Ok, here it comes, the rant. I am a cat lover. An animal of any kind lover actually, but cats have a special place in my heart. I have always had a pet...dogs when I was growing up, and when I was first married.
We had the wonder dog Jenny. Jenny came to live with us when we were moving my husband into his grandmother's old house the summer before we got married. I was still in school, but had come to help him settle in before the fall semester started. Jenny was a pup of about 3 months, who lived across the street with the neighbors. She was a funny looking, bouncy thing with huge ears like a rabbit and full of energy. She came over to help too, and with the front door open to facilitate bringing in furniture, she waltzed right in like she owned the place. I remember my future father-in-law saying "Whose damn dog is that?" I got a call from my now husband a couple of weeks later saying he had gotten a dog. "Guess which dog?" I remember him saying. The neighbors came over and said that she wanted to live with us and not them and would we like a dog. She came with the name Jenny. Oh God, how we loved that dog. She was with us through thick and thin for our first 17 years of marriage. She moved with us to three houses in the DFW area, corporate housing in a high rise in Marina del Rey and a tiny tract house in the San Fernando Valley, then up the coast to Redmond, Washington. We had hoped she would make it until we bought our own place, but we lost her in April, and closed on our first house in November. She had a companion named Joey, a little Shepherd/Eskimo mix that had less than a whole brain, but was as sweet a dog as you could imagine. Joey left us 6 months after Jenny; not sure how to go on without her friend.
In the months before we left Texas for California we got our first cat, Miss Joshua. Miss J had a male name because, not having had cats before, we took my sister's word for it that she had gotten us a male kitten. It is rather harder to sex a kitten than a puppy. By the time we had her in for her first vet visit, the vet took one close look and said, "this is a girl." Joshua she had been for 8 weeks, Joshua she would remain, with a "Miss" in front of it. It just didn't seem fair to change things on her like that. She loved tormenting the dogs. They knew they could not show aggression against this cat, even though they had with strange cats in the past. We had a talk with them, and they just understood. And she took full advantage of that; chasing them whenever they were inside the house. They would look up at us like "What can we do, PLEASE??"
After both of our dogs were gone, we were so heartbroken we just could not bring ourselves to replace them. It never felt right to get another dog...not if it wasn't Jenny. So we started getting cats. We now have five. We would have more if we had a bigger house and more disposable income for vet bills. We realize now how cat-like Jenny actually was. Cats are like people...five distinctive personalities, with moods, good, bad and indifferent. Even their voices are different. Miss J is gone now; she succumbed to kidney failure at age 14. That was a brutal loss. We still go weak at the knees when we see a lynx point grey cat with blue eyes. There is an altarpiece on our living room wall with her portrait, painted by my artist husband. She is immortalized.
Then we have Pumpkin, the big orange male that Jeff brought home from the Safeway where a little boy was giving away kittens in a basket. He made eye contact with me when Jeff brought him in the house that first day and my life has never been the same. He is my "boy" and sleeps on my head every night. He is being treated for the same disease that took Miss Joshua's life, but his kidney function is normal now thanks to our wonderful vet.
Grizzly Bear and Monkey Toes came 3 years later to provide companionship for Pumpkin, since Miss J wanted absolutely NOTHING to do with him. Or any other cat or human other than my husband and myself, to be honest. They were litter mates from a cat rescue in Yakima, the offspring of barn cats. We ended up with TWO kittens because we had the pick of the litter, and well, you guessed it...my husband picked one and I picked another. Oh well. It turned out to be a blessing because when you bring two kittens home they console each other and you don't get crying all night.
After we lost Miss Joshua, Jeff was eager to bring another cat into our household, but I wasn't ready for nearly 2 years. It was still painful when an acquaintance of mine rescued some kittens and asked me to come over for a look at them. There was an orange one, she said, knowing how much we loved Pumpkin. "I'll look," I said, but I won't promise anything. After seeing Little Orange, I put the carrier down on the floor to let him get used to it before we had to drive back home. His brother, a little black kitten, crawled into the carrier and plastered himself up against the back of it, and REFUSED to come out. He wanted a home, damn it, and he had decided it was going to be mine. I wondered, "Am I supposed to have this one too?" So home with me they both went, and when I opened the carrier the Little Orange popped out, my husband said, "Oh! He's cute!" Then little Blackie tentatively stuck out a paw. "There's another one!" I wish I had thought to say, "How did that happen?" But I just said, "Yes, there is. And if you don't want to keep him, he can go back." Blackie wrapped both front paws around my husband's outstretched hand and proceeded to lick it like a dog. He was working it big time. My husband responded, "Oh, we can keep this one too." Who says cats aren't smart!? That marked the arrival of Howard Pyle (after the American painter) and Alphonse Mucha (after the Czech painter living and working in Paris), better known these days as Howie and Alphie.
These five creatures have become such an integral part of our lives (just as Jenny and Joey did) that I cannot imagine daily existence without them. I know some pet owners may consider their pets more like a possession. I do not share their view. I wish that people who felt that way would not have pets at all. I respect that some people, for whatever reason, do not like animals, and don't want to share their lives with any. I respect (and identify with) those who love animals and couldn't imagine living without them. I do NOT understand people who straddle that fence. In addition, I might add that the people who treat the animal like a possession probably take better care of their other belongings (their car, their cell phone, laptop, etc.) than they do the pet. Perhaps not. In my family there is a tradition of not being able to keep up with one's possessions, but that may not be the norm. But let me just say, owning an animal is a commitment. You don't leave it when you move, thinking it will find a new home. Jenny did, but she was an amazing dog. Many others would just starve. Joey would have; she did not trust strangers. When they both went missing for two weeks when someone opened the back gate of our yard, she camped out under a parked boat the entire time. Jenny, on the other hand, had already found her "next" home. I felt guilty making her come back with us. You don't refuse it medical attention when it needs it. You treat it with dignity and respect. It is a living thing, and you, as its owner, like it or not, have accepted responsibility for its well-being. You have it spayed or neutered, because there are so many unwanted dogs and cats that are already being gassed by the thousands every day because it's either too much trouble or too much expense for someone to bother having a pet fixed so it cannot reproduce. I don't care if you live out in the country or in the city; it doesn't matter. Both places have their unique dangers to domestic animals, in the city it is being hit by cars. Which brings me to my main point....
Pets are DOMESTICATED animals. They are not wild. Dogs and cats both like to run and play outside. Of course they do. But those of us who live in areas with dangerous predators, as we in the Northwest do, are responsible for our pets' safety. Domesticated animals cannot defend themselves like a wild animal can, and why would we demand that of them in the first place?? It is unfair. I wish I had a dollar to donate to the animal shelter for every time since I have moved out West that I have been talking to someone about their dog, or more often, cat that they "used to have" before something "got it." Meaning the poor creature became food or a plaything to a wild animal, be it a cougar, bird of prey, raccoon (yes, I said raccoon), or coyote. At best it is selfish denial to allow this, at worst, it is inhumane. We are not at our best as a race to allow an innocent creature who relies on us for its care to suffer. As I speak, I am thinking of a couple who live in our neighborhood; who are very nice, intelligent, educated people. They are wildlife biologists who work with a non-profit foundation that is trying to learn more about and conserve the wild snow leopards. That said, they put their pet cats outside. Last time we spoke, they had lost one to an unknown wild animal, probably coyote. Perhaps their thinking is that the domesticated cat is like the wild cat, and to keep it indoors is cruel? This is not true, as any veterinarian will tell you. Cats are perfectly happy to live indoors if you engage them enough. And even if you have a cat who really, really wants to go outside (like some do), think of it in the same way as you do your toddler. They might want to go play outside too but do you let them? Use your brains people! I just received word of a beautiful cat who lost her life in this way because the owner was in denial about the dangers of letting her go outside despite knowing better. I know that for some it's the issue of a litterbox in the house. For God's sake, then put the litterbox in the garage with a cat flap. Or in the basement. Or DON'T HAVE A CAT.
It is perhaps most tragic that the person who brought my Howard and Alphie into my life is the same person whose own cat was just killed in this way. Such is the paradox of this life... Please, you animal lovers out there, pass this message along, donate to your local animal shelter, and be a responsible pet owner.
In memory of Bernie, Fritzi, Chloe, Roachie, Tic-Tac, Winter and countless others...