My life with animals began with my very first pet, a sweet little silver cat named Sashi. Over time, I grew to enjoy having both cats and dogs in my life, but as time passed, I slowly evolved into a dog person.
Several reasons come to mind, the most significant of which is that I feel bad for them. Mine reside indoors only, thanks in part to the proximity of the Long Island Expressway, and also thanks to the feral, disease ridden cat colony that my neighbor is harboring. While her felines are free to hunt and play, mine are prisoners, with little to do besides stare out the window at a world they never get to interact with, living lives as unfulfilling as a goldfish in a bowl.
While my cats watch on, my dogs are ushered out to play with us in the yard. We take them for walks and to obedience school. They have gone on hikes, and have felt the sand between their paws, the sun upon their backs. When I consider their lives, I believe that Nick and I have enriched theirs as much as they’ve enriched ours. I can’t say the same for the cats, for all the purrs and amusement they provide us with, they get nothing in return.
I don’t want pets anymore, I want companions.
Lately, I have felt so strongly about this, I freely admit that although I love and will always care for the cats I have now, I don’t plan on adding any more to my life. Maybe if I had a farm, where my cats could follow their true natures, roaming through fields, breathing fresh air, and enjoying a good skewered rodent from time to time, then I’d consider a cat. But as of right now, Cinder and Mew will be our last.
So in light of all my speeches about becoming a dog person, I think one of my cats has begun to worry (unnecessarily) about his fate, and has determined that he better join the pack, or he might be sent packing. The cat of which I speak is Cinder, a special little cat, who most likely was spawned from the same feral cat colony that now keeps him contained. Some of you already know the story of how he entered our lives, but here is a brief recount for those who don’t:
Unbeknownst to us, in the throes of a severe winter, a feral kitten wandered into our outside entrance basement when the door was ajar, and remained locked inside for several days, with no food, no water, and no heat. He wailed for help, his pitiful voice drawing me outside several times a day, but each time I searched my yard for a cat in peril, I returned to the house empty handed. During our annual New Year’s Eve gathering, a friend pointed out that the meowing that continued to leave me stumped, might be originating from our basement.
Sure enough, upon inspection I found signs of a cat next to my washer, and later that night when food did not draw him out, Nick and I flushed him from his hiding spot and began chasing him around the basement, attempting to trap him under an empty laundry basket. In response to our failing efforts, the terrified animal climbed straight up the wall and dove headfirst into the cinderblocks. He got stuck several feet down – wedged behind our oil tank. Familiar with the amazing animal rescue accounts you often see on television, we called several groups for help, begging for assistance. Perhaps they had all partied too hard the night before to become involved, because all of them turned us down.
More shockingly, a certain ‘humane’ organization advised Nick to stick a hose down the wall and drown the cat, adding that he should then cover the body with lime – to prevent any odors from wafting up into the house.
Determined, Nick spent most of the night inside the frigid basement with a hammer and chisel, at one point giving over to tears because the cat had stopped crying and he presumed it had died. Having been the one to chase the cat into the corner where it made its unwise decision, Nick blamed himself for its death. Unwilling to leave its tiny remains in our wall, he continued with his quest, finally tearing the skin from his hands while shoving them through the icy, jagged hole and extracting a limp, frighteningly cold, little form.
But the little guy was still alive.
Exhausted, we rushed the lifeless creature to the emergency vet, where we signed him over as a stray, leaving his fate in their hands – unable to afford another animal at that time. The next morning we relented, paid his tab with credit, and adopted the dehydrated, but presumably healthy, terrified little cat.
Feral kittens are not the fun, sweet, playful imps that most kittens are. They hide inside boxes and stare out at you in sheer terror. They dash away at the slightest movement, and warily snatch mouthfuls of the food you set out to entice them closer, while you sit with them for weeks, whispering to them, and slowly accustoming them to your presence. They come filled with parasites, unable to digest food properly, and nearly die from respiratory infections before you can even teach them what the word ‘love’ truly means.
The result of all that hard work is that you end up with a cat that is bonded to you like no other.
Regardless of the literal blood, sweat, and tears that Nick shed while trying to save this little fellow from death, Cinder decided to attach himself to me. So much so, that sometimes it amazes me. Recently, I took notice that no matter where he is or what he is doing, if I utter his name, he comes running.
I find this amazing, because as much as I love the little guy, he is after all, a cat. A creature who does not go to obedience school, whose behavior is not shaped by treats and toys, and who I often chase away, thanks to his annoying insistence on climbing into my lap the moment it becomes available. With no attempts at behavior modification on my part, his recall is far better than many dogs.
To test his reliability, a few weeks ago Cinder was in the midst of an all out brawl with his ‘sister’ Mew, claws unsheathed and spittle flying. Just as he was about to swat her across the face, I called his name, one time, and he lowered his weapons, turned from his nemesis, and sprang onto my lap.
I’m unsure if his ‘doginess’ is due to the hours I spent reading to him while he cowered in the back of the dog crate that we initially confined him in, or if it is his ploy to fit in with the rest of pack, but Cinder has made it quite clear that despite his species, he will not be ignored. When the dogs gather at the fridge for me to dole out treats, Cinder is always there. As the three dogs plop their buts firmly onto the tiles to earn their rewards, Cinder sidles in beside them, meowing, and insisting that he too deserves a tidbit.
From time to time, he even offers a sit.
At feeding time, he’d rather eat dog food than cat food, leaving his own food unguarded to nuzzle at me and beg for a morsel while I’m measuring it out into the dogs’ bowls. No matter how unhealthy for him, he always convinces me to toss him a kibble or two.
He has even perfected his retrieves – if I throw him a toy mouse, he will race after it, snatch it up, and deposit it at my feet, hoping for another toss. When I take the dogs out to the yard to play with their own toys, he often sits just inside the door, pining to join us, calling to me in a surprisingly loud voice for such a tiny cat, sounding as if he is trying to speak. Nick and I have both heard a convincing “Mom” and every so often he utters a curious “Hello.” As of today, he has yet to say “Woof,” but when that day comes, for some reason, I don’t think I will be all that surprised.