I don’t consider myself a pet person. It’s not that I hate them per se, but with five kids, the presence of an animal is the equivalent of another mouth to feed that carries with it the added joy of finding stray hairs in my food, cleaning up scattered piles of fecal matter, and shelling out the bucks for a medical procedure meant to keep the damn thing from getting knocked up by the neighbor’s oversexed, pedigree collie or a predatory tomcat just passing through the backyard. Just what I need, a perpetually hungry, pregnant mammal that can’t wipe its own ass. Fun.
To be fair, I wasn’t always this cynical. I used to love pets. When I was five, my dad brought me home a kitten. It was a white, fuzzy ball of hair with patches of grey, and when I held it, “Tiny” would move back and forth from hand to hand like a Slinky. Two days later I woke up to find my new kitten sprawled out on the screened in patio, dead—still as a stale cracker.
A few years later, I got another kitten which our family’s German shepherd, “Nippy,” ripped from my hands and killed in front of me. Talk about traumatic. The gush of tears in my eyes blurred the image of the limp, blood-matted rag of fur Nippy proudly laid at my feet. From here my experiences only got worse.
Next was a kitten someone left in our front lawn and then drove off. This would’ve been a gift had it not for the fact the poor thing had a maggot-filled tumor in its back leg. Despite my father’s best efforts to save “Jane Doe,” it succumbed to its gory wound by week’s end.
And then there was Scooter Kitty. Equal parts intelligent and psychotic, Scooter Kitty was the feline world’s version of Ted Kaczynski ratty hair and all, just minus the shades and hoodie. As the bastard offspring of a meek housecat and wild tomcat, the uni-clawer, could strike at any moment—a stealthy strike to your head from atop the back of the couch, or a surprise attack to your ankles from under the steps. Scooter Kitty could be anywhere.
The unpredictable nature of my cat, so named after my favorite Muppet, struck fear among the members of our household. I however, didn’t mind. Finally I had a cat strong enough to survive almost anything including Nippy the cat-killing German shepherd that Scooter Kitty repelled handily with a series of rapid scratches that left deep farrows in our stunned dog’s snout.
“Well I never,” my father said in astonishment, watching the wounded dog slink off.
Despite such displays of invincibility, Scooter Kitty was not, however, immortal as it lost a one-sided confrontation with a .22-calber hollow point, after my beloved pet turned on me, shredding my jeans and sending me to the hospital for tetanus shots.
Not all of my pets were cats. I experimented with a Red Bone, coon hound, but its incessant howling wore on everyone’s nerves earning it a one-way ticket to a loving and more tolerant family. And then there was “Butch,” a South American Anaconda rooster turned ruthless cock-fighter after losing its mate one late night to a thieving raccoon. That cold-hearted, chicken went 5-0, killing other roosters twice its size before finding peace with God courtesy of a passing ’86 Buick Regal. To this day none of are really sure whether it really just didn’t turn around quick enough or if madness drove him to suicide—a tragic end either way.
Why then, given my litany of pet-centric misfortune coupled with the ensuing hard boiled heart that developed as a result, would I ever agree to get a cat at this stage in my life? Two words: “mice infestation.” Among many of the differences between the Deep South and the upper Midwest, which include, distinct changes in the seasons, and the elongated pronunciation of vowels, is the species of varmints.
In Houston it’s three-inch flying cockroaches; in Indiana it’s field mice both of which have distinctly similar looking droppings as I learned a few weeks ago after finding the black, rice-like pellets strewn through the kitchen drawers. Such discoveries I associate with squalor which I further connect to sloth, sins I am repulsed by—enough so to make extreme compromises to atone for.
Traps, I realize. Are a more practical first option, but after smashing the heads of these shameless, turd-dropping intruders on a nightly basis to no end, drastic measures were warranted.
“Honey,” I called out, tossing another hapless mouse into the trash. “I think it’s time we get a cat.”
“Really?” Ashley squealed, with overzealous glee. And before I could utter the word “free,” she had a suitable candidate in the most predictable of places—Craig’s List, a sweetly written description nestled in between a wanted ad soliciting for “used” fish and another expressing a deep desire to trade an X-Box 360 for any animal, preferably a large snake.
The picture included with the ad for the cat showed a seven month-old grey-striped tabby that the owner claimed was good with kids, along with being a rodent killing “machine. Sold! (Proverbially speaking. “Free to good home” is the only way to go here.)
The next day Ashley said we had ourselves a cat; we need only to meet the owner at the local Pet Smart, a convenient location that would afford us the chance to purchase a few cat-related products, namely sprays and powders meant to fight the smell of piss or prevent the destruction of furniture.
When Ashley, Allie, Avery, and I arrived at the appointed time and place were met with a surprise—another family in line for the same said cat. This was disappointing to say the least. Ashley had prepared the girls to expect a new family member before dinner. They had even picked out a pink collar adorned with a tiny buttons and a jingly bell.
I was just as letdown, and maybe more so recalling yet another morning emptying traps. Even so, I was willing to walk away right there and then. Of all the pets in my past, none incurred the fuss reserved for parents angling to have their child selected for admission to an elite pre-school.
“To hell with this bullshit,” I whispered to Ashley.
She nodded in agreement. Nothing was said about interviewing about a cat. However, after watching Allie and Avery interact with their new best friend, it would have cruel of me to withdraw our family from the running. And besides, by the sounds of things, it appeared that we stood a solid chance of beating out the other wannabies.
“We need a new kitty,” a little girl from the other family told the owner. She scratched the cat with her stubby fingers. “Our other kitty ran away.”
The girl’s mother frowned. “Okay, honey, just give the kitty love.”
The girl petted the cat with more fervor, but it didn’t shut her up. “My daddy hateses kitties,” she went on.
There’s something undeniably adorable about the unabashed and revealing honesty of a child, especially when it’s not your own.
“Oh, he doesn’t?” said the owner.
Given this development, Ashley and I now felt we were shoe-ins to be awarded the cat, which we learned after 20 minutes of stilted conversation was named Suzy in honor of the owner’s crotchety, hermetic, Nanna. But alas, the win was not a given as there were two other families that had yet to show up who were also interested in the cat, and the owner wouldn’t be making a decision at least for a couple days.
With no further reason to stick around, Ashley and I realized it was time for us to go. As expected, highly sensitive Avery’s eyes filled with tears. Ideas of her in bed nuzzled up next to a lovable cat that evening were instantly doused.
Ashley and I did our best to explain the situation to Avery. “Honey, I’m sorry,” Ashley said. “The owner just wants to make sure Tallulah—I mean Suzy is going to go to a good home.” So sure were Ashley and the girls of the cat that they had already renamed it. Thankfully, though, Avery understood, and she refrained from full-blown hysterics.
Hoping to reassure her I added, “If the owner doesn’t pick up for the cat, then we’ll get another, I promise.”
Avery’s face grew stern and her voice lowered. “Oh we’re gonna get that cat alright,” she said. The sinister confidence in her tone caused me to believe she may have a hit squad on standby to take out the competition.
The rest of the ride home was spent outlining all the arguments as to why we she be selected to be the cat’s new owners.
“We clearly are the more adorable family,” Ashley started. “No doubt about it.”
“Yeah,” Allie said. “And did you see how I watched the owner’s two daughters and kept them happy?”
Then Avery piped up. “I was acting my cutest the whole time.”
Even I jumped in. “If all else fails I could’ve told her how the cat is to make up from moving away from you girls’ dad. How could she refuse that?”
There was a moment of abrupt silence. The move away from the girls’ father was a sensitive subject, and I had crossed the line even though I had promised the girls a pet as a bribe to ease the pain of separation. “Plus we have mice!” I then added, hoping to suppress the awkwardness now hanging in the air. The van was still quiet.
“I could’ve been cuter,” Avery finally sighed.
All logic aside, there just was no way of knowing for sure if the owner recognized that our family had turned the adorable setting to glass-shattering decibels. Stranger things have happened and I was caught off guard to find myself annoyed by the idea of Cat-Hating-Dad family being awarded that cat.
Thankfully this did not happen. Ashley texted me the next afternoon to let me know the owner had selected us to be the proud owners of the cat soon to be formally known as Suzy. Reading the message I smiled while visualizing scads of alarmed mice scurrying for their lives across my kitchen floor.
Later that evening, Ashley filled me in on the details. We were to meet the owner at the same Pet Smart to pick up the cat (and buy the supplies I had put back the shelf after our last foray.) As a precaution we agreed to keep the news to ourselves in order to prevent the girls anymore disappointment should things fall through. If Avery unleashed her hit squad things could get messy.
Out of sudden last-minute curiosity I asked Ashley why the owner had selected us. The whole “adorable” family case has always been Ashley’s reason as to why any good fortune should come our way. I usually dismiss this as the go-to joke that it has become, but on this occasion, somewhere along the line I had bought into it. Clearly we were the more adorable family and I expected to hear so as at least a partial factor.
Ashley took a casual sip from her Diet Coke. “”Oh, she said everyone was so nice, she just decided to give it to us because we were the first to call.”
Obviously the owner was a poor judge of character. Lucky for us, fate did not suffer from the same failing.
On the prearranged night of the pickup I went by myself to meet the owner. Things went fairly smooth except for the part when I was grilled with the question, one would’ve expected to be asked at the initial interview.
“Do you know what to do with a cat?” the owner asked. “Are you going to get Suzy her shots? Do you have all the proper supplies? She only likes soft foods you know. Does anyone in your family have allergies?”
I answered each one with speedy adeptness to the owner’s satisfaction. I even managed to keep from rolling my eyes when the owner asked if I would send pictures of the cat from time to time. “Yes, of course I will,” I said smiling graciously.
After a final teary-eyed smooch with Suzy, the owner handed me the cat before asking probably the most fundamental of all questions. “You have had a cat before, right?”
“Oh, I’ve had a few,” I said with complete seriousness. “And I’m sure this one’s going to be just fine.”