This post is for those who love cats and for those who hate cats. If you have followed my blog, you may already know that we recently adopted a stray kitty, whom we named Autumn, but you may not know the rest of the story.
When I was a child we always had cats, but my husband Lou was a cat hater, as was his father and his father's mother before him. Grandma could be forgiven her prejudice, for she lived next door to an irresponsible cat owner who kept 26 cats. (Legend may or may not have stretched the numbers.) These animals yowled under her windows at night and hissed at her when she stepped out of her door during the day. They put paw prints all over the hood of her car. Worst of all, they killed small creatures and left decomposing body parts scattered across her front lawn. Grandma told the tales, and the hate was passed through the generations, as hate so often is.
When Lou and I were first married, we lived in a small urban apartment, only steps from a busy street. One icy winter night we heard a piteous cry outside. Lou opened the door, and there was a gray kitten, cold and hungry. It is one thing to hate cats in theory, but it is another to be confronted with a helpless creature in need.
I was reading a book on the other side of the room when Lou brought the animal inside.
"Do you think it would like some warm milk?" he asked.
"Oh, I think so." I was hiding a big smile behind my book.
Lou carried the kitten to the kitchen, and soon I heard sounds of the refrigerator door opening and pans rattling. Then Lou called out.
"This cat is sick!"
I hurried to the kitchen.
"Listen to it," Lou said. "It must have pneumonia. It has rales!" (Rales is a medical term for a rough sound made by congested lungs.)
I listened to the deep rumble coming from the kitten and immediately recognized it as a sign, not of illness, but of contentment. The cat was purring. Previously, Lou's contact with cats had been limited to lab specimens pickled in formaldehyde. He had never heard one purr.
What happened next was my fault, for I laughed and poked fun at him. Lou grumbled and soon put the cat back outside. Ours was certainly no place for a cat, and neither of us had time to care for one. The next morning we were both horrified and guilt stricken when we saw that the kitten had been killed by a car.
Fast forward to present time. There have been no cats until now. We have always had dogs, most of whom loved to chase any neighboring cats who wandered onto our property. But the dogs are gone now, and when Autumn showed up, she was a reminder of that other gray kitten, so long ago. Nevertheless, Lou was noncommittal. Autumn needed to work on him if she was to live here.
Maybe she was thinking the way to a man's heart was through his stomach when she laid a rat at our back door. It was headless, decapitated as cleanly as if she had used a knife.
Lou was not impressed. Obviously, there must be some rats out there, but we don't have a problem with them. We do have a problem with ground squirrels, who are constantly digging holes everywhere.
"Cat," Lou said to her sternly, "This is not acceptable. If you are going to stay here, you have to bring me ground squirrels."
Later that same day Lou was outside when Autumn came hurrying toward him. In her mouth dangled a ground squirrel. When she dropped it at his feet, she had earned her place in the family.
Despite her predatory nature, Autumn is a sweet kitty. She is affectionate toward me, but clearly she loves Lou the best. She follows him around, accompanying him on walks like a faithful puppy. And Lou? The other day he announced that she was his cat, which is purr-fectly amazing.
February, 2014: For a follow-up of this story, you may be interested in The Cat is Back.