My three boys

Ollie, vanquisher of monsters
Peggy hated cats and, atheist though she is, would awaken screaming from dreams in which screeching Satanic felines were breaking into our house. When our schnauzer, Baxter, died in 2010, Peggy surprised me by suggesting that we go to an animal shelter the very next day to get a dog—after our first schnauzer died, Peggy grieved for years before she was ready for another dog. When we found no dogs we liked, we visited the cattery and Peggy fell in love with the first kitten we saw. We named him Brewsky, and he is now five. I never felt as close to him as I had to various dogs, but I enjoyed him enough that I thought it would be fun to get a second cat. Peggy argued against this for two reasons. The first was that it would mean less attention for Brewsky, and the second was that we both doubted that Brewsky would accept a second cat.

Smokie, licker of glass
In mid October, a friend died, and we temporarily cared for his two year old Persian, Smokie. I read that the best way to introduce a new cat to a resident cat is to keep them completely separate for a week, so that was what I attempted, but it made both cats miserable. After three days, I put Smokie in the laundry room behind a baby gate so that he and Brewsky could at least see one another. Brewsky’s response was to hiss (at least during those brief periods that he came out from under the couch) and Smokie’s to yowl. Given how bad things were going, I questioned the wisdom of keeping them apart to any extent, so I removed the baby gate, and within two days, they were taking naps together. I immediately turned up the pressure on Peggy to get a second cat.

She demurred but her resistance had been weakened by how well Brewsky accepted Smokie, so when we were walking around the mall two Sundays ago and came upon a new Petco store, we went inside, and lo and behold, they had rescue cats. We singled out three with whom we played for over two hours before settling on a gray kitten named Detroit Tony (so named because he and his littermates had been dumped on the side of the Detroit Lakes Highway). I would have taken him home then, but Peggy said she first wanted to visit the cattery where we got Brewsky, and it was too late to go that day. When we didn’t find a cat we liked the next day, we raced across town to Petco in the hope that Detroit Tony was still there. He was, but not by much because one application had just been rejected.

Brewsky, scrubber of tails
When we got Tony—who we renamed Ollie—home, we ignored the book recommendation about isolating him for a week, and instead plopped him down between Brewsky and Smokie and waited to see what would happen. The 2.8 pound Ollie immediately astonished us and our 16.5 pound Brewsky by walking right up to him and smelling his nose. Peggy and I held our breaths while Brewsky decided whether to open his heart or his fangs. There soon followed a regular smell fest with the two cats sniffing one another from bow to stern. When they were done, Ollie and Smokie went through a similar getting-to-know-you routine, after which the three of them played chase. By Tuesday, Brewsky was bathing Ollie like a mother and the two of them were sleeping together, often with Ollie cradled between Brewsky’s legs. (Ollie looks much bigger, and Brewsky much smaller, in the photos than in real life.)

I have become more bonded with Brewsky in the past few weeks—since first Smokie and then Ollie moved in—than in the past few years, the reason being that introducing other cats into the household has opened his heart to a depth I never knew he possessed. For instance, after he got tired of hiding under the sofa following Smokie’s arrival, he turned to me for reassurance, and his usual Stoic demeanor gave way to a touching vulnerability. I am only troubled by two things. One is that I can’t discipline Ollie without upsetting Brewsky, which means that I have to go to where Ollie is misbehaving and quietly redirect his behavior even if he’s on the other side of the room clawing the upholstery. The second thing is that Brewsky can’t discipline Ollie without upsetting me. He will occasionally pin Ollie between his legs and nip him repeatedly, causing Ollie to cry like he’s being murdered. Sometimes, I can connect Brewsky’s actions to something Ollie did, but other times, it just looks like a display of dominance. Whatever is going on, I don’t think it would be right to interfere.

Abused cats forced to sleep on minuscule bed

My only sad news is that Smokie moved to his new home in Portland on Saturday. I so wanted to keep him that I had fantasies about the two of us fleeing to Idaho. As it was I could but write a letter to his new family asking that they let me have him back if things don’t work out.

Smokie’s breed is an example of human beings taking a superb product of nature and genetically altering it in ways that are a detriment to its health and abilities. In the case of Persians, the goal was to create a long-haired cat that would look kittenish its whole life long. As a result, Persians can’t bathe adequately; they have weak jaws; they can’t survive in the wild; and they’re prone to a score of  afflictions. Yet, it’s also true that they’re among the most gentle, mellow, and affectionate, of cats, and I’ll never forget the gift of knowing Smokie. The fact that Smokie can’t fly is proof that angels lack wings.