I’m in love with a cat. This revelation is as shocking to me as it is to you, if you’ve known me any length of time. I’ve never been an animal person. Dogs scare me, cats are scratchy, and fish stink. Rodents stink even more. So when asked what my favorite animal is, my reply has always been, “human beings.” And yet here I am, taking pains to care for a small furry creature.
Let me explain how I got here.
The kids have wanted a pet for quite some time. For reasons beyond my dislike of non-human animals, having a pet in our Cambodian row house was out of the question. As soon as we moved back, however, the requests started. It was clear the kids still wanted a pet.
We had to push the question of pet ownership further into the future while we continued living in temporary housing. (We did this for a total of 9 months, which makes me wonder if there’s some sort of birth metaphor hiding inside that number.) During that time, we were stretched thin trying do our jobs while also finding a permanent place to live. The housing search proved to be surprisingly difficult and illustrated to me in real time Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — but more on that in an upcoming post.
Once we moved into our new home, the rumblings began again. Nothing had changed — the children wanted a pet. And the father wanted to get the children a pet. It had been a hard year of loss for the family, he reasoned. Now we had a yard to host the pet in. We weren’t ready for the rigors of a dog (the bathroom duties of dog ownership, the higher costs incurred, and the potential for loud barking being the main reasons).
But he was sure we could handle a cat.
When he pitched the idea to me, I wasn’t sure I had a choice. I knew he was right; after all these years and especially after Last Year, the kids did deserve a pet. All I asked was that the cat not be an inside cat. I didn’t want to do cleanup duty, live in a house that smelled of cat, or manage the incessant furniture scratching. No, he assured me, the cat would stay outside. After all, he said, some of us have cat allergies.
So the non-animal-haters made a plan to visit the Humane Society. I instructed my children to listen to their hearts and choose the pet who was just right for our family. They came back with a half-grown orange-and-white tabby who needed mounds of fattening up. He’d been a stray before the Humane Society found him and cleaned him up. We called him Gryff, after the House of Gryffindor.
I didn’t love him right away, but I thought he was pretty cute, and I was glad the kids were so happy with him. Then the Snowpocalypse came to Joplin, and I worried about him freezing to death in the garage. I could not let this little kitty die in the cold! My children loved him too much. And I loved seeing them so happy. I drove to the store in the rain, just before it turned to ice, and bought him a carrier. That way he could sleep in the house without getting his dander all over it.
We lived this way for two weeks, because that’s how long it took before the snow melted and the temps inched above freezing at night. Now he’s back to the garage and the yard. I love watching him prowl around, play with crickets or catnip, or just lounge in the sun. I love watching my children cuddle him. Playing with the cat is a great stress reducer around here.
I guess we are cat people. I never thought I’d say that.
Gryff is still young, and sometimes he’s strange. Sometimes we call him our dog-cat. In the beginning he would follow Jonathan around like a dog. He even ran like a dog. He also had a tendency to run away and get lost. It’s normal for cats to disappear and come back later, and Gryff often left through an opening in the fence and came back. But once he didn’t come back before dark.
We went looking for him and found him in a neighbor’s yard. He’d jumped the fence into their yard but couldn’t figure out how to get back in to ours. Another time he disappeared for two days. After the first day, we got worried. I walked the neighborhood, talking to strangers and asking about our cat. No one had seen any sign of our cat. I walked the streets so long I got a sunburn.
I agonized over this situation. After everything our kids had been through this year, after all the loss they’d endured, getting this cat was supposed to be a way of healing their hearts. To think they might lose him too?? It was too much to bear. Some of us cried. Some of us prayed. For a cat.
I missed how alive the yard felt with Gryff in it. I couldn’t believe how empty it felt without him, after just a few short weeks in the family. Eventually another cat owner noticed him hanging around their house and found our information on his collar. Late one night, after we figured we would never see him again (after all he was still a kitten, perhaps not quite grown enough to figure out how to come home), a neighbor rang the doorbell and returned him. We were so happy. But we learned that no one really ever owns a cat. Not really.
Then one day just after breakfast he disappeared again. I didn’t worry quite as much this time, but I still wanted him to return. The next morning I was up early in my office when I heard the mewing. I ran to the back door, and there he was, crying for his breakfast. In that moment, I knew I could relax. Gryff could and would come back. He’d figured out where home was — or at least he’d figured out how to find the place where people feed him canned cat food every morning.
Yes, I know. I can’t believe it either. Somehow this cat sank his claws deep into my heart, and I buy him the tasty wet food. I know I don’t have to. The vet said we don’t have to, that people sometimes give their cats wet food on Sundays or special occasions. But after I watched this cat go bananas for a can of salmon, I decided he needed wet food more than once a week. Maybe every other day. Or maybe, every day? After all, he still needs some fattening up.
My husband laughed at me, the way this cat beguiled me. He never in a million years expected that. But you know what I think about my silly love affair with this cat? I think, at least it taught him how to come Home.