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The Only Cat

This piece was originally published on March 22nd, 2010, and unfortunately, now requires an update. 

I now have to say that for the first time in eighteen months, and only the second time in 26 1/2 years, I’m down to an only cat, and a different one than I wrote about last March.  The newest member, and current “Only Cat,” is Emily. 

Emily was acquired after our return to Bend, as a result of my somewhat questionable theory that cats should have roomies.  I’d been watching the ads for available kitties at our local Humane Society here in Bend, and one kitty’s looks and description seemed like a perfect match for what I was looking for.  She was staying at the PetSmart store at the north part of town, so we decided to take a little ride up there and check her out.  As luck (and fate) would have it, the kitty I wanted to meet was in quarantine, having “freaked” a little after the floor cleaners made an unpleasant amount of noise that morning. 

But in one of the other cages was the cutest little gray and white girl, who they’d dubbed “Dana” for her stay at the pound, and subsequently her visit to PetSmart.  We asked if we could have a visit with Dana, and they were totally accomodating, letting us come into the meet and greet area and spend a few minutes with her.  We both fell in love with this little girl, but my lovely wife wasn’t sold on the idea of yet another cat in the house.  The last four (see below) had all had their ups and downs, and the biggest “down” was when you lost one of them.  And the count was three losses in less than three years, at that point. 

The “Only Cat” at the time that this was originally published was our Penny, who I always used to refer to as my “Special Cat,” because she was.  Penny was unique in so many ways, and was the only cat I’ve had over the years who truly got along with all the other cats that have come and gone during her stay with us.  She wasn’t necessarily passive with her room mates, and actually took the lead in chasing both Annabelle and Abigail around the various places we’ve lived, but the claws never came out with any of her house buddies.  She even got along with the two “problem children,” my giant 28 pound Maine Coon, Cody, and little Annabelle, who we affectionately dubbed the “bitch kitty from hell” for her sometimes snotty behavior towards the others. 

Over the 15 1/2 years we had her, Penny endured some nasty illnesses and somehow managed to bounce back.  Before our two year return to the Bay Area in 2008, she’d lost a ton of weight, stopped eating, and consequently had to endure force feeding through a tube in her neck for a couple of months.  Not pleasant for her, or us.  But we made the decision not to do an expensive no-guarantee surgery, and simply pull the tube out and see if she started eating.  Amazingly, she did, and initially put all her weight back on (and then some). 
But over the last six months, which haven’t been the best of times for her, she was once again on a fairly obvious decline.  In addition to the ongoing digestion problems, I think there was some senility creeping in, and she may not have even realized that she wasn’t using her sandbox like she was supposed to.  And for way too much of the last 5 years she had the recurring issue of not being able to keep food down.  Not a good quality of life for her, and definitely not for us or our house. 
So the decision was made to bring her into the Humane Society, and allow her to move on to greener pastures, much to our displeasure.  It’s never easy losing a pet.  They become members of your family.  I’ve used this phrase way too many times over the years, but it’s true … unfortunately, most of us will outlive our parents and our pets.   

So if there’s a kitty heaven (and I can only hope there is), she’s probably engaging in one of her favorite activities, which included finding an elusive ray of sunlight to lay in, or a warm lap, or her favorite dining chair.  She’s undoubtedly talking a blue streak, and begging for her next meal, which she always looked forward to.  Hopefully someone managed to sneak a laser light into kitty heaven, and is moving it across a big area of floor, providing hours of endless fun for her.  And of course there has to be catnip filled socks … this is after all Kitty Heaven.  Rest in peace, little girl. 

The Original “Only Cat”, below …
For the first time in about 25 years, I find myself with just one cat in the household. For the bulk of this afore-mentioned period, I’ve had anywhere from two to four. Two’s fine, four’s ridiculous, in my opinion. Although the four of them were as different as night and day from each other, and each had their own distinctly unique personalities and moods … they are after all, cats.
I’ve had several dogs over the years, and it’s an ongoing thought to get another one, but as wonderful as they are as companions, and obviously polar opposites of felines, they’re also a lot of work. Cats use a sandbox, eat and drink from large containers that only require occasional refilling, use their scratching post religiously, sleep twenty hours a day, and basically go about their business with very little fuss. They don’t require walks, you don’t have to follow them with plastic bags, they give themselves their own baths, and if you keep them inside, they usually live relatively long trouble-free lives.
But of course nature being what it is, things do come along that cut short the lives of the healthiest of cats and dogs, and when they leave your household, it’s a sad event. They become members of your family. You talk to them, listen when they talk back and pretend to understand, try to diagnose their occasional woes and mood swings, and generally integrate them into your family situation. You’re protective of them, just as you would be of a child or spouse. You’re allowed to yell at them or throw some verbal barbs their way on occasion, but nobody else better do it, or there’s likely to be trouble.
My life of cats began with a little orange creature named George. I believe I was about eight years old when he joined our household on Grandview Avenue in Daly City. George was my cat, as opposed to a family pet. There seemed to be a special bond with us, quite likely because of the overwhelming number of females in the house. I had four younger sisters at this point, and that would soon become five. My dad worked two jobs, so it was usually me and George vs. all of them! George would of course sleep at the foot of my little twin bed, like all my subsequent cats would do over the years. We got George as a tiny kitten, and I believe he was about three or four when an unfortunate event cut his young life short. It was Christmas morning, and my newly-converted Catholic parents demanded that we all go to church. Pulling away from the curb in my dad’s baby blue Ford Falcon, we heard an unmistakable thump. George had been sleeping in a rear wheel well, on top of the tire. In retrospect, I’m sure it was a quick and painless way to go, but for an eight year old, to lose my beloved buddy on Christmas day, it was a minor disaster. But it was also a good leaning experience, as most of my cats that followed over the years have been relegated to indoors. Outdoor cats average two-to-three years, indoors are up around fourteen. If you intend to keep your pets safe and alive, statistics favor letting them live in the house.
During my junior high and high school years, we had a very different variety of pet in the house, which precluded us from having cats or dogs. My mother decided she liked monkeys, so we had a string of them. The first was a skinny little spider monkey, which was given away fairly quickly. Then a squirrel monkey which lasted a little longer, but ultimately met the same fate. Then we got Shoo-Shoo the owl monkey, and she would prove to be a member of the house for about ten years. Owl monkeys have sort of a lemur-look about them and they’re very nocturnal. Translation = she ran the treadmill in her cage all night every night, much to my dad’s dismay. Shoo-Shoo got out of her cage and ran away at one point, and after about a week of searching the neighborhood, my heartbroken mother went out and bought another owl monkey, which she named after her father (a sort of backhanded thank you for them naming their Boston Terrier after my father, I believe). We then found the wandering Shoo-Shoo a couple blocks away, so for a few years we had two owl monkeys. The younger one died fairly young, and we were all hopeful that Shoo-Shoo would be the only monkey in the house. But no … my mom wanted something closer to a chimp, so she bought a capuchin. This one was a pain to have around, as I recall, and didn’t last long. The last in the line of monkeys was a wooly monkey, which was kind of like having a two year old. This one was very tame, fun to show off to friends, but unfortunately the source of a major allergic reaction with my mom. So this guy once again was given to someone who could tolerate his fur, and shortly thereafter, Shoo-Shoo went to monkey heaven. We were finally free of monkeys. This was a happy day.

I had several cats during my high school and early college years. Most were a combination indoor-outdoor variety, likely strays or “pound cats” that we took in, sometimes a couple at a time, but occasionally, “only cats.” The only one I remember as being particularly special was a solid white cat named “Cat,” who was an absolute lover, and we had her for several years. Nice kitty.

Around 1974 I was living in a house in Pacifica with a group of friends, when my buddy Bob and I decided we should get a couple cats for the house. Apparently, it wasn’t “cat season,” as there were almost no cats to choose from at either the humane society or through the newspaper. We did lots of looking, saw some “ok” cats, but it was several weeks into the search when we paid a fateful visit to a house in the Sunset District in San Francisco. The people advertised that they had a whole bunch of kittens to choose from, which had come from a couple different parent pairs, which they also had in the house. Golden opportunity to both meet the parents and see what their demeanor was like, as well as have the pick of two big healthy litters.
Walking into this house, you couldn’t help but think that these were “cat people.” The center of their living room was dominated by a huge cat tree, where no less than 15 kittens were climbing, jumping, sleeping, and generally having a wonderful time. Bob spied a little solid black kitty, which immediately took to him. One down. I was looking around the room and scouring the cat tree when I spotted a little tabby furball at the very top of the tree, curled up and hanging by herself. A loner, possibly, but something about her was appealing enough to get her down. She curled up in my arms and started purring immediately. Sold. We had our cats.
Bob came up with the name Tinkle Butt immediately (no idea what correlation this had to the cat), but it was a couple days ’til I came up with a name for my little girl. As fate would have it, I went to a movie in the City called “The Effect Of Gamma Rays On Man In The Moon Marigolds.” It was a relatively small artsy film which was directed by Paul Newman and starred Joanne Woodward and their real-life daughter Nell. Nell played Tillie, whose full name was Mathilda. The movie left an impression, the daughter’s character was uniquely interesting, and I had found a name for my new kitty … Tillie.
Tillie was my buddy for close to fifteen years, moving way too many times to various locales around the state. We had ups and downs, but she ate well, twice a day. If I was down to my last couple bucks for dinner, I’d have a can of chili so Tillie could have her daily dose of Purina Tuna. She’d greet me when I came home each night, and follow me from room to room, shadowing my movement around the house or apartment. I’d commonly wake up in the mornng with her standing on my chest, looking down with her sweet eyes, waiting for her morning meal. Tillie had four litters, producing two, five, five, and five kittens. The only ones that hung around were the two from the first litter. She had a beautiful Siamese looking kitty which we gave to the family of Leo Ryan (the Congressman who was slain at the Jonestown massacre). The other was a huge solid black cat named Pamplemousse (or Moose, for short). It means “grapefruit” in French, and for some reason I liked the word. Big, nasty cat that nobody but my sister Colleen could even approach. Lived a few years and succumbed to feline leukemia (and this was an indoor cat). But Tillie was a great cat in every respect, and I miss her to this day. Geez, we went through a lot together!
At several points over Tillie’s tenure, I lived with people with cats, so she was rarely an “only cat,” unless I happened to be living alone. But she was totally friendly and got along with any of the other kitties that happened to be around for varying periods of time. In retrospect, this was probably the beginning of the multi-cat trend I’ve had ever since.

After Tillie, I briefly had a little Himalayan named Elizabeth (which was also Tillie’s middle name, but more on middle kitty names later). Beautiful cat, but she had a tendency to pee when and where she wanted, which quite commonly was in a closet or on a piece of wall to wall carpeting. This would not do, and she was given away to a friend of my mother’s who had another Himalayan. From what I heard, she was fine in her new house, and lived a long life.
Another fateful moment came while I was working at Sequence Systems, and was invited to a BBQ at a co-workers. Their cats had just had a litter of kitties, and they were all just the nicest cats and kittens I could imagine. Totally socialized at a very young age, obviously destined to be great family pets for some lucky people. My friends said this would probably be the last litter, but if they had one more, I could have my pick of the group. Well there was another litter, and on a warm spring day we were invited over to take our pick of six beautiful little kitties. And although any of them would have been great pets due to the wonderful lineage of the parents, one stood out to us, and Annabelle came home with us that day.

Annabelle (Annie) was a small cat, who probably never went over ten pounds. And she was both a lover and a complete terror. One of her favorite kitty tricks was to run from one end of the house to the other, scurry to the top of the curtains, and hang there by her claws. Not the best thing, considering this was a rental house and the landlord was very picky about this kind of mayhem. Annie wouldn’t be an only kitty for long, as she was soon joined by another little tabby we found in a local pet store. Beautiful kitten, loving, cuddly, but unfortunately she had Elizabeth’s bad habit of peeing here and there, and pretty much everywhere. Gone, quickly.

I’d always wanted a Maine Coon Cat, and the search for my dream pet was about to begin. These are the largest domestic breed, and males commonly range from 16-18 pounds.  We began going to all the cat shows, traveling a hundred mile radius in search of the perfect cat. We settled on a couple who ran a cattery in Davis (near Sacramento), who we met at a cat show and we really liked both them and the cats they were showing. Our order was placed, and a couple months later we drove to Davis and picked up Ben. Ben was a gorgeous Maine Coon, and just the nicest cat in the world. Friendly, smart, not overly-talkative (this can be a challenging trait with Maine Coons), and a joy to have in the house. But Ben wouldn’t be around for long, as he developed a fairly severe case of diabetes at a little over a year old, and we took the vet’s recommendation to end his young life, vs. deal with inevitable complications for the next 15 years. I was so bummed.

Right after losing Ben we moved to our first big new house, in Gilroy. It was the middle of August, 1997, and typical of Gilroy summers, it was about 150 degrees out and the air was filled with the pungent odor of garlic.  Gilroy prides itself in being the “Garlic Capital of the World” and it’s obvious why, during the hot summer months.  Within the first week, we started visiting the local humane society in search of a companion for Annie. Once again, it was apparent that this was not the best season for kittens, as the humane society and newspaper didn’t have much to offer. But on one warm early September morning we wandered into the local pound and right in the entry way in a big cage, like it was their “featured kitten” for the day, we spotted a beautiful little tabby. I sought permission to take her out of the cage, and reached in and picked her up. She crawled up on my shoulder and started rubbing and purring. Jackpot, was my immediate thought. We looked over the other kittens, but it was pretty clear that this one was going to come home with us. We did the required paperwork, agreed to bring her back in a week to be spayed and microchipped, and Penny became the newest addition to the house. She was probably about 8 weeks old, already sandbox trained, and an absolute gem of a kitten. Her quiet early demeanor would eventually disappear as she’s gotten quite verbal over the years, but at least as a kitten, she was very passive, vocally.

So Penny settled in nicely, and Annabelle, who we called the bitch kitty from hell because she almost NEVER gets along with other feline roommates, actually tolerated the new kitten. We took Penny back to the humane society the following week, to get her work done, and made the mistake of walking into the kitten room while we were waiting. My wife spotted a cute little black and white fluff ball that seemed to be beckoning us. She was much smaller than Penny, and literally fit in the palm of my hand.  We figured she was closer to six weeks old, but she and Penny were close enough to almost be sisters, and eventually we’d refer to them as just that. The black and white kitty came home with us, as with Penny, she had to go back for her spay and microchipping session. She’d become Abigail, or Abbie, and she’d spend the next 13 years with us.

But I still wanted a Maine Coon, and once again we began the long search, via cat shows and websites.  We settled on a little cattery up in Burney Falls, near Mount Lassen.  The “parents” were both show cats, with his dad being a Supreme Grand Champion and mom being a Grand Champion.  Good lineage and VERY big cats.  We placed our order and waited for his arrival.  It was about eight AM on Father’s Day in 1998 when I received a phone call that began with … “Larry, you’re a father.”  Hmmm … let’s see here … OH, my kitty’s been born!  Six weeks later we took the two hundred mile trek north, and brough our little furball of a Maine Coon home.  Little did we know that he’d grow to 26 pounds in a little over a year.  But Cody was a strikingly beautiful cat and people totally loved visiting him. 
The four of them were all very different, and didn’t necessarily always get along.  Cody quickly grew into a monster sized cat, and I think his size alone was intimidating to the other three.  Penny in particular, was petrified of him.  Annabelle was the tiniest of the group, never getting much over ten pounds, and amazingly she got along fine with him, sometimes sleeping like bookends in front of the fireplace.  And Penny got along with all of them. 
After moving to San Jose, and subsequently to Oregon, Cody developed diabetes.  I was now two for two with this disease, with my Maine Coon Cats.  As much as I love them, it’s unlikely that I’d get another one.  The heartbreak of losing such a magnificent animal is just not worth it.  Cody required testing and two shots a day, and lasted about eighteen months with his disease before developing some major complications.  He faded fairly quickly, and we lost him in January of 2007.

A move back to the Bay Area proved to be the last one for Annabelle, who lived a long and healthy life.  But at eighteen, she clearly was on a downward spiral, and we had to do what was best for her. 

Still in the Bay Area, but now on the Peninsula, Penny and Abigail were the remaining two.  The two little pound kitties had the run of the house, and were of course the best of friends.  But the eighteen months we spent in the house was not the best of times for Abbie, as she lost a good half of her weight.  The last month of her life, she had almost completely stopped eating or drinking any water, and it was painful to watch the little girl morph into nothing more than black and white fur over skin and bones.  We tried feeding her everything from the best cat food to pure tuna, made sure she alway had water close by, but nothing was going to turn her around.  We’d been planning our move back to Oregon, and it became clear that little Abigail would not be up for the trip.  So last week, I made the painful decision to take her to the local humane society, and once again put an end to a cat’s downward spiral.  You know in your heart that it’s the best thing to do, that she lived a long and relatively nice life, always had food and a clean litterbox, etc., but it doesn’t make it any easier.  They’re members of your family, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.  All you can do is live with it. 
Which leaves us with Penny … Penny was “Penny Ann” for years, but lately has been dubbed “Penny Portly,” since she obviously hasn’t missed many meals.  Oh … I mentioned they all had middle names … Tillie was Mathilda Elizabeth, Annie was Annabelle Lee, Cody was a purebread and was technically “Wild Bill Cody of Burney Falls,” and little Abbie was Abigail Lee O’Day.  Same middle name as Annie, and had a last name too, for some reason. 

Penny was sick a couple years ago and couldn’t eat or keep anything down, and consequently had to be fed through a tube for a month.  She’d gotten down to about half her normal weight (always a big girl) when we made the decision to remove the tube and hope for the best.  It’s almost as though a little light went off in her head and she decided she’d better start eating again.  She did, she bounced back, and now seems to be on a mission to keep a little extra weight on … just in case. 

Penny’s my buddy, and I’ve always called her my “special cat.”  Noisy as all get out, doesn’t like to be picked up, but she’s a total lover and will sit on your lap and purr for hours.  She’s always been the friendliest of the four, and will make friends with whoever comes to visit … particularly people who don’t like cats (seems to be the case with many cats, actually).  But she’s now an only child.  I’m not sure when or if I’ll get another kitten, but I’m sure there will come a time when I break down and once again add to the brood.  I’ve always had cats, and undoubtedly always will.  But for now, Penny is The Only Cat, and will soon have the huge house in Oregon all to herself.  Hopefully, climbing the stairs to get to her food and sandbox will help with some of her portliness … I’d like her to be around for a good many more years. 
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