewsky have done less damage in their entire lives than Scully can do in a day. “If you weren’t so beautiful,” I tell her, “you wouldn’t have any good points,” but I don’t really mean it.

Sassy and me with Mother’s shadow
St. Vinnie’s had a half price book sale last week (hardcovers were $1.25 and softcovers $0.65), so I bought 17 books about cats and three about dogs. This puts me up to sixty-two cat books. 

When I was seven, my parents and I were in the front yard raking leaves when a car turned around in our circular driveway. My dog, Sassy ran at the car and got under its back wheel. As the driver sped away, Sassy ran to me and died in my lap while gazing into my eyes. I lost so many pets to cars that I came to expect it. My father was forever bringing abandoned litters home from a roadside dump (my mother would feed them with a baby bottle), so we were never short of dogs.

One day, a stray dog came into our yard, and my father lured him to a bowl of water and bashed his head in with a galvanized pipe. Dad alternated between kindness—as when he rescued puppies—and cruelty—as when he gave me a .22/.410 and let me wantonly kill small creatures when I was eight. He also had me decapitate roosters with a butcher knife every Sunday. Because I was so little, it took me awhile to saw through a rooster’s neck, but when I was done, my father would cast the bird a few feet away and blood would fly while, to my delight, the rooster “danced.” My transgender father was a walking contradiction, and since he was my only role model, I became confused, and it didn’t help that I grew up in the Deep South, which was itself a contradiction between Christian charity and racist cruelty.

The first creature I ever killed was a songbird that I shot out of a pecan tree within an hour of getting my first gun. I felt so guilty when I saw its shattered body that I tried to justify the killing by asking my Granny to cook the bird for me. Because, as she sometimes said, she loved me more than anyone she had ever known, she painstakingly removed the shotgun pellets and fried the tiny bird. I felt like Daniel Boone as I sat at the kitchen table all alone eating my quarry. After that, I left the creatures I killed to rot where they fell.

A few years ago, I wrote about killing dogs as a member of a humane society (I
’ve written about many of the things in this post before because they’re so often on my mind), so I won’t go into it again except to say that there is nothing I have ever done that I feel worse about. I have since avoided humane societies because if I were constantly exposed to the neglect, callousness, and brutality that my species shows to other species, I would become so angry that I would want to turn my gun on us. My highest respect doesn’t go to those who help people, but to vegans who help nonhumans, but I’m not a vegan, and I do little to help any creature.

Most of what I do to make the world a better place comes from my resolve to be kind to humans and other animals. I talk to strangers; I tell store clerks that I appreciate their help; I praise employees to their supervisors; I open doors for people; I say hello to those whom I pass on the sidewalk; I offer to help people who are having car trouble; I let other drivers change lanes or exit driveways; I give money to panhandlers who play music or sell homemade greeting cards; and I try to remember to listen more than I talk. It doesn’t matter if someone strikes me as admirable or despicable, I’m going to be kind to them because I can never know what’s in a person’s heart or what burdens they’re laboring under. I have sometimes judged people harshly for their ragged clothes, nose-rings, facial tattoos, or saucer-like earlobe rings , only to have those very people do me a kindness.

I also rescue lost dogs when they’ll let me, and I pet nearly all dogs, but my greatest satisfaction comes from winning the trust of a dog who wants my affection but is afraid to receive it. Such dog
s’ people invariably thanks me for this, the story usually being that it was an abused rescue animal who needs people like me to convince him that the world isn’t so bad after all.

Cats tend to be either off or on when it comes to being petted by strangers, and many is the time that Peggy and I have fantasized about stealing an especially friendly cat because it worries us that such cats are vulnerable to cat haters. I suspect that it would be for such cats’ benefit if, instead of petting them, we rebuked them, but we never do.

I started my kindness project when I finally accepted the fact that I’m never going to be a Big Gesture person, so if I’m going to make the world better, I have to do it through small gestures. One advantage of this is that I am forced to pay attention to people other than myself. I don’t doubt but what suicides have been prevented through little kindnesses but, at the very least, energy and optimism can be restored to someone who is drained. 

I only remember two occasions—out of hundreds—when I was rebuffed. On one of them, a man resented me opening a door for him, so he stood back and refused to go through it; on another, a woman seemed offended when I joked about how long a check-out line was. Usually, the worse that happens is that someone doesn’t thank me for something I do for them, although I have a friend, Jake, who was called an asshole when he opened a door for a woman. This was years ago, and I sometimes wonder if the woman ever felt bad about it. By showing goodwill, I nearly always receive goodwill, and doing little kindnesses is surely a gift from which I get more than I give, there being almost no cost to myself.

A new cat shelf and sundry thoughts about cats and dogs

Our old cat shelf was store bought and would only hold one cat comfortably, so we built this one (which looks like it’s leaning but it’s not). Despite our efforts to keep blind cords away from Scully, she shredded the one in the living room so badly that, the blind being old anyway, we just bought a new one. So it is with cats—one must expect a certain amount of damage.

I’ve been missing dogs this week. It started when I was lying in bed and looking down the hall at two of our cats and remembering the twenty years that I looked down that same hall at dogs. For some reason, this created in me a longing, and even a sense of betrayal, which seems ironic in that this is the worst time of year to have a dog in Western Oregon due to the almost daily rain, mud, and chilly weather. How often have we taken dogs walking in the rain when neither they nor we wanted to go, and how many hours have I spent standing on the porch at midnight waiting for dogs to go potty while they stood motionless in the rain surveying their surroundings. And then there were News Years and Independence Day when they would be too afraid to go potty because of the fireworks, a situation that lasted for weeks as one idiot after another fired off an occasional incendiary. We turned to cats for good reasons, and I’m not sorry we did, but a cat does not substitute for a dog.

I had dogs all my life until our last one died in 2012, but I never read entire books about dogs like I’ve been doing for months now with cats. Perhaps this is because I felt an affinity with dogs that made it unnecessary to study them, whereas cats are ever a mystery. They’re caring creatures of deep emotion, but I can never escape the feeling that they regard their intimacy with Peggy and me as important but optional. Their closeness to one another is quite another matter. They spend hours a day sleeping together and bathing one another, and Brewsky and Ollie are so protective of Scully that anytime she cries, they rush to her side. They’re actually so devoted to Scully that I’ve wondered if they would threaten me if I pretended to attack her, which is exactly how our heeler used to behave when I playfully attacked Peggy or the neighbors kid. Unfortunately, I have no way to test the extent of Brewsky and Ollie’s devotion without the risk of convincing all three cats that I’m dangerously insane, and maybe getting myself hurt in the process. Cats simply can’t take a joke the way dogs can. I’m not prepared to say that dogs have a sense of humor, but they’re at least easy to calm down, whereas a seriously pissed-off feline is, as they say, “a cat of a different color,” and that color is brimstone. I’ve read of strong men fleeing before the wrath of an angry housecat, by which I mean a cat that, sometimes for no apparent reason, turned on one or more people with murderous intent. 

Peggy and I have often discussed getting a dog, but with three cats, it’s hard to imagine it being a good idea because we would be even more tied down, and because it’s doubtful that the cats would like having a dog (our only hope would be to get a puppy because adult animals are more tolerant of babies than of other adults). Then too, there would be the vet bills, which have become way more expensive than they once were, it being commonplace to walk into a vet with a trivial problem and leave $200 poorer.

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow, between the crosses row on row...

Upon the occasion of Canada's Remembrance Day and America's Veteran's Day, I offer this tribute to two great nations and two great Canadians. John McCrae, the physician who wrote "In Flanders Fields," was among the thousands who died there. Leonard Cohen, the musician who read the poem, died yesterday. 

"In Flanders Fields" is one of the dozens of poems that it has been my privilege to memorize and to ponder when I am unable to sleep.

In consolation

Republicans now have the presidency and both houses of Congress, so they can do whatever the hell they please, and the rest of us will just have to live with it. I find this is a hard row to hoe, but it would be a lot harder if I had been among those who trusted Clinton. Some thoughts…

I voted for Jill Stein, so I’m one of those people who are being blamed for Trump’s victory, the argument being that a vote for anyone but Clinton was a vote for Trump. Yet, this persistent demand that everyone vote for the lesser of two evils can only result in the country never having more than two major candidates, both of them on the side of Big Business. Besides, I mistrusted Clinton so much that I couldn’t even be sure but what she would be a worse president than Trump. For one thing a vote for her would have carried with it the certainty of war, war, and more war, it being well-known that she was much more militaristic than Obama.

As much as I deplore Trump and nearly all of his policies, I liked some of his stances. For example, I consider his idea of a “wall” on the Mexican border to be absurd, but I agree that illegal immigration is a serious problem, and I had every expectation that Clinton would encourage it rather than control it due to her emphasis on helping illegals rather than deporting them for being the criminals that they are.

I hate “political correctness,” and Trump represents a hard and well-deserved slap in its smug and mean-spirited totalitarian face. I’ll give an example based upon my last point. Thanks to PC, America went from using the term “illegal aliens,” to “illegal immigrants” to “non-documented workers,” and finally to “immigrants,” thus denying any distinction between someone who wades the Rio Grande in the middle of the night and someone who spends years working through America’s painstaking immigration process. Another example is that PC won’t engage in dialogue with those who don’t knuckle under to its values. It instead fires them from their jobs, hounds them from their schools, demands their public censure, and labels them, among other things, as racist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-immigrant, and that catch-all word hater. Even a devoutly PC person can get in trouble with PCers if he or she is found guilty of some “subconscious microaggression” with no defense being possible. PC’s worst nightmare will soon be its president, and, despite my own abhorrence of Trump, I can’t help but smile.

I finally gave up any thought of voting for Clinton when I heard her vilify a cop who had shot a black man the day before. Clinton couldn’t have known that the shooting was unjustified, yet she chose to pronounce that cop guilty without a trial and by so doing, she supported others in insuring that the cop couldn’t get a fair trial, the PC assumption being that when a cop shoots a black person, the shooting constitutes proof that the cop is a racist who probably joined the force so he or she could have a license to murder minorities. I hold people like Clinton partially responsible for the rising hatred of police and for cops being shot dead while sitting their cars.

Although I’m more liberal than conservative, I hate liberal smugness, and Clinton was the poster child for it. When I picture of Trump, I picture anger and intimidation. When I picture of Clinton, I picture insincerity and smugness.

I don’t want Moslem immigrants coming here because Islam inspires oppression and violence. Where Islam exists, the rights of women, gays, and non-Moslems are scorned. I don’t even care how wonderful a given Moslem is, he or she belongs to a religion that opposes human rights, and the more children that person parents in America, the greater America’s risk of Islamic violence and oppression.

If, through our membership in NATO, America is going to risk nuclear war with Russia while protecting some little Eastern European country that most Americans can’t find on a map—assuming the’ve even heard of it—then the very least that our NATO partners can do is to pay the share they pledged to pay for NATO membership. Millions of Europeans detest America for its militarism, yet American militarism is the only thing standing between them and Russia, and what do we gain for protecting these parasites? I agree with George’s Washington statement in his Final Address (the speech he gave upon retiring from public life): “It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world…”

I agree with Trump that this country should come first, and I believe this means, for one thing, cutting off all foreign aid. If a person borrowed money to the point that he had no hope of ever repaying it, and he gave that money to poor people on the other side of the world while his own children were wearing rags, going without medical care, and sleeping under a leaking roof, I would consider that person an idiot, yet this is exactly what America does. I know we don’t do it simply because we care about the poor, but rather in order to buy the friendship of the leaders of the poor, but I say screw those leaders because if we minded our own business instead of trying to run the entire world to our satisfaction, we wouldn’t need their friendship.

I’m scared shitless to have Republicans running my country, but I would have felt unsafe if Clinton had won. When Peggy put the cats to bed last night at 1:00 a.m., she turned on the TV for a moment and saw that Trump had won. She went to bed but was too upset to sleep, so she got up at 3:00 and turned it on again in the hope that she had misunderstood. When she realized that Trump really had triumphed, she stayed up until 5:00 watching the election results and becoming ever more scared. Because what I would fear most—in the short-term—is nuclear war with Russia, I actually feel a little safer with Trump, at least in that regard. Why is that a country that is forever praising peace, forever saying that it is working for peace, and forever chastising others nations for going to war, is itself constantly at war? The ONLY president I would feel optimistic about would be one that got us out of these goddamned endless wars, each of which leaves us poorer and less safe than when we got into it. I’ve heard insanity defined as doing the same stupid thing with the magic expectation that it will yield a different result, and that pretty much defines America. A vote for either major candidate would have been a vote for war, and I can at least feel good that I didn’t vote for even more young Americans coming home lame or in body bags, their lives sacrificed for nothing.

Why Cats?

Because they have a mystique, won’t let humans define them, and each is world unto itself that is fascinating to observe.

Six weeks after getting our third cat, I am ready for a fourth if Peggy were agreeable, but she isn’t even happy about my fifty-seven volume library of cat books. I said to her, “Look here. You used to complain that I never spent money on myself. ‘Why don’t you ever treat yourself,’ you would say, so after 43-years of hearing this, I started collecting cats. Well, you put an end to that, so I started collecting books about cats, and now you say you don’t like that either!?”

In all fairness to Peggy, no matter what kind of a pet it is, one more than you already have seems like more trouble than “one more than you already have,” although I should think the opposite would be true. For example, getting a second dog years ago seemed like more than twice the work of having one dog, and getting a third cat seemed like more work than one half again the bother of two cats. As for my books about cats, Peggy wouldn’t complain if I hadn’t just filled twelve feet of shelf space with books by Margaret Deland and other Victorian era authors, leaving me with no space for my fifty-seven cat books. On the other hand, Peggy has been looking at puppies, and I figure one dog equals at least four cats. I also worry that the cats will be tre upset if Peggy brings home a dog. “Why don’t you get a parakeet?” I say, “The cats and I would love to have a parakeet.”

When Brewsky, our tabby man, was a kitten, the more I didn’t want him to do something, the more he wanted to do it. Having been a dog person and therefore been accustomed to my pet giving a rip about what I wanted, I concluded he was criminally insane. I also found his nightly yowling rampages unnerving, but his willfulness was my main problem, and it often inspired me to chase him through the house while waving my arms and cursing. Each such occasion would end with him looking out at me from under Peggy’s green leather recliner that she inherited from her Granny (and never uses) while I threatened him with dire consequences should he ever dare to do X again. A few minutes later, he would do X again, and I would reflect that it could be a long twenty years because I mistakenly imagined that his whole life would be the same way because I didn’t realize how dramatically kittens change when they become adults. Now, Brewsky tries hard to make himself agreeable, yet he’s so comfortable around me that he rolls over on his back and stretches his legs out when he wants to be petted. He’s also good with strangers, okay with having his toenails clipped, and loves his nightly brushings.

Scully is our shimmeringly gray muscle boy with GQ good looks. He’s also our most sensitive cat, which makes him prone to vomiting when he’s upset. Unlike Brewsky, he was a delightful kitten, but, at fifteen months, became shy. I thought to build his confidence by never petting him unless he clearly wanted it, but the more I did this, the more fragile he became, so two weeks ago, I took the opposite tact and started petting him even when he tried to get away. He has since become so self-confident that he
’s pushy at times. My growing comfort with cats has made me willing to experiment even if it means going against the advice of every book I own, which was the case with Ollie. I’ve also learned that cats are forgiving, so if they trust your love, you can be bolder than most people imagine, including people who love cats.

The worst thing about Ollie is that he is still nursing on Brewsky, so I finally bought some bitter spray and started putting it on Brewsky’s nipples yesterday. I had hoped it would discourage Ollie from nursing, but it has instead caused Brewsky to rabbit-kick Ollie whenever he tries to nurse. I would not mind him nursing nearly so much if he didn
’t slurp, and if Scully was not also starting to nurse. Such behavior usually occurs in cats who were taken away from their mothers too soon (Ollie and his siblings were found dumped on the side of a highway when they were still tiny). As for Scully, she had a secure childhood, so I think she’s just following Ollie’s lead.

Scully is just shy of six months of age, and I think of her as a saucy little wench who loves her two “uncles,” but wouldn
’t take any gruff from them even when she was a baby. What with her tuxedo markings, her autumn-leaf brown eyes, her white whiskers and feet, and her bold and intelligent expression, I’ll never have a more beautiful cat. Yesterday, I told Peggy that I have the good fortune to live with the two most beautiful females on earth. I look at Scully and marvel that she’s mine because it was only after we had had her for three months that Peggy confessed to not really meaning it when she agreed to let me get Scully. She was instead, she said, “calling my bluff” based upon her belief that I was just kidding about getting a third cat. Imagine her surprise when I took off like a shot when she agreed.

It’s true that when I turned around to blow her a kiss, I thought it odd that she was holding her head in her hands, but when I went back, she said she was fine, so once again I took off like a shot, only this time I didn’t look back. It turned out that I was but three minutes ahead of another person who wanted Scully (someone actually applied for Ollie before we did, but their application was rejected.) Thankfully, Peggy is now delighted to have Scully because Scully is a perpetual ray of sunshine. My only regret is that I can’t stop her from turning into a grown cat. I would even like to get a new kitten every year because kittens are a like a shot of joy both to grown people and to grown cats.

I don’t know how many people know this, but girl cats aren’t supposed to be as loving as boys. One of our first experiences with Brewsky was taking him to the vet for a check-up, and hearing the vet’s assistant say that she was glad we got a boy because boys are more mellow and affectionate. I’ve heard this same sentiment expressed by other people, but I can’t tell thus far. I just know that I wouldn’t trade Scully for all the boy cats on earth. Besides, Peggy wouldn’t want three-thousand-million boy cats—give or take a few.

Who Would You Vote For?

Here are the first 23 words for each that I just now associated as fast as I could with our two leading candidates. Only Clinton inspired any positives, but I won’t be voting for her. So who will I vote for? Jill Stein, the Green candidate, who, if she’s lucky, will get 3% of the vote. 

Oregon’s numerous Democrats assure me that a vote for anyone but Clinton is a vote for Trump, but a person can only hold his nose so long, and I’m going to let go. Why is it that we have no candidate who both has a chance of winning and is wise, strong, rational, and seems like a real flesh-and-blood person instead of these masked nightmares who think that violence is the answer? When I look into the hearts of Trump and Clinton, all I see looking back at me are demons with blood on their hands. We, the American people, limit our presidential choices to candidates who are going to drive us over a cliff because a cliff is where our values are taking us.

Words that I associate with Trump:

Pander, Cheat, Arrogant, Violent, Cruel, Tax Evader, Bully, Vengeful, Bankruptcy, Sexual Assault, Torture, Liar, Fool, Scornful, Ignorant, Greed, Intolerant, Thin Skin, Vicious, Narcissist, Mocker, Unintelligent, Embarrassing.

Now for Clinton:

Smug, Two-Faced, Shouter, Liar, Greed, Cover-Up, Unkind, Unimaginative, Lacks Unifying Vision, Reckless, War Monger, Experienced, Strong, Persistent, Arrogant, Manipulative, Contemptuous, Bill’s Bulldog, Spiritually Hideous, Hidden, Empty, Frightening, Murderer.

Indoor versus Indoor/Outdoor

Savannah Cat
Brewsky wasn’t our first cat. Miss Kitty was. Our initial home—in 1971—was an 8’ x 30’ trailer, and when we moved in, Peggy noticed a wet, miserable, and half-starved kitten near the door. We kept her for a few years until we found it inconvenient, after which we dumped her on my parents, who never objected to having one more dog or cat. Although my mother complained about the mud tracked in by my sister’s Cocker Spaniels (ugly dogs, I thought), she lured them with treats while my father—for whom mud wasn’t a problem—fed them from the table. Both of my parents were of the opinion that if a dog or cat asked for food, you fed him, and this made for some fat Cocker Spaniels.

Unlike our current indoor cats, Miss Kitty came and went at leisure. She liked to sleep in the road despite people honking at her, and she liked to climb trees from which she couldn’t get down. One day, I left her in a tree in the firm belief that she would eventually find her way down. She didn’t, so after two days of rain, I went and got her. Another time, she almost fell from our two story window because she didn’t realize that the screen was off (she did a midair u-turn and came back in). In Miss Kitty’s most infamous incident, my sister ran over her own cat—who she didn’t see—in order to avoid Miss Kitty, who was asleep in the driveway. Miss Kitty spent a lot of time hanging out in my parents’ country store and lived to a ripe old age. Because she was prone to bite, she seemed more like a co-inhabitant than pet.

Miss Kitty represented what I don’t want in a cat. If I’m going to feed an animal, pay its vet bills, empty its litter and so forth, I expect a greater reward than its mere existence. But that’s the difference between my parents and me. They didn’t cozy up to animals, but they liked having them around with the understanding that if the animal got sick or hurt, it was on its own. I would guess that our three cats are going to run us upwards of a thousand dollars a year (a sixteen pound bag of their vet-prescribed food runs $84), and that’s if nothing goes too wrong. My father would have hit an animal over the head with a galvanized pipe—I saw him do it—before he would have shelled out that kind of money, and he would have called me a fool (I can just hear him) if he knew I did. But then I draw little distinction between the inherent rights of “animals” versus those of people. Our belief in our human superiority rests upon our fantasy of being “made in God’s image,” but if we were made in the image of a deity, shouldn
’t we be prettier, that is unless God too is a naked and homely biped with comical genitals?

I’ve had one extraordinarily beautiful dog who I named Bonnie, but all cats (except for a few of the pedigrees) are so pretty that it’s hard to choose, although I think Scully might head the list. I hold her to my face so I can revel in her beauty, but when I reflect upon the homely countenance that I present to her, my shame is only mitigated by my observation that cats don’t appear to appreciate visual beauty.

I am ever challenged by trying to put aside my worldview in order to understand that of my cats. I have purchased entire books (the cat section of my library now contains 31 books) about how cats see the world, but, sad to say, they were all written by humans. People—men mostly—who hate cats imagine that cats disrespect them (like Donald Trump*, they’re very sensitive that way), but we cat lovers are also reduced to projecting our human interpretations onto our cats.

I have a friend, Carl, who believes that cats have an inalienable right to come and go as they please, and that I abuse my cats by keeping them indoors. His is a necessary belief for one whom considers it beneath his masculine dignity to empty a litter box (he won’t pick up after dogs either). In trying to understand Carl
’s position, I must admit that James Bond and Indiana Jones wouldn’t haven’t emptied a litter box either. I haven’t seen all of their movies, so maybe one of them did eventually get himself a catan unneutered leopard probably (real men grab their balls in the presence of neutered pets). To sidestep the litter issue, I suppose Jimmy or Indy might have put a cork up the leopard’s ass while distracting him with caviar (cats are said to LOVE caviar, not that I’ll ever know).

The difference between Carl and me is based upon his belief that cats should live natural lives (i.e. make their own decisions—though he draws the line where sex is concerned) versus my belief that cats, like children, need to be protected from risks that are numerous, common, and deadly. Surely, the greatest boon of an indoor/outdoor cat is that it saves its people money and trouble, but I should think that such savings would be greatly outweighed by the cost, trouble, and heartache of injuries, poisonings, parasites, communicable diseases, reduced life expectancy, and wildlife destruction.

The last thing I want to see some morning is what another friend who didn’t want to be bothered with kitty litter saw—her eight-month-old kitten crushed to death with its intestines strewn beside its corpse. As for Carl, who claims that I abuse my cats by keeping them indoors, he has had two cats since I’ve known him. One simply disappeared, and the other came home with a broken leg, and he had her euthanized. Despite both of his cats coming to bad ends, and any future cats that he gets having similar odds of an early demise, Carl still manages to regard my values as “abusive.” 

I’ve heard some such people claim that when their cats were killed, it was a case of survival of the fittest, despite the fact that evolution has done nothing to prepare cats for the hazards of cars and pesticides. The callousness that underlies people’s willingness to allow their cats to be daily exposed to the risk of a gruesome death is beyond my comprehension, yet those who do it seem cheerful enough. Maybe it hasn’t occurred to them that caring people protect the object of their love to the extent that the object of their love is unable to protect itself.

Then again, maybe they think too highly of God to believe that he will allow bad things to happen to good cats, so they are leaving their pet’s protection in the loving hands of the Almighty. As deeply touching as religious faith is—especially when it makes no sense and is backed by no evidence—might not it be just a little shaken if the “cat lover” had a $20,000 Savannah instead of a bony old arthritic tabby that passed its prime ten years ago? Or what if his aunt had left her cat a million dollars a year to be paid to the nephew for the lifetime of the stump-legged Munchkin? Would these fans of cat liberation still say, “Mere money means nothing compared to my cat’s right to self-determination.”

It is always possible to find stories of outdoor cats that lived to a ripe old age, but you will surely agree that an argument based upon a statistical anomaly is a weak argument. Given the risks involved, shouldn’t those who allow their cats to come and go at least learn all they can about the risks, and do everything possible to mitigate them? Such people could, for instance, keep their cats immunized; have them collared and microchipped; know the location of a 24-hour vet clinic; build a cat-proof fence; live far from busy streets; check their driveway for radiator leaks (a tsp can be fatal); avoid using noxious chemicals in their yards (cats can be poisoned from licking insecticide from their fur); keep their cats indoors when people are commuting or walking their dogs; and so on. I’ve never known anyone who let their cats out who took such measures to protect their cats, or who seemed concerned about their cats shitting in their neighbor’s gardens, killing the songbirds that their neighbors were feeding, decimating the food sources of the wild predator population, or otherwise acting like responsible adults in regard to either their cats or their neighbors. 


Cats, cats, and more cats

Brewsky is the tabby, Ollie is gray, and Scully is the kitten

I’m up for the day, sitting here writing while listening to Ollie and Scully wrestle within the folds of the shower curtainthe bathroom is but one wall away. Ollie always liked the tub and, when he was a kitten, enjoyed watching people shower. He never joined in, but he didn’t mind getting splashed a little.

Kittens tend to be more vocal and have a wider range of sounds than grown cats, so I keep hearing Scully miaowing in a way that sounds more like a dove than a cat. Cats being creatures of routine, Brewsky is no doubt in the living room looking out the window. If I’m lucky, either he or Ollie will soon come and sleep in the chair beside me and into which I put one of my bed pillows every morning. Cats appreciate luxury every bit as much as humans do, so they bond with those humans who provide it. This works well for me because I’m just naturally attentive to the needs of others.

My cats know I love them, and I trust that they love me. It’s hardly like the love of a dog because cats are more subtle, which means that when they do give of themselves, it’s easy for their humans to be unaware of the gift. For instance, I’ll be sitting here writing and will suddenly realize that one of the cats had come into the room and asked for attention, only to leave when he or she didn’t get it.

I had experienced a lifetime of dogs, so when we finally got burned-out on the work of having dogs and got Brewsky, I wondered if I would ever feel close to him. Peggy’s cat-person sister, Pam, warned Peggy that we had made a grave mistake. As she put it, “You are dog people, and a cat is not a dog!” We still laugh about this, but she was right in that if we had gotten a cat thinking that it would be like a dog, we would have been sorely disappointed. Another friend said that the best thing she could say about her pedigreed Siamese was that it was midway between having a dog and not having a pet at all. Fortunately, we were not complete strangers to the ways of cats, so the question wasn’t whether Brewsky would be like a dog, but whether we could find it within ourselves to love a cat as a cat.

My enjoyment of cats got a real boost when we got our second cat, Ollie, because we not only had a total of two cats, Cat A and Cat B, we had a third entity—C—which consisted of the way Brewsky and Ollie related to us and to one another. When we got Scully, things took off even more, and I started to understand how people end up with a houseful of cats. The way cats interact with one another is a good bit more interesting—to me anyway—than the way dogs interact, and because cats are less work, I can imagine myself slipping into the mindset of, I already have ___ cats, so what’s one more?. Fortunately, I have Peggy to put on the brakes because while I know we don’t need a fourth cat, the temptation remains. 

Our vet, Sean, has been in practice for a lot of years, yet he can scarcely believe what we tell him about our cats. Specifically, that Brewsky so readily accepted Ollie despite Brewsky having been a solitary indoor cat since he was a tiny kitten, and that Brewsky and Ollie so readily took a female kitten into their hearts. Worst of all was his dismay when we told him that Ollie—at 14-months of age—is still nursing Brewsky, a six-year-old 15-pound male. Peggy mentioned this in the hope that Sean could tell us how to put an end to
Ollie’s nursing, but he instead asked what it was, exactly, that Ollie nursed and mentioned Brewsky’s tail as a possibility. Peggy assured him that, no, Ollie is a tit-man all the way, and it was then that Sean’s eyes got so big that we wondered if he believed us.

I wouldn’t find Ollie’s nursing so disgusting if he didn’t slurp, but I haven’t been able to discourage him from nursing, and when I try, he just leaves the room and goes back to nursing when I’m not around. Peggy and I are convinced that Brewsky doesn’t like Olli
e’s nursing either because he will look at us when it’s happening as if to say, “God but I wish he wouldn’t do this, but he seems to really need it, and I don’t want to hurt his feelings.” I have had to give up on even trying to put an end to Ollie’s nursing except when the five of us (Peggy, Brewsky, Ollie, Scully, and me) are having our morning cuddle. This and the time that Peggy and I spend trying to read in the evening while Ollie and Scully gallop about the house like tiny horses are the most precious times of my day—those and the time I spend writing. And then there are the ways that Scully moans, coos, yowls, chirrups, miaows, and screams! Before getting cats, I had no idea how varied their vocalizations could be, and how often they sound more like birds than cats. Unfortunately, the older they get, the less they vocalize.

When Ollie was Scully’s age, he and Brewsky would play the way that he and Scully now play, and Ollie would scream like Scully now screams. I soon came to trust that Brewsky wasn’t really killing Ollie, but Peggy never stopped worrying. If you could see a little gray kitten full-out roughhousing with a male tabby five times his size, you could understand her anxiety. Ollie never held anything back, and it would look for all the world like a fight to the death, what with wide-open mouths filled with glistening white daggers. I became completely trusting that, no matter how bad things looked, Brewsky wasn’t really going to kill Ollie, and his patience and compassion confirmed my faith in Brewsky’s ability to give Ollie the kind of love and nurture that he, being an only cat, had never received.

I regard Brewsky as our wise and loving adult, Ollie as our exquisitely sensitive and emotionally vulnerable adolescent, and Scully as our dominant and intellectual girl child. A person who has but one cat is deprived of the joy that comes with observing the differences cats display in their interactions with their humans and with other cats. Different cats are like different people in that their worldviews and their preferences vary enormously. Dogs are that way too, but they’re so fixated on pleasing their humans that the creatures they are within themselves get swallowed-up. I don’t mean here to discount the joy of having dogs because it is their determination to do everything they can to love and to be loved that makes dogs so adorable.

I must admit to finding it very hard to warm up to a person who genuinely dislikes either dogs or cats, and I frankly hate it when people’s preference for one leads them to trash the other. Such people fail to understand that their preference for one species over another is entirely a function of what they want and what they need, and has nothing to do with superiority. To hate either species makes the hater look dim-witted and closed hearted, but haters never seem to realize this. The important thing is not what we love, but that we love.

The last time I was in PetSmart, they had a beautiful black rescue cat that someone had returned because they thought he miaowed too much. God help me, but I wanted that cat, and I wanted him all the more because he had been abandoned at least twice…. I want to bring happiness to all unwanted pets, but I can’t do it, and I hate it that I can’t do it…. 

One of my cats—Ollie, as it turned out—came to sleep on the pillow that I put in the chair beside me, so I keep alternating between writing and petting his soft, soft fur. Oh, the joy—the joy, the joy, the joy.