The Dangers Of Reading The Newspaper
My wife Janet is a wonderful woman, loving and supportive, but she has a fatal weakness. She can't say no to anyone who is trying to give us a cat, and in the past has been known to read the classifieds in the newspaper looking for those "free to a good home" advertisements. Since our marriage, this has at times caused a few discussions among us about the value of constraint, and is the primary reason we do not take the daily paper anymore at my house. The newspaper leads directly to the adoption of new cats.
In 1994, about seven years ago and before we were married, Janet read an advertisement in the classifieds about a tuxedo domestic short hair, about three months old, which was being given up for adoption by her owners. The reason she was being given up was because she was "too energetic" (read as a curtain-climbing little hellion). Janet's oldest son was moving out of the house and she wanted to give him a cat as a house-warming present, so off she went to gather the cat.
Although the cat was attractive, she was not cute. Cute implies a certain kind of perky personality, and she did not fit onto those parameters in any way, shape or form. She was a Siamese mix of some sort, and her first mission upon arriving at the house was to inform the two males, Fuzzbutt and Nightshade, that she was now the boss. She did this by attacking both of them despite the fact that they were both considerably larger than her. She marched around her new home as if she was a general on inspection, and finally signified her approval by plopping down on the rocker in front of the patio windows.
Janet's son, Damien, named her Ember. He moved out of the house and took Ember with him a few days after she had arrived, which suited me and the other cats in the house just fine. Ember was too aggressive to be a good pet, and I was glad to see the end of her.
At this point in my life, you must understand that I was not an animal person, and didn't particularly like cats. I tolerated Janet's boys because we mostly left each other alone, but I had no desire to become a pet owner. I barely had the ability to keep myself afloat. I had no intent of becoming responsible for another living being, not even a plant.
Three months after Damien moved out of his mother's house, he ran into some financial trouble and asked to move back home. Janet agreed, and back he came with his belongings and his cat Ember. He got a job working out of town for a few weeks, so he left Ember to the care of his mother and went off to work. While Janet was providing the primary care of Ember, I found myself becoming interested in her behavior and her personality even though I hated her name and swore that I disliked cats. Slowly, I was becoming hooked.
Ember proved to be more irresistible than I originally imagined. She was not a lap cat, but she was aggressive when she decided that she wanted attention. And she seemed to have decided that I was the one who should give her the attention she desired. Everywhere I went she followed, and whenever I was sitting and trying to read, she butted her head against my book to demand my attention. And I slowly found myself coming to like her attention. This was a warning sign that I completely ignored.
About this time, I had gone back to work at a nightclub as a disc jockey and bouncer, and this particular night had been difficult. The area I worked was a two-block section of bars and nightclubs, and frequently we had to deal with incredibly intoxicated people displaying aggressive behavior. In addition to the normal incidents, that night there had been a rather large fistfight between multiple participants that had spilled out into the street, and I had spent the hours after work filling out police reports and identifying people to be placed under arrest. By the time I got home, it was six in the morning and I was still trying to unwind from the adrenaline rush and the coffee buzz.
My favorite way to unwind after work was to watch one of the Humphrey Bogart movies I have on videotape. That night, I decided to treat myself to the classic To Have and Have Not, featuring Bogie and his last wife, Lauren Bacall. There is a scene in the movie that almost everyone, even those who are not fans of Bogart, knows. Bacall's character, Marie Browning but called Slim, has a talk with Bogie's character, Harry Morgan, whom she calls Steve. They banter a bit, playing off the obvious sexual tension in the scene, and Slim leaves the room, but not before saying, "You know, Steve, You don't have to act with me. You don't have to do anything or say anything. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you Steve? Just put your lips together and blow." After she has left the room, Bogart - and almost every time I watch the movie I play along - gives what used to be called a wolf whistle. This time, Ember was sitting next to me on the couch, and her ears perked up when the whistle came, and she jumped into my lap and became affectionate.
It was then that I changed her name to Bacall and decided that
she was my cat.
She's sitting on my shoulder as I type this, and my wife refers to herself as the other woman because, in Bacall's mind, I am not married to Janet but to Bacall. She is the only cat who is allowed to perch on my shoulder like a parrot, and is the only cat that can get under the covers with me when I am in bed. I am not to be shared with any of the other cats in the house, including her own offspring, and she seems to think that these demands on her part are quite reasonable. I, of course, agree completely because I am enchanted by this wonderful feline who has more attitude than Ollie North. She fits my personality so well that I think we were destined to meet and become companions.
Our life together has been quite eventful. Since she was just over nine months old and I stole her from Damien - a fact that he never lets me forget - I knew that I would have to have her spayed soon but was barely making it on my salary. I was living in the house of friends, paying them a token rent, and trying to catch up the back rent I owed to another landlord so that I could start to save and find my own apartment. As a result, I did the stupid thing and decided that having Bacall spayed could wait for a little while. About two weeks after this decision, she had her first heat and was impregnated by one of Janet's cats, and a scant 64 days later we had four beautiful kittens. Two of the cats are now grown up and live with us. Their names are Steve (named after Bogie's character from the movie) and Frost, and they have been with mom their entire lives. The father of the cats, Fuzzbutt, also lived with us until his death in August of 2000. We found proper homes for the other two cats and then sent Fuzzbutt - the only intact male in the house old enough to breed - in to get neutered. And that, I thought, was the end of Bacall's birthing days.
The day finally came in 1995 when I was able to move into a house with a roommate, and Bacall and Steve came with me. It was my intention to keep them as inside cats, but my roommate Ryan constantly let the cats out of the house while I wasn't there. One time, Bacall didn't come home for three days. I about drove myself nuts with worry and nearly hospitalized Ryan. When she did come home, I told Ryan that if she was pregnant that he would be responsible for the kittens. A little over two months later, she had three kittens, one of which died from complications arising from birth and two that live with Ryan to this day. After she was done nursing, Bacall finally got spayed, and I made Ryan neuter Spenser and Lazarus before he could take them.
That was the same year that Janet's husband left her, and she came to live with me briefly before we decided to find a house together. Between the two of us, we had only four cats at the time and were looking for a house big enough so that all of us - Janet, her two sons and me - could have our own bedrooms. We settled for something a little smaller, but it was a good place to live. While we were there, the process slowly began of us taking in strays - especially wounded ones - and rehabilitating them and finding them new homes. Once we had a house full of 14 kittens and 18 cats; altogether we have handled 158 that have been cleaned up, rehabilitated, spayed or neutered and found new homes. While we worked with the cats, we fell in love and eventually married. This constant change should have confused our six cats (we gained some more cats over the years), but it didn't. They know visitors when they see them.
Bacall was, and still considers herself to be, the alpha female cat in the house. She has a perpetual look of disdain for the new arrivals, and generally doesn't socialize with the other cats in the house. Her favorite perch is atop a bookcase in the living room near the computer where she can lord over the scene below and vocalize her edicts. She has her own water and food dishes - a fact that no other cat in the house can claim - and has been known to snub the litter box if another cat has recently used it. She is one of a kind, and all mine.
There was a time about three years ago when I was taking radiation treatments for cancer. All the other cats in the house avoided me; it was almost as if they knew I was sick. Bacall stayed with me the three days I was in bed recuperating from that treatment. She always greets me when I come home, even when I am gone only long enough to check the mail. She gives me total and unconditional love and acceptance, something that I had never experienced before her. And, most importantly, she opened my eyes to a world where I can make a difference by helping in my own small way with the plight of the homeless companion animals in the United States.
We've been together nearly seven years now, and I know that
one day she'll come to me and let me know that it's time for her
to go. She doesn't move as quickly as she used to, and she isn't
as likely to start a fight with the other females in the house.
But she still sleeps with me, and she still won't let the others
sit on my lap. She's still mine, and I'm still hers. That's the
way she'll always be remembered: my first cat, and maybe even my
Brian Baker is a writer and animal rights proponent. He has been published locally and nationally, most notably in Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul. Currently, Baker spends his time working with a local organization (www.safehavenforpets.org) that not only operates a shelter for animals but also does extensive work with feral cats. To exchange correspondence with the author, write to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.