Cream, Candy, Cat, Baranki and Samovar,

Peggy's new painting
When I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is feed the cats. Breakfast done, I try to pet them. Brewsky lets me; Ollie and Scully walk away; Sage runs away after looking at me like, "My god, who are you, and why do you want to kill me!?" A half hour later, he lies on his back with his legs stretched out, and I pet him. I go to the computer. Ollie comes in to be petted, so I pet him. He goes to sleep on a chair next to me. Scully comes in to be petted, so I pet her, and she goes to sleep atop the cat tree.

An hour or two later, Peggy gets up, and Sage cries to be petted. She picks Sage up, and he climbs onto her shoulder. Most afternoons, I go to church, and when I come home, Scully greets me, and I pet her, but if I try to pet Sage, he again looks at me like, "My god, who are you, and why do you want to kill me!?" A few minutes later, he’s on his back again, and I pet him. Brewsky wants to be petted 24/7. Like Sage, he too lies on his back. I would kiss his plush belly if not for fear of getting a mouthful of fur. Scully is our only tuxedo cat and our only girl. She's also our most timid cat, so I'm honored when she kneads my thigh, which she does almost every morning when Peggy and I have our "cuddle time." When she's done with her daily kneading, she puts her head on my thigh and go to sleep. Our cats treat Peggy and me differently. For instance, Sage doesn't climb onto my shoulder, and Scully doesn't knead Peggy.

Although cats love orderliness and routine, they often surprise me. For instance, a cat will do something in the same way for months or years, and then never do it again. For example, everyday for years, Ollie would sit in a particular office chair with his front legs resting on the left arm of that chair. I had thought the behavior was a part of his Ollieness, and it saddened me when he stopped.

Ollie's Chair
I own over 200 books about cats plus a small collection of cat knicknacks. Last week, Peggy won an $850 Russian oil painting of a cat. During the many decades that we had dogs, I never owned more than a half dozen books about dogs, but I have added to my collection since I started buying cat books. Right now, I'm reading A Small Furry Prayer, a really good book about dog rescue.

Peggy travels, but I won't go with her because I would worry about the cats. Peggy is the only being that I love more than I love my cats, and if she would consent, I would probably get another kitten every two years because kittens light up a house. The funny thing about our having four cats is that Peggy chose three of them. Cat-hater that she was, it was to my utter astonishment that she chose our first cat, Brewsky, but once she got him, she said that was it, NO MORE CATS. After a few years of me wanting another cat, she gave in four years ago, and we got a gray kitten that we named Ollie. Brewsky loved Ollie at first sight and still "nurses" him. I wanted a third cat, but Peggy stood firm until we were in PetSmart looking at the rescue cats "just for fun," and she saw Scully. When we left PetSmart to buy groceries, I kept encouraging Peggy to let me go back and get Scully. When she finally said “yes,” I ran from the store and arrived at PetSmart moments ahead of someone else who also wanted Scully. Peggy later said she thought I was joking about getting Scully. As it turned out, the joke was on her!

Brewsky was thrilled to have another kitten, and he was thrilled again when we got Sage, only this time, it took Peggy three days to give in to my constant urging. Ollie’s background was the saddest; he and his siblings had been abandoned on the side of the Detroit Lakes’ Highway, which is why the shelter volunteers had named him Detroit Tony. Sage and Scully are our only cats whose names we didn’t change.

Scully on left, Sage on top, Brewsky on bottom

When we got Brewsky, I was as nervous as a first-time father. It wasn’t just that I had no idea how to care for a cat; I had no idea how to be with a cat. I had imagined that cats were timid, aloof, and selfish, and would hate me forever if I made the least mistake. Luckily, Brewsky was mellow, unabashed, and forgiving. He was also stubborn. I would tell him not to do something, and he would do it anyway, again and again and again, after which I would chase him through the house yelling and slapping seat cushions with the flat side of a yardstick. Not only was he un-afraid, he would suddenly stop running and roll over on his back to be petted, so what could I do but pet him? I finally stopped ordering Brewsky around unless I was deadly serious about something. Most times, I wasn’t. For example, to make the bed, I would have to first put him out of it. He would immediately jump back in, and I would put him out a second time. One day, I put him out nine times. Brewsky isn't my pet, he's my brother, my father, and my son. He's my "starter cat," my "walking miracle," and "the patriarch of the cat side of the family.” 

At age eight, Brewsky is no stubborn except when it comes to trying to steal food off Peggy's plate, and I haven’t yelled at him in years. He is our only cat who occasionally throws a tantrum. For example, he used to enjoy sleeping under the furnace (he got there via an air intake vent), but when I discovered that he was chewing electrical wires, I put a cover on the vent. He became enraged, stomping (you've never seen a cat stomp?) around the house and cursing for all he was worth. The only time I ever saw anything like it was when I cut a tree limb that squirrels were using as a bridge between the tree and our roof. After I returned to the ground, various squirrels stood on the roof and cursed me mightily. They were so mad that I believe they would have killed me had they been able, and it's a wonder they didn't at least try. I respected squirrels a lot more after that.

When we got cats, I consoled myself with the thought that their imagined aloofness would save me from excessive grief when they died, but I was wrong. Cats are beautiful, loving, graceful, dignified, and mysterious. They're self-cleaning, don’t have to be walked, and don't have to be put out in the rain at midnight to pee and poop. Back when Peggy and I hiked and camped, dogs were preferable, but those days are gone. If I were marooned on an island and had to choose between a cat and a dog as my sole companion, I would take the dog, but in my current situation, I prefer cats. What I’m trying to convey is that, when I think of dogs versus cats, I don't think in terms of species superiority but of preferability on the part of a given person or for a given purpose. I get out of sorts with those who act as if there’s something wrong with anyone whose choice of a pet is the opposite of their own, and I have no use whatsoever for anyone who hates dogs, cats, or both (back when Peggy said she hated cats, I knew that what she really meant was that she was afraid of cats).

I have an acquaintance who acted like he wanted to have a closer relationship with me, but I didn’t want to have one with him once I observed that, when my cats greeted him, he wouldn’t acknowledge them, that is unless staring at them like they were objects counts as acknowledgement. I further learned from talking with him that he not only disrespects nonhumans, he disrespects humans who try to help nonhumans, “…there being so many needy people.” I concluded that his soul was impoverished, and that I didn't want him in my life.

One of the things I like best about our four cats is that, unlike our last two dogs (who never were close), our cats are devoted to one another. Shelters will often label a pair of cats as "bonded," meaning that they have to be adopted together. Our cats are a bonded foursome, so god forbid that Peggy and I should die at the same time (a car wreck or the flu come to mind), and them end up in a shelter. I actually worry about this.

...I consider it  unlikely that my life will ever get any better than it now is, and I owe a huge debt to cats for making it that way.


Elephant's Child said...

We only have one cat at the moment, but he treats us so differently it is like living with (at least) two cats. He will very rarely sit in my lap, but climbs into himself's lap and settles down multiple times each day. If I am outside he wanders from window to window checking out what I am doing, and will not settle until I come in again. He follows me from room to room inside as well. If my partner is outside Jazz goes to sleep. He will follow him to the kitchen, but rarely anywhere else.

kylie said...

For some reason I thought you had three cats.
I have my son's greyhound here, he is the first dog I have ever kissed and the first who has been allowed on furniture. I love him beyond what is reasonable.

Snowbrush said...

Child, it seems to me that cats are more multi-faceted than dogs, or at least more idiosyncratic. Of course, it's also true that only once did I have more than one dog at a time (I had two), which made it harder for me to compare them. I can but say that, to me, cats are more intriguing, partly because they are so very different one from one another, and partly because they bare little resemblance to what I expected. Of course, I've heard the jokes about dogs having family and cats having staff, and while it does look that way on the surface, I think the deeper truth is that, while cats take us for what we are, dogs take us for more than we are. Both you and Kylie both should read "A Small Furry Prayer." It's about way more than animal rescue; it's about dogs themselves. I'll buy a copy and send it to each of you if you would like. Just send me your address.

"he is the first dog I have ever kissed"

It seems a little weird to think of pets as kissable, but if it's okay to kiss children, why not dogs and cats? I draw the line at dogs kissing me, though. When I see someone happily having their face licked by a dog, I just want to say, "Oh, yuck! Oh, gross! Oh, god, please make him stop!" However, my complaint about cats is that they don't lick me enough. That sandpaper tongue feels so good (and so non-slobbery). I just wish they would move it around more because it will take the skin clean off a person.

Marion said...

I love your cat photos & post! They look so yummy. I'm down to 3 cats from 6 and feel lost without the two who died last year. They have such different personalities and habits. My male, Garfield, would stay on my lap 24/7 if I let him. He's the snake killer that I tamed. ;-) The female cats prefer men. That's so funny, but true. It's great to read about a cat lover. I like dogs, but I love cats.

My knee is very slowly improving. I'm still entertaining the folks in physical therapy. Last week I said loudly, "Does anyone in this p!ace have some pot!?" The whole room went silent while I laughed. Happy Thanksgiving, Snow! xo

Strayer said...

This is such a beautiful tribute to life with cats, it made me cry, Snow. I love this post.

Strayer said...

I've been mocked by a line of crows. I've been cursed by a flock of Brewers' blackbirds. The crows know everything about me. The maple allows such surveillance. Sometimes I mutter to them with an eye roll, "you think you're so great, sitting there in your high tower above me". They have several watch towers. When I get out the seed for the smaller birds, the calling starts, from one tree, then another, then another farther. And here come the crows. I can see your cat stomping, in tantrum. Sam has tantrums and so does Slinko. Fantasia loves drama, to create it and to be a victim. I've known humans like her. Anyhow, I enjoyed your post immensely.

PhilipH said...

Superb post, Snowy. I fully understand your deep love of your gorgeous friends, family even.

My heart has twice been ripped open by two of my lovely cats, both female sweethearts of yesteryear. "Candy" had her back broken by either a motorbike or car. I was searching for her on Saturday evening as she hadn't returned at her usual time. Heard her faint cry in the gutter of the road; picked her up and carried her indoors. Laid her on a blanket in front of the open fire and wept as she purred while I gently gave a one-finger stroke on her lovely head. Then wrapped her in the blanket and searched Croydon for a vet ... at 10 pm Saturday night. And found one! A lady vet, working late. She took Candy from me and said there was nothing that could save her. I left Candy with this kind lady, feeling totally wretched.

When we moved to Wales we had another young lady cat who hid under the kitchen sink in our new house, refusing to move from this dark place. She suddenly dashed out of the back door one day as Pat went out to the garden. We never saw her again. We put notices out, asked many local neighbours if they had seen her, all to no avail. No more cats, or dogs, for us any more. It's too upsetting when they leave us. Far too sorrowful and distressing.

My daughter, Clare, has persevered with the lovable slobber-chops breed Dogue de Bordeaux, large dogs with relatively short lifespans. Her first, Marley, had a great young life but as he grew larger he had various problems and finally had to be put to his rest. She then adopted Bob, and later Molly, from rescue centres. They got on well for many months but then Molly started attacking Bob. Got so bad that Clare sought a new owner for Molly. She found a wonderful new owner, and Bob became less stressed. Sadly, just a couple of weeks back, Bob developed a severe bowel problem and the vet said there was only one merciful thing to do. So Bob is no more. Clare was again totally smashed. She vowed never to go through this again.

She came to see me on Saturday. She had been contacted by a rescue kennel and is now "fostering" a young mastiff, a cross-breed of a Dogue de Bordeaux and an unknown breed. She showed me a photo of "Dave" - black and white dog with huge paws. He's going to be a bit lad. Two other 'foster' homes had to return him to the kennels as he was too 'untrainable'. Today, Clare has got him still, much calmer than when she first met him on Saturday evening, even though "Dave" was awake all Saturday night, utterly stressed out. She has a truly magical way with these young, and old, dogs. I know what will happen next: she will again adopt him, despite her saying "Never again...".

I've not yet met Dave. I want to give Clare a couple more days to let her foster-baby get more settled. But I'm pretty sure he'll soon be part of her family. I'll let you know, in a month or two.

rhymeswithplague said...

Most afternoons you go to church??? Elaborate, please!

P.S. - I like your cat posts better than some of your others....

hannah jane said...

I think it's fascinating that your cats treat you and Peggy differently. I wonder if my dogs do this and I haven't noticed. I'll have to pay better attention. I have never seen a cat stomp or a squirrel curse but I'm going to keep my eye out for that too!