Saturday, January 20, 2007

"The Meaning of Meow"

I saw this title on the cover of a blank journal and decided it was time for introductions. This is my cat Misty. She is the first cat I ever owned. She's the first cat I ever considered owning.

When I was growing up, there had been barn cats at my grandparents farm for keeping the mouse population at bay and sometimes we could pet the kittens; but the official word about the cats' status was that they were not pets. All the same, if it was terribly cold in the barn or they started looking unduly hungry, grandmother would sneak them some dishes of food in addition to the warm milk they got twice a day; and once I saw her put them in the root cellar for the night. So while I thought they were cute and cuddly it was pointless to lobby for having a cat at our own house. We did have a series of dogs for a while, although even they were not what one would think of as pets. They were never trained and were primarily tied outside away from the house to keep raccoons away from the garden.

When we were starting our own family we decided that pets were an important part of a child's life. So we went to the shelter and selected a cute Shepherd mix who soon outgrew our tiny base quarters. But we were able to find her a farm family with 3 boys who fell in love with her at once. This meant that we were again pet-less. Some people at the church we attended heard about our dilemma and offered one of their puppies as a replacement. This had the advantage of being able to see the parents and the general disposition of the brood before getting too attached. Abby was a curly salt and pepper ball of energy. For 14 years she adapted to our vagabond military existence; content to curl up in any nook or cranny as long as we were there. She wasn't much on riding in a car but if we got in the car she was there. When she died of congestive heart failure in 1991 she left a very big whole in our lives. And none of us was in a hurry to get attached to another dog, and so time sort of marched by without any decision either way.

Now there had been other livestock in our household from time to time while Abby lived with us. For several years we had an everchanging assortment of fresh water fish in a 10 gallon aquarium. Then the kids wanted to try Budgies. Abby thought we got them for her. Finally she learned to leave them alone in the cages, but when they were out she had to go to the basement. Budgies can get in the most gnarly places, and they blend in to all backgrounds. We once found them hiding in the upright piano that was not open. They also loved Christmas trees and the tops of the curtains; just to name a few. But birds do not move well and after a cross town move they one-by-one passed on.

After we moved again into the city the youngest son started lobbying for a pet. In this neighborhood we had very little yard and not the time to devote to training a new puppy so we kept nixing the idea. Not one to be easily daunted he changed tactics in the spring when applications were being taken for summer lab animal sitting; he wanted to "sit" the turtle. This sounded manageable; low maintenance and a nice terrarium. But he didn't get selected which was a terrible blow. His birthday was close enough that we were able to justify the investment in 1 turtle and rocks and our existing aquarium was big enough. He later got a 20 gallon and the "land and sea" environment which was really low maintenance. He kept it for 5 years but at the end of his freshman year he announced that it had been fun and a good experience but it was time to find the turtle a new home.

A year later a friend announced that she was giving away her current litter of kittens if we were interested. Why she asked at that moment we'll never know, but something about the idea of getting a cat sounded right. The kids were starting to move out into their separate lives. We still lived in the city were a dog was not terribly feasible. And, for me at least, the turtle had not been very comforting even if he was cute and clever. So after doing some research on cat care and buying the book Think Like a Cat we agreed to bring Misty home.

The day we got her she was the smallest 8 week old kitten anyone had ever seen. When we would get her out of her carrier in the mornings she would curl up on my velour slippers and rub her face in them. Because she was so small it was a few weeks before she managed to jump on anything. The youngest son some how missed the announcement of this accomplishment and proceeded to curl up on the sofa with leftover pizza to watch a movie. Shortly there was a distressed call "Misty!! That's mine!" Lured by the smell, she had leapt onto his lap grabbed a pepperoni and took off with the spoils. And that wasn't the last time her curiosity got her into hot water.

But she has matured a lot since her kitten days, however, she still has the sweetest disposition of any cat I am familiar with. Cat disposition and independent gnarly-ness was one of my chief concerns about having a cat. I have known several people who literally lived in fear of what their cat would do if "offended" and I wanted any cat I owned to understand that they did not make the rules on how things went. I think her disposition is the result of two things; her mother's basic temperament and how we treat her/expect her to treat us which is guided by the suggestions in the book. Think "dog whisperer" for cats.

So we're keeping her and now that the house is devoid of kids we contemplate whether we need a second cat. We both work, and we sleep at the same hours, so there are many hours when she is alone. A second cat would be a playmate of sorts, or at least company. Also she will be 7 this year and while her line lives long we do not relish losing a solo pet again and think about getting another kitten while her mother is still producing. Still, these are thoughts and not decisions. But I thought I would share about Misty and our pet history. And maybe readers will comment on their pets.


lrlwreath said...

I enjoyed reading about all your pets I have always had a cat while growing up. The one I have now is an independent little stinker, but growing I had the best cat around.

Your cat is 7 years old, how do you think she will react to a young kitten? Have you seen your cat around any other cats?

But I understand your reasoning.


G's Cottage said...

The only cat she has ever had a negative reaction to was a big aggressive male that used to roam the neighborhood and attack the windows if he saw her inside.

Of course we would never throw two cats, or any other pets, together and expect it to be love at first sight. The Think book author devotes a large section to introducing new cats to a home.

Also, from what we have read so far, Misty seems to be a good candidate because of her pleasant temperament, her rather maternal nature even though she was spayed, and her curiosity. She had a very nurturing mother and often replays this role with her toys.

This is something we are thinking about for the future because our schedules currently are far to erratic to devote to the kind of oversight and interaction management this process might require.

Thanks for the words of caution.

It was nice to hear about your cats. And while you label the one as an "independent stinker" he or she does not sound mean-spirited or vengeful. Do you have a picture?