I grew up with dogs. Big dogs. For the most part they were not terribly intelligent, but I didn’t expect much from an animal with a brain the size of an apple. They were always very affectionate, and that made up for a litany of transgressions. My last dog liked to wake me up, so I needed to move my chessboard farther from the bed as his tail swept it clean. He had no idea what playing fetch meant, he would cock his head and look at me as if to say “So, you don’t want that anymore?”, and even though we lived near the beach, he had no interest in playing in the surf.
My second wife was a “Cat person”, and as I’ve been mostly living in apartments since then I have found some benefits in cats as pets. They certainly take up less space (as do their brains), but they are largely parasitic, giving little to the relationship. They are affectionate, on their terms. That was also the issue with my second wife, but the cats don’t seem to realize the fine line they’re walking.
My cat, “Autumn”, was born feral. She was rescued with her litter off of Interstate 495 near Wilmington Delaware, and clearly taken from her mother too early. Eight years later she is still a kitten in her mind, she tries to nurse from anything soft and warm, usually the shirt I’m wearing. My last wife and I got her as a “mouser“. Emma was deathly afraid of mice. One time she called me at work from atop a chair, where she remained until I arrived hours later, because she had seen a mouse. In Philadelphia, she was convinced that one mouse in particular was taunting her, she said it would come out, look directly at her, and dance in circles before disappearing behind the furniture. Enter Autumn. Autumn was a good mouser, and enjoyed the view from our apartment. She would sit in the window, watching the birds and the traffic on the street below. I had always thought that when we moved to Princeton, she’d want to go outside. Two years later and she is still hesitant.
Autumn has always been a “fraidy cat”. When Emma was alive, Autumn was always by her side, except when we had guest. Then Autumn would hide. Once when a nurse was visiting for my infusions, she sat down on the couch after spending maybe fifteen minutes of setting up the IV and all. It was maybe her third visit, and like everyone else she had never seen Autumn. As she sat down we heard Autumn yell from under the couch. A week after Emma died my neighbor visited, and Autumn came out. It was the first time she had ever been around another person.
My wife has two cats, Leroy and Rascal. Alright, they’re really all my cats, because I take care of them, I’m just describing their origins. Rascal is actually fairly small, but he has long fluffy grey hair so he looks large. He was the dominant, “Alpha-Cat”. When I first moved to Princeton, Rascal was unsociable. He did not care to be petted, he would just stand by the door when he wanted to go out, and stare at you, as if to say “Whatever are you waiting for? Can’t you see I have an appointment?”. I have seen Rascal run across the street in order to confront a dog. The dog backed down. When Autumn first started getting to know “the boys”, Leroy and Autumn would hiss and run and swing at each other. Rascal might be bothered enough to look up to see what was going on.
When we first moved to the new place, we were coming home one night and saw Rascal trotting across the road and down the adjoining street. The “road” is a minor highway. Now he stays at home (he still goes outside, I just don’t think he roams as far). He has mellowed and has become very sociable. When I go outside he follows along, and will sit with me. He’s still the Alpha-Cat, he’s just confident. He doesn’t need to knock the other cats around, he just does as he wishes.
Leroy is actually the largest of the cats. He’s a mostly white short hair and very muscular. I suspect he’s the cat that would bring small animals home, not entirely dead. One day he had brought home a living bird, and strewn the feathers all over the dining room. It’s amazing how many feathers are on a bird. Leroy has always been the “lovey cat”. Particularly when you’re wearing black, which we often do. No matter how much I brush him, he can still shed enough to turn a black shirt grey. He has an odd stomach condition, not hairballs surprisingly, but he just randomly vomits. I have changed his food, tried treats and medicines designed to ease weak stomachs, nothing works. Last week, he threw up the “sensitive stomach treats”. I also think he’s switched sides, and is now a mouse benefactor.
We had gotten tired of finding mice, or pieces of mice, in the hallway, so we decided to get a trap. We didn’t want a traditional mousetrap for a couple of reasons, they can hurt the cats, they’re gross, etc. So we got this live trap, with the intention of letting the mice loose outside in the presence of the cats. The cats still get to chase and kill the mouse, they just wouldn’t do it inside. The first time it worked perfectly. The next time, the mouse got away. The third time, I brought both Rascal and Leroy out together. Rascal had no interest, but when he saw Leroy pouncing on a spot in the ivy he pounced on Leroy. That mouse got away as well. Lately, I’ve found the trap knocked over and the bait gone. At first I thought that the cats were attracted to the sound of the mouse and in trying to get to it had set it free. I’m starting to think that Leroy is just letting the mice go on purpose.
When we moved to the new place, I went out and bought a “Cat Castle”, three beds and a platform connected by a scratching post. I placed it by the window so that the cats could see outside from the beds. They chose their positions. Leroy is usually on top. Rascal tends to take the centre position, because it’s even with the windowsill and he can just walk into it without climbing or jumping. Autumn sleeps under the china cabinet, but occasionally will sleep in the bottom bed. The cats get along reasonably well now, but once in a while when no one is looking, Autumn will take one of the other beds. Leroy won’t attack, he’ll just take a place on the sofa until she comes down. He will, at times, simply lay his head over his bed and vomit on the beds below. His brain might be the size of a peach pit, but he’s doing some of this on purpose.
We may have to make a decision when we move to Belgium. I have no idea what we will do.