Monday, May 12, 2003

Pet Sounds

A bill introduced into the State Senate would prohibit Minnesotans from owning monkeys as pets. I discovered the bill while in the middle of pondering my own personal pet options. One of the things I was contemplating was getting a pet monkey. Outrage doesn't even begin to describe my opposition to the proposed prohibition. This state just has too many darn laws and this would be one of them. If we outlaw owning pet monkeys than only outlaws will own pet monkeys. Law abiding citizens like myself would either have to go monkeyless or conceal our monkey ownership after obtaining a primate friend from some seedy underground black market monkey emporium.

Yup, I'll confess that all this is proof positive that losing my best buddy for the past dozen years sent part of me reeling over the edge. This whole grieving over the loss of a pet thing is a brand new animal for me. But I've mostly thankfully discovered it seems to be familiar territory for many others. After Mr. Max died, well meaning people comforted me with various forms of advice. Some advised getting another cat immediately to help me through the sadness. Others thought I should allow myself time to grieve. "You'll know when you are ready" I was told. And the inner ongoing dialogue bounced back and forth seemingly every minute or so from never wanting another cat to wanting 17 so I wouldn't get quite so attached to any single one.

Months after Max's death I couldn't quite find it within myself to put away his dishes, his toys, or his bed. I looked at the pictures a most talented photographer took of him in his senior years and I'm so glad that his many wonderful and wondrous faces were captured so memorably on film. I've never been a been fan of photography but these pictures have come to mean more and more to me each day. And as much as they remind me of how much I miss him they also remind me of the stability he helped bring into my life. Didn't matter how good or bad a day I was having, didn't matter how tolerable a year's worth of events were, Max was always there to come home to and rely on. He had his quirks but he was consistent and in a significant way he read me like no one else ever has. Losing Max was like losing a limb. Kinda taken for granted at times, always a remarkable thing to have, the loss of which causes you to lose balance.

In my mind I knew I had to find a way to separate how much I missed Max from how much I missed having a cat around. I went to a cat shelter a few weeks back not because I thought I was going to bring home another cat but almost because I missed Max so and wanted to be around his species, a species he wasn't at all fond of. It was another thing we kinda shared in common - I find myself not always so fond of my own species. I had to sneer whenever someone told me "Max would want you to have another cat." I know that isn't true- the other found comfort words "He would want you to be happy" most certainly are true but my happiness and allowing another cat into his house are two distinct things. Max disliked other cats so much that whenever I tossed him a ball of his own fur he would mercilessly attack it.

While I was at the shelter a beautiful calico cat named Kat hopped up on a stack of bags of kitty litter next to me. She reached her paw out to me and meowed. She kept at it until I touched her. She even followed me into the next room. The shelter guy said he had never seen her do that before that she tended to be the anti-social type (birds of a feather). He asked if I had tuna in my pocket or something. My only thought was Max had possessed her soul for a moment. Later a rational reassuring voice told me it was perhaps a sign I wasn't quite ready for another cat quite yet.

My friend Stooey emailed me web sites for a couple of local cat shelters. Reading the stories of some of the cats in the shelters brought a tear or two to my eyes. There seems to be no shortage of abandoned or abused kitties in our area. With the monkey option becoming less viable, my pet plan was becoming a little more focused. I thought it might be a good idea to adopt a mother cat and one of her kittens. This would ensure I'd get cats of different ages (meaning they'd reach various stages of their lives and decay at different times). It would also increase the odd the two cats would get along with each other. I also decided that I would adopt two female cats to try to make them as different as Max as I could. The plan of getting two cats was hopefully also a way to not get so attached to any one of them making any upcoming loss a little bit more palatable. Practical? Probably not but that has never exactly been my middle name.

I talked with a woman at one of the shelters. She didn't seem too keen on the mother/kitten idea and she sent me to a foster home that had three female cats that were bonding fairly well. One of them, Mamie was ultra-friendly. Another, Savannah couldn't get away from me fast enough. I never saw the third, Baby Cakes, who left me asking an obvious question of the foster mom, "If I adopt them is it all right to change their names?" Yup, she said, that's quite a normal thing to do. I could live with Savannah and even Mamie but somehow despite my obvious lack of mature manliness and attachment to felines I could never picture myself living with a cat named Baby Cakes.

A few days later I visited Mamie again at an adoption held at the Roseville Petco. The rational voice of reassurance came along. While at the store we saw some sweet and mellow greyhounds that got me thinking again about a completely different course of action. The cat adoption lady had also told me about a pair of male cats living in another foster home, Thompson and Diego. I had remembered reading about Thompson on the web page- how he had one of his front legs amputated after getting his paw caught in a trap. He had bonded with Diego so the shelter wanted to adopt the two of them together. Seeing I wanted two cats the adoption lady asked me if getting two female cats was my absolute number one criteria. Being as wishy washy and Charlie Brown-like (in my always annoying way) as ever I wasn't quite sure. Seeing the two boys at the store changed my way of thinking.

I felt an immediate sympathy for Thompson. When I was a kid I had a pink stuffed cat. I'm sure like all of you I named all my stuffed animals after baseball players. The pink cat's name was Hefty Thompson- named after Twins' shortstop Danny Thompson who died of Leukemia (a disease that plagues the cat community). The thought of having a cat named Thompson seemed reasonable. And Diego was as advertised- an extremely social and friendly cat. The foster mom told me that someone had wanted to adopt Diego by himself but she remained firm the two of them go together.

Men are often accused of thinking with a certain body part other than the brain but as I told my soulmate many moons back I couldn't be any lesser a man without somehow disappearing altogether. As a battery of analysts might someday attest (or testify depending on the circumstances) I tend to think with my heart (or maybe it's my spleen... whatever). I liked the idea of bringing in another ultra friendly cat along with another cat who has something special about him. That the two got along so well and somehow needed each other almost made me want to adopt Thompson and Diego on the spot.

My friend sensed I was rushing things. I did too. She was kind enough to invite me over to her house to spend time alone with her two cats, Maya and Marabou. I went over one night and was glad I did. Yes it was weird to spend significant time with cats again, but the look in their eyes was as reassuring as it was amusing. Marabou is the queen of the house- and she greeted me at the door as I suspected she would. Maya, who seems to have seen it all in her short lifetime, eventually came out and ultimately spent most of the evening in the bathtub. She sat beneath the tub's faucet quite clearly expecting me to know enough to turn it on so she could get a drink. I picked up on the vibe but didn't want to splash her with water. She pawed at the metal and lapped up any drop of water that dripped out. And after winning a staring contest with Marabou I somehow knew what I had to do next.

I made a visit to the foster home where Diego and Thompson were staying. Diego nearly leapt into my arms and was purring within seconds. Thompson was a bit more reserved but I was won over by how intently he watched Diego's every move as if he needed reassurance before he tried anything. I could see quite clearly why those who knew the two insisted that they be kept together. And I knew a certain fellow who was quite willing to do so. I called the adoption lady a few days later. She told me before I made any final decision that I should visit the two again. So I did. Again Diego was as friendly as could be and I watched as my heart intrinsically marveled at how well Thompson got around on his three legs. The thought of letting other cats in my home, in Max's home, still played on my mind but the thought of taking in a pair of compadres, one of whom was especially idiosyncratic made me think that maybe I was ready despite how faraway all this made me feel Max was. Approaching Mother's Day another unexpected feeling welled up inside. Somehow it didn't seem right to be able to replace Max knowing I'll never be in a similar position of replacing my Mom. And I so wished my Mom could meet Thompson and Diego. One of the last things I whispered in Max's ear was I expected he had to be sure to go and keep Mom company.

I brought Thompson and Diego into their new home. Diego immediately ran away and hid in my basement for the next two days. Thompson surprised me by being the braver of the two- exploring every room and sitting with me before he too went somewhere downstairs not to be seen. When I finally drew Diego out he almost immediately reverted into the uber friendly cat I saw at the foster home. Yet the first few days were about bonding with Thompson, marveling at how his handicap isn't a handicap- he does what he has to do to enjoy his life.

Max and I had several stupid pet tricks. We sounded alike when we ate corn chips. On laundry night he would scamper underneath my bed's clean sheets and paw at me. Once in awhile he'd get so wound up that we would chase each other around the house like Inspector Clouseau and Cato. I miss him so. Thompson and Diego, only a year old, are a bundle of energy but we will have to work on our bag of tricks. They love to play, love to chase each other around. Diego who's a big black teddy bear of a guy loves the sound of flowing water for a reason I've yet to figure out. Thompson loves to talk- all the time, anywhere. Before their arrival I put away most of Max's toys out of respect leaving out a select few as if to acknowledge the transition. We've had a fun first week getting to know each other. I wouldn't think of changing their names or anything else about them.

1 comment:

Joan said...

beautiful, absolutely beautiful