We keep acquiring cats at my house. The tally is currently four but destined to grow, as my youngest daughter frequently asks when she can get a kitten. Most people can just blow off this kind of request, but we’re different. We’re the crazy cat family.
My wife and I each had several cats growing up. My family named cats after spices: Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and my cat Curry, by far the dumbest cat I’ve ever seen. We got him from the neighbors across the street before he was weaned and consequently, the little Siamese guy would sit and suck on your shirt for hours. I once saw him climb to the top of a free-standing ladder in front of a second-story window, stare at his reflection, and begin shifting his bottom for a lunge.
“He’s not going to attack his reflection, is he?” we asked from the driveway.
“Ooooh!” we all said in unison a second later, as he did in fact leap into the glass and fall to the ground, but not on his feet. Most cats master the physics of angular momentum and land on their feet. Not Curry, he must have missed leg and tail day.
When I met my wife, she had recently acquired Figaro, a tabby abandoned in a packing box in a Wal-Mart parking lot. From our first date, it was clear I would play second fiddle to Figaro. He was big — really big — and smart. Many years later, I convinced my wife to let me have a Husky Malamute puppy. She acquiesced, but Figaro wasn’t having it. The puppy took one nip at him and Figaro put five claws across his muzzle. The puppy moved to Grandpa’s house.
For a while, it was just us and Figaro, until The Sophie Monster. The tiny white kitten was a virtual supervillain for the first year of her life. Combine the genius of Professor X, the dexterity of Elastigirl, the fearlessness of Wolverine, and the innocent beauty of Audrey Hepburn, and you get Sophie. A few of Sophie’s greatest hits:
- Climbing under the closed bedroom door.
- Hiding for hours on top of the open bedroom door, or in the dishwasher, the dryer, or the kitchen cabinets.
- Jumping off our second story balcony.
- Knocking glass things from high surfaces, which, we concluded, were a personal affront to her.
She mellowed out in her older years and became renowned for the softest fur ever to grow on a feline. Petting her was almost enough to outweigh the way she would violently claw the trim outside our bedroom door whenever my wife and I locked it.
And she loved Gus, the kitten we brought home after Figaro left us. That was fourteen years ago. Now Gus is the old man, Alpha male. For many years Sophie and Gus were inseparable, often sleeping in a Yin and Yang configuration, probably as a coping method of sorts as we added children to the house at a staggering rate (children are more fun to reproduce than cats, after all). But Sophie faded away, and Gus was left to contend with six humans all on his own. We felt sorry for him.
Surely, he wanted a buddy. Enter the barn-born littermates Bingley and Knightley (yes, a la Jane Austen). Not since Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger have a pair of twins been so different.
And Gus hated them both.
But Knightley would scoot her tiny black frame up to Gus every chance she got. She would sleep on him and he would wake up hissing at her. He would swat at her as she walked by him repeatedly. She’s a persistent little sister to this day, yearning for her big brother’s love. Bingley, on the other hand, only loves two things: our daughter, and being left alone. And he’s huge.
The first time I tried to cut Bingley’s claws ,he made me pay for it. Imagine a mountain lion with zero percent body fat and muscles toned for tearing other lifeforms to pieces. Now, shrink the mountain lion down to twenty pounds, and you have Bingley — he’s even the same color. The second time I tried to cut his claws, I recruited my fourteen-year-old son to help. We joined forces to capture the beast and wrap him in a towel. It only took seven attempts to secure him long enough to cut the front two claws, and that remains one of the hardest things I did that year, with dripping lacerations on a video to prove it.
You might say our crazy cat family status began at that point. If Bingley couldn’t dissuade us, we must have been ready to take on new challenges — such as Dashwood, a polydactyl street fighter who stumbled onto our back deck at midnight one winter evening. We took her in, and almost as quickly took her to the vet to silence her heat induced meeeeyyoooowwwwing that permeated every corner of the house for four long days.
After that, we became Safe Families for Cats. We’ve taken in two so far as temporary placements for families in need. One was a delightful little gem we called Pikachu, or Fu Man Chu, or Tippecanoe (I think her name was Chingu or something). The other was called F.U. — or at least that’s what I called her once we were finally rid of the beast, many weeks later.
So, as I write this, we are at four: three sweet cats, and Gus, the old man who doesn’t care anymore. Well, he cares about being fed, just not about things like staying off the counters, retracting his claws, or being quiet when you lay down the baby.
Last night my wife told me about an acquaintance asking if we could take in two kittens for a month. And we might, it’s still up in the air, but I’ve long since made my peace with a house full of cats. And since I get 50lb bags of cat litter delivered to my door via Amazon, and three older kids to handle the maintenance of litterboxes, there is little stress on me personally.
So when my youngest daughter asks for a kitten, I say, “Sure,” without thinking. Then I add a postscript: “As soon as we sell a million books.”
She doesn’t blink. She just closes her eyes and prays, “God, please let us sell 3 million books, so we can get three kittens.”
I smile. “You could always pray for four kittens, if you want.”
That would be just fine with me.
Postscript: As of Saturday afternoon, we are now foster parents for two temporary placement kittens. God help us.