SAVE THE DATE! Don’t miss our guest, DONALD MAASS, blogging at Writers in the Storm this Friday.
Ever since Jenny wrote about her dog Hoshi, I’ve thought I should write about my cats and what they’ve taught me.
Anticipation: When I was in first grade and we moved from our apartment to the house my parents built, they made good on their promise to give me a kitten. I had no idea what to name her, but since Mitzi was her mother’s name, Mitzi became my little Siamese kitten’s name.
Patience: Mitzi had patience with a capital P. I used to dress her in doll clothes and walk her around my new neighborhood in my doll buggy. When women would come over to see what they thought was a doll they were surprised to see a sealpoint face peering out from under a bonnet. Mitzi never bailed out of that buggy.
Unconditional love: I was fortunate to have two parents who loved me, so I grew up surrounded by unconditional love. I didn’t understand their love at the time, but I understood that no matter what I did or didn’t do to Mitzi, every night she hopped on my bed and purred when I petted her.
I have to admit that I didn’t learn responsibility from Mitzi. My mother fed her and since Mitzi was an indoor/outdoor cat, there was no litter box to clean.
When I got married, Mitzi came to live with me. My husband never had a pet (His mother thought they were dirty and unruly.) Very quickly he found himself wound around Mitzi’s little paw.
Since we lived with coyotes walking through our yard, Mitzi was restricted to being an indoor cat. That was fine with her, because she was definitely “retired” as a seventeen-year-old cat. Though I fed Mitzi now, I just couldn’t stand scooping the litter box, so my husband did that.
The Pain of Loss: Before our first anniversary we lost Mitzi. It was the first time I saw my husband cry. A few weeks later he asked me if I’d like to get another cat. No, it would hurt too much, I told him. But he said, “I never had a Mitzi, and I’d like to have my own pet.”
Joy: Soon thereafter, we were given a Siamese kitten, which my husband promptly named Mitzi. She was his cat. He would lay on the floor and she would crawl all over him. She would fetch the little knit ball he threw. My former light heavy-weight wrestling husband, who ordered a sixteen ounce “cowboy steak” when we went out to dinner, now ordered lobster. And he brought half of it home! You got it. He was bringing the rest home to hand feed to his cat.
Sharing and Devotion: Don’t get me wrong, she was just as much my cat as his. She was an equal opportunity lap-sitter. But he trained her to walk on a leash and to wear a life preserver when he took her to our boat. She would wait at the kitchen door for him to return home. I didn’t know that I had learned so much about devotion until years later.
My original Mitzi was seventeen when we lost her. We expected “new” Mitzi to live even longer since she had always been an indoor cat and been given healthy food from our vet. Unfortunately, we lost her when she was just sixteen years old. We had helped her fight kidney disease successfully once, but we didn’t win the second battle.
Loneliness: For five years we lived a catless existence. We were unwilling to deal with the sorrow that we knew would ultimately come if we loved a new kitty. My father decided to take matters into his own hands and rescued a feral part-Siamese female cat. He told us to come over, he had a surprise. When he tried to hand me the cat, she jumped away and hid under the couch. Unfortunately we still weren’t ready to live with a cat and told my dad we couldn’t take her. Shocked–and grumpy–he looked at my mother and said, “Well, then, I’m keeping her.” And he did.
Three years later my husband was diagnosed with cancer. We’d been seriously talking about finding a new cat, but when he found out he was so ill he said he didn’t want a cat. One morning, a month into his treatment, he woke up and said, “I want to get a kitten. Today.” I was amazed.
Excitement: I had looked six months before for a breeder of traditional Siamese cats–not an easy find. To my surprise, the woman who taught the two writing courses I’d just completed at the local college was a third generation breeder of the old “apple head” Siamese cats. When I called she said I was lucky. She hadn’t bred her two mother cats for two years, but she did have kittens that were ready to come live with us right now.
We drove ninety minutes to her house, then spent two hours with seven kittens. Well, I spent the time with seven kittens. My husband picked up the kitten that reached for him and never put that one down, even though I held each of the other six to find the perfect one, as my former writing instructor told me the personalities of each. We added the kitten that picked my husband to our family. My husband named him Shogun, Emperor’s Warrior.
Healing: Since my husband couldn’t work during his treatment, Shogun kept him company, entertaining him with the typical antics of a kitten–chasing a twirling ribbon, or popping up from an empty flower pot or box. hiding, When my husband was having a bad day, Shogun would jump in his lap and within three minutes my husband would fall asleep. An hour later he’d wake up feeling better.
Discipline: My husband had definite ideas about proper feline behavior. Shogun was not allowed on the dining room table, the kitchen counter, or in the garage. My husband would pick Shogun up from the verboten area and say, “That’s a kitty no.” If Shogun persisted he was put in “Kitty Time Out.” Really. My husband trained Shogun to sit in a corner of our bedroom until he was picked up.
One time when I came home from work, Shogun was nowhere around. My husband was working outside on a project. I asked him where Shogun was and my husband froze. “Oh, no!” He ran to our bedroom and swooped Shogun into his arms. “I forgot I put him in Kitty Time Out!” Shogun had been sitting, waiting patiently for over two hours.
Shortly after Shogun’s first birthday, my husband died. We grieved for him together. Shogun would curl up at the foot of my husband’s empty chair. I didn’t have the heart to keep him off the dining room table or out of the garage.
Serendipity: My dad died the year after he rescued the feral cat. When my mother died five years later, her neighbor asked if she could have Mitzi. I was delighted to give Mitzi to her since she’d just lost her cat and I had Shogun.
Well, two years ago my mother’s neighbor died. Seventeen-year-old Mitzi now lives with Shogun and me. It was not easy at first, but last week, for the first time, I came home to find them snuggled together, napping. How wonderful is life? I have my dad’s cat and my husband’s cat to love. And to keep teaching me about life and living.
Mitzi wraps herself around my neck and Shogun sits in my lap while I write. How good is that?
Have you learned life lessons from a pet? Has a pet helped you through an illness or grief? We’d love to hear about it.