Sharing Her Nine Lives With Me
A small calico house cat keeps me company most of the day. I adopted her from the animal shelter two years ago on New Year's Eve, which I celebrate as her birthday, even though there's only one chance in 365 that it's the day on which she was born.
As far as I can tell, she doesn't mind my wrongheadedness - much in the way she doesn't mind being trapped in a three-bedroom condo with me. She graciously accepts that which she cannot change.
My cat comes to visit whenever I'm working on a column or a review or reading a book or watching the TV news. She doesn't beg, maybe because I'm pretty free with cat treats. All she asks is an occasional rub on the chin, a bowl of dry cat food, and a little space that's all her own.
Once or twice a day, I'll gather her up in my arms and walk to the big window at the back of the condo, where we both stare out at the squirrels, birds and other animals that roam free in the tiny woods behind my place. While we're doing this, I talk to her: "Look! There's a big fat squirrel eating the seeds out of the birdfeeder. Are you going to let him get away with that?"
She just stares at me and offers a meow, which I take as a positive response: "Yeah, let them eat all the food they can stuff in their fat cheeks. What do I care?"
In warm weather there's a Southern fence lizard that suns on the windowsill and works his disjointed eyes in divergent directions. He meets my cat's gaze eye-to-eye and never flinches, as if he comprehends the nature of glass and its fragile ability to hold a prospective predator at bay. My cat and the fence lizard have developed a psychological symbiosis.
What I admire most about my cat is her ability to forgive - or maybe it's her ability to forget.
How many times have I banished her from my office while I was working? "Go away! I'm busy!" And she'll jump from my desk and wander into her bedroom to take a nap. In 45 minutes or so, she's back to check on my progress. She stares at me as if to say, "All right, I forgive you. This time."
She doesn't visit at night, going instead to wherever cats go in the dark, but early in the morning she jumps on my bed and meows me awake: "Get your lazy butt out of the sack. We're going to get through this new day together."
I believe that eliminating the suffering of my own species is more important than the happiness of pets, and I'm aware that the tiny sum of money I spend on my cat could go to feed a starving child somewhere in the world. But I also know that many of the people who would lay claim to my money for humanitarian purposes would keep most of it for themselves.
So I don't know why I was surprised and horrified when I read in The News &Observer that workers at a Robeson County animal shelter have been accused of dumping living dogs and cats into a landfill. An animal rights advocate claims that the shelter employees have "not been checking that unwanted animals are dead before sending them to the dump" - which, if true, is a horrendous cruelty. No doubt about it - human beings can be the worst thing in the whole creation.
If my calico cat precedes me into the great void, I'll see, insofar as possible, that her end is swift and painless. That was the unwritten agreement I made with her when I signed the papers at the animal shelter.
Wouldn't it be nice if we could expect a similar mercy from our brethren?
Stephen Smith's most recent book, "A Short Report on the Fire at Woolworths," is available at The Country Bookshop. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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