I’m not a crazy cat lady, but my pets are my “fur-kids”

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.


A tribute to a mouser, er, “snaker”: Missing Miss Purr, the dog-like cat

Purr brightenedMiss Purr thought she was a dog. Even though she grew up around cats and dogs, she seemed to identify more with the other species. She let herself in and out the doggy door, just like the other dogs, and she preferred licking people’s hands to cuddling and purring. Purr spent her days in a dog grooming shop, supervising from her perch on anyone’s shoulder. When she got bored, she would check her humans’ hair for “cooties.”

She learned how to open the screen door, and she would come and go at her leisure, but she made it a point to be present whenever anyone was eating cheese – cheese twists, cheeseburgers, pizza, it didn’t matter; she just wanted cheese. Unfortunately, she was the one and only lactose-intolerant cat I’ve ever met, and even the tiniest taste of cheese or dairy upset her stomach. She begged for it incessantly.

When she was little, she slept in a laundry hamper in my bedroom, but as she got older, she began spending more and more time outside. Eventually, she only came in at night to sleep. I wanted to take her with me when I moved to Mississippi, but I knew she would hate apartment dwelling. Christabelle, my Manx kitten, was much more in touch with her domestic side, and she rarely ventured past the threshold. Purr howled and pounded on the doors whenever she was locked in the house.

Purr was content at my mom’s house with the dogs, going and coming, and then she discovered mousing. As she grew up, she got in touch with that one aspect of her feline personality, and she loved to show off her kills. Sometimes, however, she didn’t quite kill her prey. My mom came home on more than one occasion to a stunned bird sitting in her kitchen or a startled mouse running through the living room. The worst were the snakes. I don’t know how she got them in the doggy door, but mom found two and I discovered a third one behind a cabinet.

One day, I was cleaning, and I saw something peek out from behind the cabinet. It looked like a mouse tail, so I finished my vacuuming and called Chris to come get rid of the mouse at Mom’s house. He pulled the cabinet away from the wall, and we were greeted by an ugly surprise: the three-foot long snake began lashing at us as we moved its hiding place. Chris got a hoe, a bag, and reinforcements to help him remove the snake. I picked a vantage point a safe distance away and let the men handle the wrangling of the serpent. It was less than cooperative, and it didn’t leave in one piece, but that was Purr’s last chance. Either she could go home with me immediately, or she would meet with an “unfortunate accident.”

We took her home, and she did everything in her power to prove to us that she hated being confined indoors, but we didn’t have a doggy door and had no intention of installing one. Where Mom has a fenced yard with a deck that sits 10 feet off the ground, our porch is level with the ground and very inviting to all manner of opossums, raccoons, and squirrels.

For the first time ever, Purr found that she was an exclusively outside cat. Most of the time, she loved her freedom, but from time to time, she would pound on the door or window to see if I had changed my mind yet about installing her doggy door. She played in the yard and rambled far into the woods, but I never saw her go near the street, and she usually came when I called her. Almost weekly, she would bring me a present: a mole one week, a bird the next, and sometimes even a snake.

After awhile, a little black tomcat appointed himself Purr’s new best friend. She had had cat friends before, and her best buddy in the dog grooming shop was a huge orange marmalade cat named Sundance, but Howler was her first wild friend. It took over a year of constant feeding and reassurance before Howler let me pet him, but late last fall, he finally decided he enjoyed attention just as much as Purr.

Howler would leave for weeks at a time, and suddenly he would show up again as if he had never been gone. Purr usually stuck around closely, but during a January snowstorm, she disappeared for three weeks. Following the May floods, Howler came home muddy and thin as a rail after a lengthy absence. I never knew where they went, but they always knew their way home.

During another night of storms, I checked on them both. Purr was curled up in a chair and Howler was finishing the last of the cat food I had put out for them earlier in the day. The storm cleared Sunday morning, and neither was around. When I started to leave home just before noon, I found Purr. She had been hit by a car across the road from my house. It was the first time I ever saw her anywhere near the road. I got her taken care of and buried in my family’s own little pet cemetery, and when I returned home that evening, I found Howler a mere 30 feet away, also struck by a car. It was too dark and stormy to do anything for him right them, and when I got up Monday morning, there was no sign of him.

I’ve never had good luck with indoor-outdoor or exclusively outside cats, but I thought these two were different. I thought Purr, at least, had sense enough not to go near the road. For several years when I was growing up, every Halloween, one of our barn/carport cats got ran over. They were too wild and plentiful to lock in the house, but I have dreaded Halloween ever since. Now, my two furry friends met the same fate on the same day, and I can’t imagine how that “coincidentally” happens.

I know cats tend to run out in front of cars, but it doesn’t hurt to slow down when driving through residential areas – even ones out in the country. They aren’t just animals, to some of us they’re friends and companions. So drive carefully, and be aware – you never know when a cat, dog, or kid might cross the street without looking.