How We Became Cat Owners

By Victor DiGenti

Most of us will admit it when we make a mistake. But there are some things we know deep in our hearts as Truth, and upon this we build a rock-solid foundation for our lives. If there was one thing in this life, for instance, that could be counted upon as surely as the coming of the No See-ums in the summer, or the inexplicable ability of the Gators to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, it was that there would never be a cat in my house.

Cats! Sneaky, secretive creatures that pounce upon unwary birds, slinking away with a mouth full of feathers and a mysterious smile. Throughout my life I had avoided these four-footed marauders. They were not to be trusted; not worthy of the affection of decent, forthright folk who would never think of eating a bird before cooking it.

The other dogma that provided stability to my life was that my dear wife shared this aversion to these foul furballs. As our kids grew past the passive stage and insisted on pets, we were able to reason with them by telling graphic stories of flea bites, hair balls and no trips to Disney World because we’d have to stay home with the pets.

In the end we compromised and went through a series of less-troublesome animals like tropical fish (more expensive than sushi, and in the same limp condition after a few days in our tank), parakeets (noisy and dirty, but they weren’t underfoot and when you got tired of them you could always accidentally leave the cage door open and watch them try to land on the ceiling fan blades), and finally gerbils. The gerbil stage began with a single pair brought home from sixth grade science class. With a lifespan of only two years, they seemed the perfect pet, but pappa gerbil, an amorous devil named Pokey, sired 26 gerbilim and 180 grandgerbilim, and helped us share this wonderful hobby with grateful friends and neighbors. He surprised us by surviving all of his offspring.

Pokey was barely cold in his final resting place – a Budget Gourmet box under our Maple tree – when she walked into our life and my rock-solid world began to unravel. She was a scrawny calico cat who brazenly walked up to me while I was out in the yard one Saturday two years ago.

Obviously malnourished, she sat and regarded me patiently with sad eyes. Despite my lifelong disdain for things of the feline persuasion, I’m a pushover for sad eyes and tri-colored coats. The bowl of milk I brought out proved to be my undoing.

The calico returned every day for three weeks. By then, we had purchased real cat food, disgusting as that may sound, and she would eat it and disappear until the next day. Then she was gone for good. Or so it seemed. For six weeks our lives were back to normal, then she must have checked her calendar, saw that it was Saturday, and dropped in on me again.

There I was sorting through the piles of toxic waste in our garage when I turned around and saw our missing calico friend – accompanied by two calico-ettes. She proudly displayed her kittens, licking them clean from ear to derriere, then sat waiting for her food like she had never been gone. Of course, we fed them, and instead of disappearing again, they set-up housekeeping on some dirty laundry.

The next day she pulled the same trick two more times until we had five kittens in our garage along with their promiscuous mother.

I was in shock, but my wife was enchanted. That’s when she confessed she really loved cats and wanted to keep them. My world started spinning. Common sense prevailed, and after three weeks we found good homes for the kittens. Momma cat had touched us deeply, however, and demonstrating an incredible change of heart, I allowed my wife to keep her. One cat, I reasoned, was cheaper than a divorce.

Chloe is a part of our home now, and within months her lean hunter’s body was transformed into a body by tuna-fisher, a corpulent creature that gives new meaning to the term fat cat.

Our lives have been upended. Chloe has been joined by Rocco, and Black Knight lurks at the front door waiting for his Kal Kan. Meanwhile, I sit in my little corner picking cat hairs out of my coffee and wondering what other Truths will crumble next.

How We Became Cat Owners was originally published in the Sun-Times on January 5, 1989.

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