What is it about people’s furry little loves that turn them into spineless pantywaists? There are pet parents out there who can bravely face combat, ruthlessly broker million-dollar deals, and unapologetically evict nonpaying tenants. But…if their dogs — or cats or pythons (ugh) or whatevers — nudge them perilously close to the edge of the bed each night, they’re rendered utterly powerless.
Man versus puppy…and the puppy wins every time. Although in our case, the bed hogs have always been cats. Succumbing to a pet’s whims would be downright pathetic if said pet wasn’t so stinkin’ cute. And those of us with critter-kids can relate. We know we do it. We roll our eyes when we admit we do it. And, still, night after restless night, we continue to do it.
But why do we do it? Why do we give in to nearly every little demand our fur-covered children toss at us? The simple answer is that we care about our pets and want them to be comfortable…even if we wind up being less than comfortable in the process. But, for a lot of us, it goes deeper than that. We anthropomorphize our pets. We give them people-thoughts and people-feelings. We actually fear that, if we do something they don’t like, they’ll be upset and hold it against us.
Sounds a bit irrational, doesn’t it? I mean, animals don’t hold grudges, right?
Wrong. They do, and lots of us know this from experience. For example, we had a grey tabby many years ago that seemed to be a normal feline with normal feline tendencies. Max meowed for food, liked being scratched under her chin, and used her hind claws to try to slash the guts out of any stuffed toy she was given to play with. But she also had feelings. Like people have feelings.
Max decided to show us how strong her feelings could actually be when my mom was ill. I was away from home a lot during that time, going back and forth from our town to my parent’s home so I could help with Mom’s care. That went on for over a year and, more than midway into that time period, Max started pooping on the guest room bed. Not every day, but every little whipstitch. After about the third or fourth incident, we decided to keep the door to that room closed. That didn’t deter Max, though. She just decided to poop on our bed instead. Again, it wasn’t daily, but it happened often enough to be an issue. Max acted fine in every other regard, but we thought this behavior might be her way of telling us she was in a health crisis, so we took her to the vet.
The doc gave Max a clean bill of health and then asked if anything had changed in our routine at home. So, I filled him in on my frequent absences due to my mom’s illness. He quickly determined that the disruption to Max’s sense of normalcy was the reason for those occasional unwelcome gifts on our bedspread. Apparently, she disliked the fact that I wasn’t at her beck and call as much as I used to be, and this was her way of expressing her displeasure. In other words, she was royally ticked and intended to make sure we knew it.
Shortly after Mom passed away, our home life returned to normal. Max’s little attitude disappeared, the bedspread was no longer being violated, and our fur-kid carried on as if nothing had ever happened.
Max was 15 ½ when she died, and it broke our hearts. We didn’t lose a pet…we lost a member of the family. It took a good six months to even entertain the idea of adopting another cat.
When I finally felt ready, I went to our local animal shelter and was chosen by an adorable little black kitten. She’d reach out to me through the cage, wanting so badly to be petted, but she was skittish at the same time. When we got her home, I temporarily called her HissPurr because she’d hiss when I got near her, and then immediately start purring as I began to pet her. I initially considered naming her Zydeco – just because I liked the name – but something about her made me think of this little comic strip iguana named Quincy. It was adorable, totally clueless when it did something wrong and, for whatever reason, I felt like its name would be a good fit for our new little girl. Time proved that she wasn’t nearly as out in left field as that iguana was, but she certainly had her moments.
Quincy was the only cat I’ve ever had that played fetch. She loved for us to throw little things across the room so she could run after them, scoop them up in her mouth, and bring them back so we could start all over again. She’d have played that game endlessly if we’d let her. She also had a particular affinity for pens and pencils. She not only liked them…she stole them. We couldn’t leave any sitting around unattended or they’d disappear. I lost count of the times I caught her on the kitchen counter pawing one out of the pencil holder and, for the longest time, we couldn’t find them after she got tired of whacking them around. We would have sworn they vanished into thin air but, one day, I felt something odd under the area rug in the dining room. I reached underneath and pulled out a pen…then a pencil…then another pen…and so on. I don’t know how many pens and pencils we retrieved from under that rug, but Quincy had apparently been stashing them there for months before we caught on.
Of course, that was just a cat being a cat. But Quincy had her people tendencies, too. Hers came to the forefront most often after we’d been away for a day or two. We always left her with a fresh litter box and plenty of food and water but, when we’d get back, she’d lay into us like there was no tomorrow. And she wasn’t just meowing for attention. She was delivering a loud, thought-out reprimand for our utter lack of compassion and respect. She wasn’t merely upset about being left on her own…she was mad. She always got over it fairly quickly, but there was no mistaking the fact that her feelings had been stepped on, and she was having none of it.
Just like Max, Quincy was 15 ½ when we had to let her go and, once again, our hearts were broken. We had to say goodbye to…not a pet…but another cherished family member.
There was no thought of getting another cat, though, because we already had one. We inherited him when my dad passed away. He just showed up at my folks’ cabin one day and never left. Dad named him Smoke, had him neutered, and thoroughly enjoyed having him around.
After Dad died, the cabin became our weekend getaway, and Smoke was generally there waiting when we came up the drive each Friday evening. He even had a sidekick for a while. Her name was Charlie, and we inherited her from Dad, too. Both were outdoor cats, and we began referring to them as the Cabin Kitties. It took a few months for Smoke and Charlie to trust us enough to come inside for any length of time but, once they realized it was a pretty cozy place to be, they’d both meet us when we arrived on Friday, come inside off and on to hang out with us during the weekend and then watch us leave on Sunday. It became such a routine that, if they weren’t waiting for us when we got there, we’d worry until they showed up.
The weekend eventually came when that worry was validated. Charlie had been limping a little the weekend before and, when we arrived the following Friday, she wasn’t waiting with Smoke. She didn’t show up that weekend, or the weekend after, or the weekend after that. Time went on and it became clear that she’d left us…in some manner or another. On the last weekend we had with her…when she had that little limp…we saw a huge turkey vulture in the road on our way home. Logic tried to tell me that the vulture, or another one like it, had seen her vulnerable condition and taken her. My heart, though, couldn’t bear the thought, so I decided that a kindhearted family saw her limping along the road and gave her a new forever home. No one will ever convince me otherwise.
For a while, Smoke seemed a bit lost without Charlie, but he eventually got used to having us all to himself. As a matter of fact, he’s adjusted quite well to being Lord of the Manor. And when it comes to people traits, his sweetest characteristic is how affectionate he is with my husband and me. We live at the cabin full-time now but, when we were coming down only on the weekends, he couldn’t seem to get enough of us when we’d first arrive. He’d come inside, hop up on one of our laps, and nuzzle in so close it was as though he wanted to get inside our skin. It was obvious he missed us when we weren’t here and needed to convince himself we were real. By the end of the first night, he’d settle down and give us some space, but there was always something both sad and sweet about how he first had to get his fill of us. Now that we’re here all the time, he still likes to be on a lap now and then, but he doesn’t carry on like he used to. That only happens if we go someplace overnight. The difference between Smoke and his predecessor, Quincy, is that he never seems angry with us for leaving him. His demeanor when we get home is more one of relief that his humans didn’t abandon him after all. Once he’s sure we’re back where we belong, all he really wants is food and a comfy place to nap. Oh, and someone to let him outside to go to the bathroom. The little booger still hasn’t quite mastered the litterbox.
Since Smoke was a stray, the best the vet could do was estimate his age when Dad took him in to be neutered. The doc said he was probably about two years old at the time, and that was in 2010. That puts him in the neighborhood of 15 now and, considering the fact that we lost both Max and Quincy around that age, we’re girding our loins for the inevitable. We try not to dwell on it, but the signs are there. Even though he eats well, he’s lost a lot of weight in the past year. He still grooms himself, but not as fastidiously as he used to. And, whether it’s legit or simply selective, it appears he’s deaf as a post. Age is undoubtedly taking its toll on him.
That being said, he’s still our sweet boy. Regardless of the fact that his DNA is animal rather than human, Smoke’s our kid. He plays, he gets underfoot, and he tests our patience…just like any other child. He considers every surface in our home as his own special napping space, and we allow him to take up more than his fair share of the bed when he sleeps with us at night. He has real thoughts and feelings, and he gives back every single ounce of love that we give to him.
In their own unique ways, Max, Quincy, and Charlie were more than just heartbeats. They were very people-y family members. Smoke is no exception.
As far as I’m concerned, cats are just furry little people. And just like Charlie in her new forever home, no one will ever convince me otherwise.
Postscript: Two months and a day after publishing this essay, Smoke passed away. We loved him hard, he returned that in spades, and our hearts are broken. It’s astounding how large a void such a tiny being can leave, but we have lots of pictures and wonderful memories. And I’d like to think he’s now enjoying himself with his friends who went before him. RIP, Smoke. You’ll forever be our good, sweet boy.