One of the bonus questions from Life Story asks about pets. Our family’s first pet was my mother’s cat. When my parents were planning their wedding, a neighbor’s cat had kittens. The story goes that my mom rushed home to ask my dad if she could have one. He sarcastically said, “Sure, if you name the sucker Dog.” The story goes, the next thing my dad knew, there was a tiny kitten running around and everyone was calling it Dawg. I’m not sure when we got an actual dog, but I’m sure it was because my dad was convinced he was a dog person. The new family member was a Sheltie (small Collie) named Caesar. He could clear a chain link fence without actually touching the fence. That dog was a runner! Once my dad realized that cats are much more self contained pets, he changed his stance on being a cat person. Caesar found a new home with a family with a farm.
My baby sister got a kitten for her 8th birthday. A friend of my parents was giving away kittens and her birthday was a good excuse. It was an orange tabby that she named Mobley.* My parents were also suckered into another kitten when my middle sister and I were outraged that we didn’t also have a personal pet. My middle sister got the last kitten of the litter – a tortoiseshell that she named Metallica. I didn’t get a kitten until a few weeks later after another friend of my dad found a kitten in a storm drain after a storm. It was a tuxedo that I named Precious. I renamed him Mittens when I learned his sex (and that I couldn’t – and still can’t – spell Precious on demand). Mittens was feral. While my sisters had adorable kittens they could play with, I had a kitten that was hiding under the dishwasher. I locked him in my room for months in order to tame him, which eventually worked, though he was always an indoor/outdoor cat. I remember spreading cheese on a balloon so that he would pop it when he tried to lick it off and accidentally locking him in the linen closet.
Sadly, during major flooding Mittens ran away (kittenhood trauma, maybe). A year later, the neighbors down the street told me they saw a matching cat disposed of from the neighboring yard, which housed an aggressive dog, implying that he was killed by said dog. I got another kitten, though I don’t remember the source, a tortie and white calico, which I named Lacee. My sister called her “Elephant” due to the thunderous noise she made tearing around the house. Mobley got a hold of a poisoned mouse, and Metallica went with my middle sister when she moved out. Lacee went with me when I got my first apartment in college and my parents moved to WA. She stayed with me though college, and the ex-husband’s mom took her when we lived in a hotel in GA. Sadly, she developed kidney problems around this time, and on a trip home to visit we had her put down. I wasn’t with my mom when Dawg was euthanized, so this was my first time experiencing the procedure. They gave her the “can’t move” shot, which I have since learned is for the human comfort, not the pet comfort. I still have a lot of guilt about this, and the fact it must have seemed to her like I abandoned her when she was sick.
When I moved into that college apt, I moved in with my ex-husband (then boyfriend) and he had a little back kitten. I can’t remember his name, but I remember he escaped during a move our last year in college and we thought we recovered him. He was solid black so and we found another black cat in the neighborhood; it took us almost a year to realize it wasn’t the same cat. During an earlier move, when we moved into a house with a yard, I lobbied for a puppy. I wanted an animal that loved “unconditionally,” as I hadn’t yet figured out the language of cats. We found a hyper, quiet, red brindle puppy at the pound and adopted her. I had a dream that she rescued us from a fire and was calling her Rogue, so that was what I named her. She also stayed with my ex-MIL while we were in the hotel, and she came with us to live on post after we moved to Fort Campbell along with the ex’s childhood cat, Precious (ironic that my first cat was originally named the same). Sadly, Precious didn’t have much time left, and her kidneys gave out as well. She died while we were at Gulf Wars one year, and I was (again) an awful pet parent for not being there.
When I got a job in Nashville, Rogue was in the yard outside for 14 hours at a time sometimes and didn’t adapt well to being an outside dog. She didn’t do much better in an apt when I moved of base in order to get a bit closer to my work. I was still away from the house up to 12 hours at a time, and she was house trained, but not perfect. Once we got into the house in Nashville, Rogue did much better, but I did much worse. The yard wasn’t fenced to the door, and there were times that I was so distracted that I would forget to bring her inside for the night. My neighbor loved her, and I found out he would bring her in his house and let her sleep with his dogs. He offered to adopt her when I moved to Austin, and in hindsight I should have let him. I knew she wouldn’t do good in an apt again, so I asked my then housemate to take her. She escaped his yard and he never found her. I realized years later that my distrust of the neighbor was a symptom of the emotional abuse from the toxic relationship I had during that time. I try not to be too hard on myself for this outcome, but there is still a base level of shame.
I don’t remember why I went to the no-kill cat rescue but it may have been the need for an indoor companion for Precious while I was away from the house 14 hours a day. I had just learned about Bengal breeds, and I found a silver tabby with the swirly marks of the Bengal breed. He was beautiful and I named him Spirit. In the first few weeks I had him, he escaped, and I didn’t have time to search for him. He was the first animal I had chipped (the Army did it at cost), and his chip returned him to me. He had been hunting squirrels for survival, and the neighbors live trapped him. The pound opened early to accommodate my crazy schedule and Spirit was returned to me. He was emaciated, but he bonded to me as his savior. He taught me the cat language of love – it was my love for him that made me read up on cat behavior and really learn why cats are the way they are. He was a social cat and liked being around others, so my housemate’s cat, Smut, kept him company in Nashville. He curled up next to me on the sofa when I watched TV, and loved the balcony at my apt in Austin. He was so lonely in Austin, that I did get him a companion though.
As a team, we volunteered at the ASPCA in Austin, and I found a great companion cat for Spirit. He was in the top of a cat tree (literally a tree shape) and a bit aloof, but playful. This was the first time I had to go though an application process to adopt an animal, and I had to answer the hard questions about previous pet deaths. Nevertheless, I was fond to be a responsible pet owner, and they let me adopt Mineou. He’s a tuxedo, and is the epitome of cat in almost every way. He didn’t bond with Spirit, but they tolerated each other most of the time, and he sated Spirit’s need for companionship. Mineou is an independent cat, and didn’t need too much affection. He did bond with me after being accidentally left in a closet after a 4 day weekend, though. Spirit and Mineou made the move with me to Arkansas. Spirit’s kidney began shutting down a little over a year after the move. Once he refused to eat or drink, we made the decision to euthanize him. I didn’t use the paralyze drug this time, and while it was hard on me, I know that he went easier with me there.
Mineou moved into the top cat spot immediately. I don’t think he needed another cat to fulfill his needs. He did get a bit more cozy with me, but it wasn’t to the level that Spirit was before I got Mineou. About six months later, B brought home a littler of kittens headed for the pound and I brought the biggest one inside to see if Mineou could tolerate him. Mineou has grown to like Tug even a bit more than he liked Spirit. Tug is also a tuxedo with a Neanderthal nose (no angle, all slope), and has a natural charisma score of 18. He likes his belly rubbed (for real – no kitty trap) and is just basically adorable. That’s a good thing too, because he’s a bit on the dumb side (inbred). During the recent move to the new house, we didn’t shut the cat door to keep him in. We lost him for two days, and went to look for him each evening. Of course, the day after we buy a live trap, he’s waiting for us in the front yard.
A year ago, Mineou was diagnosed with IMHA, which is an auto immune disease. Steroids are controlling it for now, but his life will be shortened with long-term steroid use. He is so good about taking his pills without claws or biting, and even though he hates the monthly blood work, the vets rave about his good behavior. We have recently switched to a new steroid, and hoping to continue to lower his dosages to give him as much time as possible. I automated as much of the cat’s needs as possible for me to be able to travel on weekends – litter, food and water are all good for up to 10 days at a time. I still have to have a friend or pet sitter pill Mineou if we are gone more than one day, but he tolerates others well (outside the chase around the house to catch him).
B also has two dogs. A 40ish pound herding dog named Clover. She is pretty and dumb. Seriously, she tried to hang herself escaping the yard dumb and lost brain cells on that one. We think the ones that manage impulse control. Brindle is a 90ish pound hound dog mix. She is black with brindle markings (original, right). She is also smart and stubborn. B has trained them to be primarily outside dogs, since he is after away for work for a few days at a time. Rogue taught me that dogs aren’t as unconditional as I thought, and Spirit taught me that cats love more than I know. I am defiantly a cat person and B may be becoming one (despite the whole pooping in a box in the house thing).
*I had to text my sister to ask her the name of the kitten that started it all. I have a good memory, but the super long-term stuff is fuzzy.