68: At Your Service, Miss DeCarlo

68: At Your Service, Miss DeCarlo

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

At Your Service, Miss DeCarlo

The way to get on with a cat is to treat it as an equal — or even better, as the superior it knows itself to be.

~Elizabeth Peters

Where felines are concerned, I have two long-held policies: 1. One cat at a time. 2. Male cats make the best house pets. Don’t get me wrong; I love all animals. I support the movement to save the whales and would rather carry a stray ant out of the house than flatten it with the sole of my shoe. It’s just that in my experience male cats have made the best companions. So how is it, then, that I share my home with a little girl now?

Well, a few weeks after my husband Bill and I experienced the loss of our sixteen-year-old cat Chuck, we set out to our local animal shelter in search of a new pet. We had every intention of selecting a rough-and-tumble male, the type of cat who is just a regular guy. Yet the day’s offerings revealed themselves to be a bit more rough-and-tumble than we would have liked. While Dennis flung himself from the floor to the rafters in feline fits and starts, Eugene howled non-stop. Harvey had a scared female cornered behind a litter box while sporting a creepy leer, and when my husband stooped down to pet Stefan, he leapt at him and sunk all four claws into his arm.

“We find our cats calm down considerably after they get into their ‘forever homes,’ ” Kathy, the shelter adoption coordinator, explained as she extricated Stefan from Bill’s bloody limb.

Bill and I looked at each other and headed for the door.

“They’re all great cats,” I said, lying through my teeth, “but I’m just not feeling any of them.”

“Me either,” Bill added, rubbing his forearm. “I think we’ll come back another day.”

Then, as we moved forward, I spotted her — a delicate, long-legged white cat with a black mask and black tail sitting serenely at one of the windowsills. She was so different; the most girly cat I had ever seen. So girly, in fact, the thin outline of black fur around her mouth made it appear as though she were wearing lipstick. Oh, this cat was something special, all right — and I had to have her.

“Wait,” I called to Bill. “What about this cat?”

He nodded and walked over to where I stood holding her.

“That’s Marlo,” said Kathy in a dubious voice, “but she’s a female.”

Indeed she was. Soft and warm, I cuddled her head close to mine. I took in the scent of her. I swear she actually smelled as though she’d been daubed with perfume.

A few days later, after our references were checked and our new cat was given a clean bill of health from the shelter vet, Marlo entered our home. Out of the carrier she came, one cautious step at a time. First, she sniffed at a wicker chair and shook her head. Then she tested the cat perch stationed at the front window and squinted her eyes. Next, she walked toward the kitchen. She held one paw above the linoleum floor and placed it back down on the carpet as though such a material was meant only for the feet of the lower masses. Marlo looked at me disdainfully. Clearly, she would not be taking her meals in that room.

Bill raised his eyebrows. “What a diva.”

As if on cue, our little diva returned to the dining room and took residence atop one of the upholstered chairs as if to say, “This will do for now.”

That evening, Bill and I went about Marlo-izing our home. We laid a soft towel on the cat perch and placed three litter boxes strategically around the house with the intention of allowing our new pet to select her favorite location. Then we set a plastic placemat down next to the dining room table with two bowls, one each for food and water. Marlo checked the setup, turned her head and yawned. I held the food bowl up to her nose. She grimaced and slid to another chair.

It seemed as though nothing we provided for this cat could meet her lofty standards. The food we served her, they way we petted her, even the collar we had chosen on her behalf — pink leather with multi-colored rhinestones — all seemed to displease her. Truly, this cat raised the term “diva” to a whole new level.

From deep within the recesses of my imagination, I imagined her backstory. My cat, Miss Marlo DeCarlo, had once been a famous Broadway star. After becoming a feline of advanced age, parts started to dwindle until the offerings finally dried up altogether. Unwilling to relinquish the opulent lifestyle to which she had become accustomed, she spent her savings hastily. She was then forced into bankruptcy, evicted from her Park Avenue apartment and found herself, the once famous and adored Miss Marlo DeCarlo, on the street. There she remained until Animal Control found her wandering aimlessly one cold, rainy night, wearing nothing but her fur coat. To her horror, she was rudely captured and brought to live with a sorry collection of common strays and alley cats.

Suddenly, I saw Marlo in a new light. “Miss DeCarlo,” I called, as I offered her some cat food, “you must eat. You must once again become voluptuous for your adoring fans and your return to the Broadway stage.” She ate what I gave her and meowed for seconds.

From there, I grabbed a pillow and placed it atop her cat perch. “Miss DeCarlo,” I said again, “your cushion is ready.” She sashayed across the floor and hopped onto the perch.

It seemed as though I was on to something. “Good girl,” I said as I scratched behind her ears. She nipped my hand. “Oh, would Miss DeCarlo prefer a back massage?” I asked. She purred and I petted her back in long, smooth strokes until she fell into a sound sleep.

Since then, Bill and I and the famous Miss Marlo DeCarlo have entered into an understanding. She is the star and we are her adoring servants. We are expected to change each one of her three litter boxes after every use and she has indicated she prefers them to be outfitted with vanilla-scented litter box liners. Dinner is brought to her in the dining room on a tray and water is drunk only from her “goblet,” a delicately patterned ceramic bowl located on the porch under the shade of a majestic silk ivy plant. When she saunters into the living room and sings in her high soprano, we know she expects cat treats to be hand-fed to her one at a time. And, most recently, our pet has taken to answering only to her more sonorous nickname, Marletta. She is a diva of the highest order. And she is fabulous.

Do I still think male cats make better companions than female cats? Well, maybe. Bill and I continue to lean toward adopting a male next time the occasion arises. Yet, we’re hoping that won’t be for a long, long time. For right now we’re having too much fun being entertained by our star, Miss Marlo DeCarlo.

~Monica A. Andermann

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