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.