Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Quadruped Kids

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A tale of two Daisies -- and one Red....

In 1992, with my landlord's permission, I cat-sat for a coworker. My furry guests tore around my apartment, ripped my shower curtain liner, and challenged me in a contest of wills for a week. After they had gone I asked my landlord if we could change my lease so that I could get a cat.

I'd grown up with cats from the time I was six. At one point more than 20 of them lived in our back yard in Brooklyn. Several litters had been born and suckled in my old baby buggy, kept in a storage space beneath the back porch. None had been house cats, but the neighborhood strays knew that they could come over for a square meal.

Shep, the dog next door, knew which ones were "ours" and held his tongue, barking at those who didn't frequent the other side of his chainlink fence. He once quasi-adopted a stray kitten that had wriggled through one of the links into his yard.

(Shep was a genius dog. If you threw something and yelled, "Kosher!" he bounded after it like a maniac. If you yelled, "Trayf!" he just sat there and looked at you. But I digress....)

When I was 11 a neighbor was giving away some kittens, and my parents decided to get a housecat. I would choose which kitten came home with us. Whoever it was, it had to choose me.

Most of the kittens were preoccupied with each other, but the runt of the litter struggled away from the others when I knelt at the other end of our neighbor's hallway. She fought to get to me. By the time she reached me I was hers. Daisy had been my companion and confidante for seven years until feline leukemia claimed her. An indoor-outdoor cat, she had been to the vet only once, to be spayed.

Decades later, armed with an amended lease, I told myself I was going to (a) go to a shelter and, (b) get an adult cat. No hyperactive kittens. Someone who knew the ropes, someone less adoptable because he or she was older. I would stop at the pet store to get supplies: carry case, cat food, litter, toys. Then I'd set off for the Animal Rescue League in Boston.

At the end of the day in July 1992 I rushed out of my office and got to the store five minutes before closing time. The proprietor told me, "We have kittens in the back."

I gracefully declined and explained to her my intent.

Then one of the kittens meowed, loudly, from behind closed Dutch doors. Daisy's voice. My body tensed. She meowed again.

I mumbled, "Maybe I'll take a look."

The proprietor opened the doors. Kittens in cages wrestled with each other, consumed in play and oblivious to our presence, except for one. That one stood her ground at the front of the cage she shared with her rambunctious litter-mates, stared me straight in the eye, and meowed her heart out.

I looked at her, blinking back tears, and managed to choke, "I think you're trying to tell me something."

Same white fur with tawny markings. Same solidly tawny tail. Same voice. In that moment she became Daisy II and I became hers. The cab I took home that day was loaded to the gills with cat paraphernalia, an ecstatic 12-week-old kitty, and an equally besotted biped.

Daisy I (top), Daisy II (bottom)Posted by Picasa

The pet shop proprietor's husband was a veterinarian, to whom I brought Daisy II and then Red every year, until Mary and I moved here and presented the cats with bigger territory. (We are now within walking distance of the local animal clinic; Red has his annual checkup in a few hours.)

Daisy II (now just "Daisy") enjoyed being an only cat but was obviously lonely. In December 1992 Red became her holiday present. I'd never met an "orange cat" who wasn't absolutely sweet, and I wanted someone with a laid-back temperament to complement Daisy's highly nurturant but unmistakably diva personality.

This time I went to the Animal Rescue League. Any visit to a shelter is heartbreaking -- so many clamoring for a home, for love, for a few minutes out of the cage. The cat next to Red's strained against the bars. Red just sat quietly in his own cage, looking sad. He was eight months old, which would make him born the same month Daisy had been. He'd been at the shelter for two weeks.

When he saw me he stepped up calmly to the front of his cage. I leaned in close. He looked at me soulfully, then slowly extended his paw between the bars and laid it, his untrimmed claws completely retracted, against my cheek. I knew then that I had found a companion for my diva. Predominantly tawny with white markings, he could be mistaken for her litter-mate.

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My apartment at the time had a shotgun hallway with enough doors to close part of it off. I restricted Daisy to one end of the apartment, set up Red in the other, and turned the closable section of hallway into "the neutral zone." For three days each cat took turns in the neutral zone to learn each other's scent. Every chance she got, Daisy hissed at Red from the other side of whatever closed door separated them. Whenever I was with one cat the other one called me, and I spent sleepless nights shuffling between Daisy on the bed and Red on the sleeper couch.

At some point Daisy scooted past my legs into Red's end of the apartment and hissed a blue streak. He took one look at her and flopped onto his back. In a moment they were best buddies, chasing each other up and down the hallway. (Mary calls it "swapping engine and caboose.")

They are now 13-1/2 years old and still look out for each other, numerous adventures (and some frightening bits) later.


Blogger twila said...

(lump in my throat) Now, this is just what I mean when I say something must be wrong with me for not loving animals enough. I read this and think, "maybe there's a cat or small dog out there who is just for me." Yet, I've tried 3 times (2 dogs - although they weren't small, and 1 cat, who helped me raise my kids and was a great pet, but still I never lost my heart to him)

Is there hope for me?

9:57 AM  

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