The sound was what rousted me. The yowling sound.
It was during that delicious drowsy phase, right on the cusp of wakefulness and sleep. I don’t remember Letterman ending, but when I heard the sound, and opened my eyes, Craig Ferguson and Secretariat were doing their thing on my TV screen, so it must have been just after 11:30.
The yowling was loud. And insistent.
EEYOWWWW! EEYOWWWW! Over and over.
But I didn’t panic. I knew what it was, and there was no cause for concern. Gibson, my two year old long-haired orange tabby, was on the hunt in the hallway outside my bedroom. And the yowling sound meant he’d cornered his quarry.
Within a minute, he appeared on the foot of the bed like an orange ninja, a green and red catnip mouse clenched in his teeth. He proceeded to drop it, stare at it intently, and then pounce on it, rolling around with it between his paws. This ritual went on for a good ten minutes, with him bounding back and forth between and across me and Mark, who snored peacefully, oblivious to the life and death battle being waged literally on top of him.
If you live with a cat, this ritual, or one that is similar in its strangeness, is no doubt familiar to you. Cats are odd little creatures. But they make exceptional companions, and you can’t do better than a cat or two as sources of cheap entertainment.
And as it just so happens, June is Adopt-a-Cat month, according to the wonderful folks at the American Humane Association. Spring is prime breeding season for cats, and sadly, there is no shortage of stray cats on the loose, or irresponsible pet owners who allow their cats to roam and mate indiscriminately. This means that every spring, there is a population explosion in the cat world. So if you’re looking for a furry companion, (and if you’re not, perhaps you should be) your local animal shelter is currently overstocked with cats and kittens.
It was shortly after one of these spring baby booms that we acquired the fierce and fabulous Gibson, and his equally adorable brother, Fender. The Guitar Kitties, as they are affectionately known, joined our family late in May of 2012. Our ancient and diabetic cat Domino was still doing well at nearly 15 years, but I knew he would not be a good playmate for a kitten. It made good sense to adopt a pair.
Celeste and I found them at our nearby branch of the Humane Society of North Texas, in a tiny room that was bursting at the seams with kittens, each one more adorable than the next. There were probably 30 to 40 kittens to choose from, and it was so hard to decide.
I had gone in with no specific kitty requirements, but I’ve always had a soft spot for black and white cats. There have been many cats in my life, but some of my most beloved feline companions were tuxedos. On that particular day, there were multiple black and white babies to choose from. I plucked one from the herd, and looked him over. He immediately began to purr loudly, and laid his head on my chest. That was all it took. One down, one to go.
We had lost our beautiful and affectionate tabby, PJ, the previous fall, at the ripe old age of 19. Another orange tabby would be wonderful. I was particularly taken with a little orange ball of fluff who was stalking other kittens in the room. Unlike the cuddly tuxedo kitten, this guy was much too busy to purr for me. He had things to do. But I was determined. I scooped him up and turned him so I could see his face. He looked bored. “Hey, handsome! How would you like to come home with me?” He seemed unimpressed and non-committal, but he didn’t squirm or bite. And he was gorgeous. I couldn’t resist.
I was certain that I wanted their names to be musically relevant. I toyed with the idea of Foo Fighter names, but I was torn. I didn’t want to exclude anyone, but NateTaylorChris, or GrohlHawkinsSmear were hideously awkward, and Mark was adamant that adopting three more kittens would be excessive. Going with the most commonly played instruments among the Foos seemed like a good compromise. If I could have wangled a third kitten, he would have been Gretsch, for Taylor’s drums. It’s still top of my list for future kitten names.
The Guitar Kitties settled in, made themselves at home, and quickly found all sorts of ways to get into trouble. They tormented Domino by following him everywhere and sleeping next to him, despite his best efforts to scare them off. Having never seen dogs before, neither kitten showed any fear of Archie the lab or Speaker the cocker spaniel. The dogs fussed over them, especially Archie, who became something of a surrogate mother to them. He guarded them like a hawk, and bathed them, and patiently tolerated them climbing all over him. Everyone got along. A regular peaceable kingdom.
Two years have passed, and the kittens have grown up. Gibson is still a bit stand-offish, and he has a truly diva-like personality. And he gets away with all sorts of naughtiness. He’s a bad boy. And yet, he is quick to purr, loves to snuggle, and spends most nights (when he’s not hunting catnip mice) curled up behind my knees. Or on Mark’s crotch. Fender, who was once so affectionate and cuddly, has developed a very independent streak. He prefers being off on his own. He will rarely purr for a human, but he still adores Archie.
Cats are awesome little critters. But there are a few things you should know before you adopt.
Other than having some of the same physical features – four paws, whiskers, fur (usually), and a tail (usually) – cats are nothing like dogs. If you’re a dog person, be prepared. A cat won’t beg to go out for a walk or a game of Frisbee. A cat won’t bound over gleefully and greet you when you come home from work, tail wagging furiously at the sound of your voice. And a cat will never make you feel like the most special person in the world, just because you exist.
If it’s affirmation of your significance in the world that you’re after, a cat may not be the pet for you. It’s entirely true what they say about dogs having masters and cats having servants. Your dog lives to serve you, to be with you, and to make you happy. A cat, however, isn’t interested in your happiness. Even so, having a cat in your life is pretty wonderful.
The ASPCA estimates that 3.4 million cats and kittens enter the U.S. shelter system annually. Of these, only 37% will be adopted. The rest? Well, you can probably guess what happens to the rest. Hence my suggestion that you check out your local shelter and get busy adopting. There’s a cat out there who needs you.
Do it. You won’t be sorry.