i write about the cat

The Questions About the Cat

Everyone has questions when you bring a cat home. What's its name? Is it a boy or a girl? Is it fixed? Are you going to get it fixed? When are you taking it to the vet to get it fixed? How much does fixing it cost? More for a boy or a girl? Will you be there in the room when they do it? Will you wear a mask? Do you like the thought of wearing a mask in a harshly lit room while your pet gets its genitals chopped and tied? Normal questions like that. And of course, What colour is it? and Will getting it fixed change the colour of its fur?

Here are the questions I'd ask if someone else brought home a cat. What's it doing at your place? How did it get there? Don't we have doormen to keep these sorts of visitors out? Are there no prisons? Are there no catworkhouses?

We Acquire the Cat

Those are good questions, but they miss the point. We actually want the cat. On Sunday we drove (actually, roped a friend into driving us) out to the Humane Society, a set of innocuous quonsets by the nearby steel plant a few miles from the city. I always wish the Humane Society were centrally located, but I imagine there's a law against setting up shop next to Safeway when your stock-in-trade is warehousing and killing uwanted animals.

The main building had one room for dogs and three others for rabbits and cats (all their cabbits were housed in a separate building under strict quarantine to keep the truth of their existence from reaching the general public). The first room contained the young and desperate wannabees yowling and batting our arms and shoulders; the second held the experienced actors, the ones in their prime who purred at your approach and rubbed up against the bars. The third room contained the has-beens, indifferent to our attention and awaiting an appointment with a trained and certified euthanist.* At first I wanted to bring all of them home. Then I wanted to pick the worst of the bunch, the most ragged, the ugliest, the oldest, the most demented, the angriest, the most injurious, the stinky one. Above all, I felt ashamed that I preferred one animal to another, that I thought oh that one sheds too much (it did) or that one scares the living crap out of me (it scratched me). I didn't want my own preferences and instinctive reactions to particular creatures to come into play. It was difficult to remind myself that we were saving one animal, not condeming thirty others.

Eventually we chose a five month old kitten, pure black except for a few strands of white on its belly and tail. He was sitting in cage 1, room 1, ignoring the ruckus as twelve year old girls floated past and cats danced in their cages to be let out. I liked him because he acted distracted but polite, extending a paw to touch my index finger out of pure courtesy. I rubbed his nose with the knuckle of my middle finger through the bars, and the texture of his nose seemed right to me, seemed somehow to indicate a degree of calm.

I was wrong. Our pet has turned out to be a yowling spoiled demon, a petulant two year old stuffed into a cat suit. One sight of human food sets off his plaintive unending siren, any surface barred to him is cause for cries. So far we haven't let him have any human food, but he appears to want everything that's ours: chips and salsa, hot coffee, madras sambar with quinoa, a vegetarian pot pie crossed with hot sauce. But I'm confident that we'll wear him out. And when he crawls up my chest and butts his tiny forehead into my face, or when I wake up in the middle of my night to find him sleeping across my neck, I just can't stay mad. A little weirded out, maybe, but not mad.

We call him Oskar.

Appendix: A List of Perilous Places in our Apartment, Together With Potential Awful Fate

open toilet lid - drowning

very heavy fireplace grille - smushing

dishwasher - extreme cleaning

bookshelves - possible toppling

basket of yarn - intestinal tomfoolery

open refrigator - fatal chillaxation

* No sites I visited would tell me how humane societies euthanise their animals. Not once in the literature of various animal shelter did the following words and phrases appear: needle, gas, incinerator, fire, Maxwell's silver hammer, chamber, club, nail gun, laudunum, ether in a handkerchief, katana, sai, nunchuk, Vibrating Palm, anvil, guillotine, deep crevasse, lonely road at night, rumble seat, weights and chains, quicklime, tar pits, front-end loader, .357, barrel, bore, bolt, pump, silencer, black gloves, 'gangland style', cap, ass, ready rock, hosepipe, exhaust, barbiturates, explosive decompression, hard vacuum, liquid nitrogen, ground glass, shiv, shank, errant multitool, aspartame, arsenic, Computer, Carousel, that laser from Diamonds Are Forever, tablesaw, skillsaw, lathe of blades, board with a nail through it, shovel, spade, military entrenching tool, systematic neglect by an uncaring adminstration unwilling to take the business of good government seriously.