12: An Accidental Cat Lover

12: An Accidental Cat Lover

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?

An Accidental Cat Lover

I used to love dogs until I discovered cats.

~Nafisa Joseph

There was a time when I hated the sight of a cat. I was that person who went to a party and spent the night with the family cat in my lap, smiling through gritted teeth. Dogs and small children avoid people who clearly detest them. But cats are drawn to them. They’d spot me as I came through the door, and then spend the rest of the night shedding on my outfit as I did my best “nice kitty” routine.

All that changed when my husband and I moved to the country and encountered a mouse problem. We asked a neighbor for advice and he recommended we get what he called barn cats. He said females were the best mousers, that they worked better in pairs and his mother-in-law had a litter that was about ready to leave their mama. He’d chase us down a couple of kittens.

It was a lesser-of-two-evils decision for me. If I had to choose between cats and mice, cats won out — but not by much. So we put in an order for two female barn cats who’d earn their keep as mousers. Our daughters, Haley and Molly, were two and four at the time and for the next few nights I put them to sleep with bedtime stories about their new kittens. I laid it on thick, telling them how their baby kitties would sleep in their laps rolled into a ball, how soft they’d be, how they’d purr, and how, if you put a little cat food on your finger, they’d lick it with their little rough tongues. They liked the little rough tongues part and begged to hear it again and again.

After a few days, we received a call from the neighbor to say that our kittens were ready to be picked up. I strapped both girls in the back seat of the car and told them they’d each have a soft, warm ball of fur to hold on the way home. They begged for more so I told them that as a kitten slept, they could put their hands up to its mouth and feel sweet, little puffs of breath. They wanted the little rough tongues part again and we talked kitten, all the way to the neighbor’s mother-in-law’s house.

What we were given, however, was not a ball of soft fur to nestle into each girl’s lap but a box — taped tightly shut — with instructions not to untape it until we got home and had them exactly where we wanted them to live. I settled the box between the girl’s car seats and started home. They seemed to forget all about the balls of fur and little rough tongues for the time being and were content to give the box a poke every once in a while and hear a mad scrambling inside. Each time they’d emit peals of laughter. Not my idea of a pet, but they were happy.

When we got the box home, I took it into the living room, placed it on the floor with a girl on either side and worked the tape off. Haley and Molly held their breath, eyes wide as I tilted the box over, opened the lid and watched two streaks of fur — one gray, one black — bolt under the couch where they crouched together with absolutely no intention of coming out — ever.

I put out a bowl of food and a bowl of water, hoping to coax the kittens out of hiding. No such luck. Anyone who’s spent any time around preschoolers knows that telling my girls to “Stay perfectly still and the kittens might come out” was a waste of breath. Each time one kitten would so much as move a muscle to creep toward the food, the girls would squeal, sending them further under the couch.

This went on for a couple of hours until my husband came home, opened the door and the gray and black streaks made a dash for freedom. For weeks after that, there were daily cat sightings and empty cat food bowls each morning. Other than that, we hardly knew we had cats. The mouse population seemed to decrease though, so they were fulfilling their job description. Stimpy and Massy (we let the girls name them) grew the tiniest bit more friendly. Now they waited for the girls to actually take a step toward them before them bolted for the nearest hiding place.

Chapter two of our cat story began when my sister, Denise, was visiting and informed us that the cats were getting so nice and round not because they were full of mice but rather full of kittens. Oops! We weren’t housing two proficient mousers but two unwed mothers. That’s when a funny thing happened. We decided that, since they were in a family way, the cats should be allowed to move into the house.

They seemed to agree and became amazingly tame in a short period of time. My first pleasant surprise came when I went to the library looking for a book on house-training cats. I’d trained a dog or two in my day and wasn’t looking forward to it. What a delightful surprise to discover that all that’s involved in teaching a cat to use a litter box is to buy the box. They do the rest. Cool! There were a couple of house plant incidents and Molly had to be convinced that just because the kitty litter looked a little like the sand in her sandbox didn’t mean it was good for building castles. By the time our litters were born — a day apart — Stimpy and Massy were pampered house pets.

Haley and Molly are seventeen and fifteen now. Stimpy and Massy are no longer with us but we are proud companions to Kipling, Harper, Belle, and Opie. We’ve since learned to have all our pets spayed at a young age and — in that clairvoyant way that cats have — all our current felines have found their way to our front door on their own, then made it clear they were here to stay.

Who knew cats would enrich our lives the way they have? My girls and their two little brothers hardly know what it’s like to fall to sleep without a cat or two curled beside them. And my husband has been known to sneak into a sleeping child’s room to swipe a cat so he won’t have to watch TV alone. As a work-at-home writer, I relish their companionship in my otherwise empty house all day. We’ve come to appreciate the unique personality and characteristics of each one. Besides it’s awfully fun to host a party and watch some poor sap pretend to be thrilled that one of our cats has chosen him as its new best friend while covertly trying to shoo it away.

~Mimi Greenwood Knight

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