I have to admit it—I never liked cats. Actually, to be more accurate, they never liked me. Where dogs would always drool and fawn, the cats I knew as a child were reserved and aloof, and heaven forbid you should touch them in the wrong place. The reward could be bite marks and a row of painful scratches down the back of your hand. When I was thirteen, I found an abandoned kitten. She was tiny and jet black and I smuggled her into our house inside my coat, thinking that I had found the answer to the mystery of cats—one of my own, who could teach me how to be a proper cat owner. She snuggled against me as we fell asleep that night. Sometime later, I was awakened in the dark by a tiny monster gnawing at my earlobe. My screams of terror woke my parents, and likely the dead too, and by morning my little secret had been deposited at the local animal shelter.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, our old dog passed away, and we were amazingly without pets for three years. While I realized that with a toddler and a full time job, a large breed puppy would likely be the proverbial “straw” to break my back, I was still longing for a dog. My best friend in Boston said, “Why don’t you get a kitten? They are SO much easier than dogs.” I said, “I don’t like cats.” She said, “That’s because you’ve never owned one.” Couldn’t argue with that! The next weekend we were at the Animal Rescue League, picking out a six month old plain gray tabby who approached us through the bars of his cage. That boy must have known he needed to behave like a dog to win my heart, and so he did. He came when he was called, enjoyed having his belly scratched, begged for food, and greeted me at the door every night. His name was Max, and he taught me to love cats. He also taught me that a cat that goes outdoors when you live next to a hundred acre nature preserve is a short lived cat.
Fast forward to 1995. I met a woman who was a breeder of Bengal cats. She had a litter of three kittens and she invited me over to see them. The dam of the litter was stunning, a golden yellow with beautiful rosettes decorating her entire body. She had three kittens, all yellow and striped. I said, “Where are their spots?” She said, “Oh, they get them when they get older.” Four hundred dollars later, I took home my Bengal kitten and christened him Timmy Tom. When I took him to the vet for his shots, the receptionist took my information, the cat’s name and birthday, and wrote down “Domestic Shorthair” under breed. I said, “Excuse me, he is a Bengal.” Twenty minutes later, the vet pronounced my kitten healthy. I said, “Do you know when the spots come out?” He looked at me, smiled, and said, “How much did you pay for your yellow tabby?” When I told him, I am sure that his guffaw could be heard at the front desk. The receptionist giggled as I left.
Timmy Tom is a huge cat, now seventeen years old. In his prime he was a hefty twenty one pounds, an apt illustration of hybrid vigor. His coat has lost a bit of its shine, and he may have dropped a pound or two, but he has his eyesight, his hearing and all of his teeth. He is the undisputed king of the household, and the giant hounds shrink back if he bares his teeth and hisses at them. He screams at me if I am slow to slice the chicken breast he eats for breakfast every morning, and he likes his shrimp without cocktail sauce. He never learned to cover his business in the litter box, and he does not care one iota if my bathroom smells because of it. I exist to please him and not vice versa. After all, he is a cat. I am still waiting for his spots to come out.
A year ago my daughter the medical student cried and said she was lonely and missed her dogs. I nodded sagely and gave her my best advice: “Get a cat. They’re easier than dogs.” And so she did.