Lucky Me

A felinista’s annual ode

By Deborah Salomon

January is reserved for the kitties.

I am an animal person, daughter of non-animal-loving parents. Dogs and cats? Out of the question. My first pet was a good-sized turtle named Dinky, for whom I created an amphibious habitat of Mar-a-Lago proportions. Dinky dined on raw hamburger. He lived nearly 10 years. Since then, I have rescued and/or companioned dogs, cats, birds, a stray horse and a pair of Pekin ducks. My living room became a hospice for a daughter’s terminally ill greyhound. All my kitties just showed up, usually in bad shape.

After a lifetime of effort, I decided, enough. I’m retiring.

Then, in 2011, a gorgeous all-black cat with thick, glossy fur and expressive eyes . . . just showed up. Later I learned he had been abandoned when his family moved. I made a shelter and fed him outside for six months. When I finally opened the door, he headed for the kitchen and sat down where a kitty bowl should go. He was neutered, declawed (horrible!), healthy. He is intelligent, contemplative, a pacifist. In ancient Egypt, where cats were sacred, he would be a sphinx. Here and now, he is my solace.

In temperament, he reminds me of the Dalai Lama, but I called him Lucky for obvious reasons.

A year later, a lumpy, grey-and-white neighborhood kitty (clipped ear, to signify a spayed feral) fed by many, including me, showed up with a bloody paw. Naturally, I took her in, intending to fix the paw and send her on her way. This wattling, cross-eyed girl hissed, growled and swatted me and Lucky, who hung his head in acceptance. I should have named her Dingbat. Instead, Hissy, which I softened to Missy when fear-based venom turned to honey — and she became a purring lap anchor.

This gal wasn’t going anywhere.

Watching the kitties’ relationship develop and grow — fascinating. Now, they are like the Odd Couple, affectionate even while sparring, respectful of territory, manipulative and oh-so-clever.

Whoever said you can’t teach cats was right. They learn on their own.

For instance —

Circadian clock: Good thing I’m an early riser because at exactly 4 a.m. Lucky paws my face — gently, politely. If I don’t respond, he licks my ear, which tickles. I keep kibble in the nightstand; a few will distract him, but not for long. Hissy, meanwhile, waits at the foot of the bed, rarely crossing the invisible line into Lucky’s territory. I get up, feed and let them out. Making inside cats out of strays is almost impossible.

At exactly 4 p.m. he begins lobbying for supper.

Gender politics: I can’t figure out why Lucky allows Hissy to push him off his bowl. Got so bad that I feed him on the window sill, which won’t accommodate her girth.

Now, when I put her bowl down, he runs for the sill.

Follow-up: Hissy follows Lucky around like a fussy mother or pesky younger sibling. If he wants to lie under the bushes or in a sunny spot, so does she. If he drinks out of the birdbath she wants some, too. At least once a day she washes his face and ears with her raspy tongue. He sits quietly, and smiles.

Communication: Look, I told Hissy, I’ll feed, shelter and love you, provide health care (urinary tract infection, $324), even cede the wicker rocking chair for clawing if you leave the upholstery alone. It worked. When Lucky wants something he finds me, utters a plaintive meow and leads me to it — usually the back door, but often just a rubdown. Poor fella limps, probably from an old hip injury. He can jump up but getting down must be painful, so he raises his paw and I lift him off. Then we sit and discuss our arthritis for hours.

Memory chip: Lucky and Hissy-Missy know their names, come when called. A few winters ago, Lucky learned the warmest spot was the cable box. I bolstered it with a folded towel to accommodate the overhang. Now, the first chilly day he hops up for naps. Lucky also remembers that the suitcase means Mama’s going away. Maybe she won’t if I crawl inside it, shed on her clothes and protest removal, he figures.

Body language: Hissy lumbers or scurries, never walks. She is constantly underfoot. If I wore shoes in the kitchen she’d have no paws left. Their reaction to wildlife varies. He sits, immobile, and watches the birds and squirrels — even the black garden snake. She crouches, wiggles and chatters but never pounces. Why bother when Mama’s got a stash of Sheba, Meow Mix and super-green organic kibble? But let another cat approach her purview and Hissy turns hellcat-on-wheels. Lucky, the pacifist, assumes the sphinx pose and stares down the intruder through half-closed eyes.

Affection: Cats — aloof? The minute I sit down Hissy Velcros herself to me. Her naps are my only relief. Lucky has a chair beside my computer desk. Otherwise, he’d be tip-toeing typos.

Bon appetit: CNN-watchers know that Anthony Bourdain of Parts Unknown will eat anything, anywhere. My kitties are equally (epi)curious — and very bold. Mind you, I only offer a speck. Lucky prefers specks of grilled cheese, buttered toast, pasta marinara, scrambled eggs and Greek vanilla yogurt. He goes bonkers over one cottage cheese curd. Hissy laps up homemade chicken soup like it’s Dom Perignon. The sight of Lucky licking the salt off a saltine (shaking his head after every lick) is YouTube-worthy.

Nobel laureate Anatole France said that until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. Philosophers, including Mahatma Gandhi, suggest how a person treats animals offers an indication of character. My two foundling kitties, of unknown provenance and age but definite personalities, reward me with companionship, entertainment, adoration and intel on a supra-human level. They are, indeed, fortunate to have found me. But, in the end, I got the better deal.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a staff writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

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