Growing up, I had cats and dogs for company. I got my first house cat when I was in preschool. He was a little black and white cat that I named Tramp, and we brought him home in a birdcage because we didn’t have a pet carrier. One of Tramp’s favorite past-times was sitting atop his scratching post and waiting for someone (namely me, since I was about the height of his scratching post) to walk by so he could jump on their head and go for a ride. When he got a little older, he did the same trick from the top of doorframes.
Over the years, I had many cats, both indoor ones and outdoor ones. My mom, however, has always been more of a dog person, so we had beagles, strays, random mixes, a Lhasa Apso and eventually, Shih-Tzus. While I love animals of all kinds, I’ve always been more comfortable with cats – they typically use their litter box without any fuss, they don’t wake you for walks in the middle of the night, they sleep as much as they want (which I envy them for), and most cats can stay home by themselves during their human’s short weekend trips out of town.
Dogs are needier. They need to be walked several times a day. They aren’t good about rationing their food to last for several days. They chew, they bark, and the bigger they are, the more they drool. I’ve never had a cat chew up an important phone number or eat a book cover, but I’ve had dogs who relished those things.
My first Shih-Tzu was named Max, and he was almost perfect. He was smart, cuddly, well behaved, and just playful enough. He always let us know when he needed to go outside. When I was in school, he’d wait for me to let him out when I got home. Max even picked up his toys and put them in his bed so they wouldn’t be scattered all over the house. Even my grandmother, who wasn’t a pet person, liked him.
Max and I would stay with Meme during summer break while my mother was at work, and when Meme started cleaning, Max knew that his favorite time of day was coming. He would lie in the floor and wait for her to start sweeping. She would always give him a good sweep, which he seemed to consider an excellent treat. After he was swept, he would get his sock toy and want me to drag him around the house on his belly. He looked like a little dust mop with his white fur flying out behind him.
We got Missy the grumpy Lhasa Apso a few years after we got Max. She was full of personality and loved my mom and me, but other than that, she was antisocial. She didn’t want to go visiting, and when we had friends over, Missy had a horrible day growling every time the “intruder” took a step. Where Max would flop in a stranger’s lap and want a belly rub, Missy sat under the computer desk making snappish growls and discouraging guests from getting off the couch.
While I was in college, I added a cat named Andy to Max and Missy’s pair. He and the dogs mostly ignored one another, but for the first time, I felt like Andy was really my own pet. My mom and I shared Max and Missy, and they would snuggle and play with either of us, but while I was away at school, they seemed to bond more closely with Mom. Andy, on the other hand, was always anxious to see me because I was “his” girl.
When it came time for me to move away to an apartment, I took my cats rather than any dogs. The cats wouldn’t demand a 3 a.m. trip outside and down three flights of stairs. They wouldn’t chew on my books if I left them in the floor, and if I wanted to take a quick trip out of town for the weekend, I could leave them at home in my apartment with no worries about them starving or making a serious mess. When I took a longer trip to attend a weeklong conference, I had a friend stop by and refill their bowls and scoop their litter every few days. They were perfect apartment companions.
My cats have even stayed by themselves while I went out of the country for weeks or months. I just had my mom come by to check on them regularly and keep them in a constant supply of cat food and clean litter. Dogs couldn’t do that; they’d get bored and chew the house to pieces.
A few years ago, my husband decided he needs a hunting dog. We didn’t have a fenced yard, or even a dog pen, but that didn’t matter because he informed me that the dog will hunt better if it stays in the house with us. If I were to get a housedog, I would bring “my” Shih-Tzu Sally home from my mom’s house. She’s small, compact, and about as catlike as a dog needs to be, but according to the laws of men who hunt, Sally isn’t a real dog. Since we already have four cats, a small, furry dog would automatically fall under the cat category, and according to Chris, we don’t need another cat. Dogs – more specifically BIG dogs – are acceptable according to the “rules.”
I ruled out mastiffs, Irish wolfhounds, coon dogs, and labs – too drooly, too huge, too loud, and too hyper. Apparently, magazines say that standard poodles are the newest “in” hunting dog, and my mom just happens to have a pair of standard poodles. Chris called dibs on one of their puppies, and we named her Clover.
I don’t know much about standard poodles, but having a dog trained to hunt and retrieve in the house with my cats is a little disconcerting. Of course, Clover doesn’t hunt now that we got her. Sometimes she doesn’t even remember her own name.
Standards are supposedly very smart and easy to house train, but after years of having only cats, adding a dog into the equation complicates things. No matter how smart Clover may or may not be, she never will be as low maintenance as cats. We can’t just go off and leave the her and the cats home alone for the weekend.
Clover isn’t easily portable like a small dog either. I’m used to putting the cats in their carriers and being ready to go. A big poodle is sort of like transporting a miniature horse. If we go on vacation, we can’t simply have somebody come by to check on the animals every few days. Clover needs to go outside and run, and run, and run – or else she starts systematically tearing things up. If she can reach my stuffed bears, those are her favorites, but she doesn’t mind knocking things off countertops and ripping into her own bag of treats.
I’m not sure why a big dog strikes me as so much more trouble than a small dog or a cat, but in my mind, a dog is going to require a lifestyle change. I’m not used to hunting dogs, and the ones I know are almost exclusively outdoor dogs who live in fenced yards and kennels. We have a fence but it has no gates, and I don’t want my furniture gnawed or peed on by a bored dog.
Sometimes I wonder if we couldn’t have just gotten another cat – or maybe a catlike dog? I know how to handle them!
I know a lot of people aren’t “pet people,” but I don’t know what I would do without “fur-kids.” When I was little, we had dogs and barn cats. Somehow, the standoffish cats at the barn appealed more to me than the excitable dogs that barked and growled at strangers.
As soon as I found out there was a new litter of kittens, I slipped under pallets, between hay bales and even under a bush hog to cuddle the newborn balls of fur. They didn’t always appreciate my dragging them out of their nest, but playing with the kittens was one of my favorite things.
One day when my grandfather and I went on a walk, two grey tabbies followed us home. We put out a bowl of food, and they stayed. The two sisters were identical except for their eyes: Mew had brown eyes, while Purr’s were green. They started out as carport cats until some feline spat drove Purr down the road to live in my grandparent’s garage. I lost track of how many litters they each produced, and later, their children produced their own kittens. I’m sure we helped populate half the county with free kittens.
When more than one mother had kittens in close proximity, I took it upon myself to try to keep the kittens divvied up between the correct mothers. Whether it was a case of curious kittens or jealous mothers, it never ceased to disturb me to return home and find the kittens with the wrong mothers. Perhaps I was a bit obsessive as a child, but I had to be sure the kittens were properly sorted before I could sleep at night.
Eventually, we got the kitten population under control through generous donations of mousers to stables, barns and anyone who wanted a kitten, and instead of spending my time dividing the kittens into their original litters, we were free from cats for awhile, except for Mew and Purr and a few of their children, who were particularly nice or pretty. We had some cuddly indoor lap dogs, but cats have always been my favorites.
When I was in college, someone I worked with found a black kitten coated in sap or tar and asked me if I wanted to take him. After getting him cleaned up, which included having his back shaved, I took the motley kitty home with me. He looked so ragged that I named him Andy, after Raggedy Ann’s brother. He nestled in my hair and slept under the covers with me, and when I had to go back to school, he listened while I talked to him on the phone. We also had an understanding that if I told him, I’d “be home Wednesday” he would start looking for me at the windows a day or two before I came home, even if I wasn’t on Wednesday.
By some genetic fluke Mew and Purr, who were both long-tailed mousers, both had Manx kittens. The Manx breed is known for cats with round heads, rabbit-like back legs, and tails that are either short and stumpy or missing altogether. Ever since meeting my first Manx kitten, I’ve had a fondness for them, and when our last Manx cat succumbed to old age, my mother found me a new Manx kitten to keep Andy company. Christabelle has been my constant companion ever since.
When my friend Laurel mentioned that no cat she has ever adopted would sleep in bed with her, it surprised me because almost all of my indoor kitties have been cuddlers – sometimes even bed hogs! When Christabelle gets cold, she sometimes will burrow under the cover with me, and if she can’t get under the cover, she curls up in a tight ball on my pillow, right above my head. Something is wrong if a cat or two doesn’t walk on me during the night or cuddle with me while I sleep.
Now that Andy is gone, Stryker is my only boy cat, and for some reason, he is the most loving when he knows that I’m upset. If I’m crying, he’ll walk across me and will lie on the bed or couch near me, purring, just to let me know that he’s there.
I’ve never understood how people can’t love an animal. Even if it’s not cats or dogs, horses, guinea pigs, rabbits, etc. can all be loving pets. When people don’t make sense, or I’ve had a bad day, my fur-kids are always there. They may demand food and plenty of attention, but they never yell, lie, complain or judge. They never get angry that you didn’t do things their way, and their only deadlines are making sure they have full bowls, clean litter boxes or a walk, and cuddle time.
Whether I’ve been gone for an hour, a day, or a whole vacation, my fur-kids are happy to see me. My favorite time of day is when Christabelle and Spike greet me at the door and Snowbird pokes her furry nose through the stair rail for me to pet her.
So what that I have cat hair on my furniture and a few claw snags on the bedspread? Those things can be vacuumed or replaced, but the unconditional love of a pet is irreplaceable. If we had room for a well-trained dog, I’m sure I’d feel the same way. I know I have the same feelings about my mom’s dogs when I “borrow” them for cuddles and puppy kisses. It may not be true for everyone, but for me, life without pets would simply be too cold.
Would you mind topping off my food?
I always said I’d never marry a man who didn’t like cats, and I got very lucky in that respect after I met Chris. Not only did he like my cats, he had one of his own back in Kansas where he grew up. I’ve known people who gave up their pets when they got married, had children, or moved, but I couldn’t do that. My cats are like my children, and if someone who claimed to want to spend the rest of his life with me didn’t like them, I would have had to seriously reconsider our relationship.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to do that. Chris loves cats almost as much as I do. When we first met, I was taking care of a sick kitten named Katerina, and while we were watching a movie together, she peed on both of us. Chris didn’t yell at her or get angry, like many people would have; he simply tossed his shirt in the washing machine, and we resumed our movie with Katerina bundled in a towel.
We have four cats now, and somehow, they have been divided into “his and hers” cats. Christabelle is my Manx that I’ve had since before we met. Chris had a cat named Spike when he lived in Kansas, and after we started dating, I adopted Stryker – who is named after the vehicle Chris’ army unit drove around in Iraq. Christabelle is a social kitty, and when Katerina became too sick for me to make her better, Christabelle melted into a state of social abandonment. Stryker came along soon after. He is her adopted brother and her best friend. Since Chris came home from the army, Stryker has followed him around almost constantly; I think he’s always wanted a male role model.
After Chris and I had been married for about a year, one of his younger sisters got married. Chris was deployed at the time, so I drove to Kansas for the wedding. One of the stipulations was that if I went, I had to bring Spike home with me. She was an indoor/outdoor cat, and Chris worried about her. I’ve always jokingly accused him of considering Spike his “other woman.” He dotes on her, and she’s just the slightest bit spoiled by his affection. When it was time to come home from the wedding, however, I put Spike in the pet carrier, and she rode happily with me all the way back to Tennessee.
Being used to ruling the roost in her former home, Spike found Christabelle and Stryker to be a bit of a shock. Neither of them likes being bossed around, and Spike wasn’t used to other cats that didn’t clear the way for her. She staked out her territory under the bed for three months until she finally got settled enough to make her intentions known so the others would get out of her way when she wanted food, attention, or toys.
According to Chris, Spike had several litters of babies, all of which contained at least one annoying orange kitten. Since Stryker is orange and white and Spike still dislikes him after four and a half years, Chris attributes her animosity to Stryker’s orange fur. Unfortunately for Stryker, he never can stay out her way, and since she’s still very much Chris’ cat, she gets jealous very easily if she even thinks someone will come between her and her daddy.
Even though I was the one who adopted Stryker, and Chris didn’t meet him for over a year, we still consider him “our” cat. That all worked out fine until Stryker decided that he had missed having a male role model around all the time that Chris was away. Now, he’s a complete daddy’s boy, and he follows his daddy around everywhere. One of Stryker’s favorite things is to sit beside the sink and watch Chris shave and get ready in the morning. When Chris is done, Stryker gets in the sink with the water running and plays, almost like he wants to imitate his favorite human.
Our fourth kitty is named Snowbird, and she’s a more recent addition to the family. We didn’t exactly mean to get her. We only meant to do a favor for someone who works for a pet resuce, but that resulted in us bringing her home forever.
Snowbird once belonged to someone whose family had allergies. The story goes that she was rented out with her former family’s house, and when no one else was available to take care of her, she wound up at the vet on her way to a foster home. Even though Chris and I had three cats already, a family friend called to see if we wanted another cat. Sight unseen, we said we had our hands full with the ones we had.
The next day we got another call, just to see if we could pick her up at the vet and take her to the foster home. When we saw how pretty she was (she’s a Birman) and heard her sweet little mew, we knew she needed a forever home, so we told our friend to forget about arranging the foster home. Snowbird was coming home with us.
For the first month, she was on medicine for a skin allergy, and she hated coming near us because we had to force her medicine down her. Once her prescription ran out, she gradually started coming out from under the couch, and eventually, she decided she liked napping by the fireplace. The dry heat must have felt good on her itchy skin because she started running every time she heard the fire starting. Nowadays, she’s usually near by, just waiting for some attention – and maybe a bowl of tuna since she refuses to eat cat treats.
It’s great to have someone with whom to share my love of animals. If my husband hadn’t been an animal lover too, that most definitely would have been a deal breaker. Even though we don’t have any kids yet, our fur-babies are just as important as human kids. Just because they are furry and don’t speak your language doesn’t mean that they don’t give and receive love just as well as a person.