Taking Back The Cat


Boston can be a cruel city, and not just because of the weather, although it is forty degrees, windy and raining right now.  It is an expensive place to live and eat, the drivers are daunting, and everyone always seems to be in a hurry.  A year ago I spend three anxious days here with my daughter, a newly minted MD, desperately trying to find a place that was reasonably close to the hospital she is training in, affordable, and cat friendly.  As they say, “two out of three ain’t bad.”  We found a boxy one bedroom in a high rise a short distance from the Longwood area, and for a mere two hundred dollars extra deposit, she was allowed to bring her cat.  But affordable, this place is not.


Medical school can be a difficult and alienating experience, and if you’ve lived your whole life with warm fuzzy creatures all around, as my daughter had, there is only a brief period of excitement about a new city and a new endeavor before you begin to miss the cat curled on your lap when you study, the dog whining for attention and giving you an excuse to give up your books and go for a walk.  Despite the uncertainty of her future, my daughter found herself at the Houston Humane Society, staring into the cage of a ten month old kitten too old to be particularly cute and too plain to attract the attention of the numerous seekers dotting the rows of cages filled with sadness and longing.  A few hours later, she brought the malnourished and worm ridden little gray-brown tabby home, and christened him “Bitty Kitty.”  Several vet visits later, the worms were gone, but the effects of early starvation were not, and he has remained, as an adult, a very tiny cat.


A year later, with every month just a little bit more money going out than coming in, my daughter realized that if she stays where she is, her life savings will be completely gone before she finishes her residency.  She looked long and hard, in every spare hour she had, for a less expensive place, still close to the hospital, where she could still keep her cat.  Again, she achieved two out of three goals.  She found the perfect place, much less expensive than where she is living now, within walking distance.   But the cat is verboten.  No cat, no way, not even a tiny one that doesn’t cause any trouble.  She called me weeping, for advice.  I said, “I’ll take the cat.”


History has a way of repeating itself.  Thirty-five years ago I was accepted into a residency program at the same teaching hospital she is training at now.   I had a dog, the very first dog I bought, raised and trained all by myself.  Shandy was a collie in the old tradition of Lassie, and he was beautiful, and intelligent and my constant companion.   When I heard on Match Day that I was going to Boston, my only thought was to find a place where I could keep my dog—a large dog at that.  I came and I looked and looked and trust me, there was NO apartment within 20 miles of the city that would let me keep a large dog, or any dog, locked behind closed doors all day, and sometimes all night, because interns keep terrible hours.  I came to my senses when I realized that I knew no one in the city, and that it would be unfair to my dog to keep him.  Heartbroken, I did my best to find him a good home, with a surgeon who later moved to Ohio.  He did not keep in touch.


It’s been awhile since we lost old Timmy Tom at nearly eighteen years of age.  Although I have missed having a cat, I have not missed cleaning up kitty litter.  Still, I felt myself weakening recently when I spied a large male orange tabby being offered by a local cat rescue group. He stared at me and purred. But something made me hesitate, and now I know why.  On Wednesday I will depart Boston for San Diego with Bitty Kitty in hand.  He may be small, but he is mighty.  Those deerhounds better watch out.  The cat is back.

10 thoughts on “Taking Back The Cat

  1. From a family full of cat loving doctors, good for you! We can’t imagine life without one, or two or three felines in the house!

  2. The three years I lived in a dorm in CT were the longest three years of my life – no animals allowed. I was lucky in that I found a family to babysit for who had a dog – they had the vet’s phone number right next to the pediatrician’s. My kind of people!

  3. I have spent one year without a dog or cat – when I lived in Europe for a year. I gave my dog away before I left. It was so difficult! at least I lived part of the time with my cousin (a cat person) and then later worked with horses, so at least I had a few animals around.

    I could not believe that the person who gave my dog a home for that year then allowed me to have him back when I returned. I am forever grateful. I have not been without an animal since.

    So I HOPE that by the time I have to move into an assisted living place they will allow at least cats. The tide is slowly turning in these places as we baby boomers approach our golden years.

  4. There was an important psychological gem in that good writing: before you begin to miss the cat curled on your lap when you study.

    A few days after you wrote that, I was watching Patricia Moore’s RIT lecture on YouTube. There was a photo of an Asian woman allowed to sleep on the floor on her mat in a nursing care facility. And another photo of an old Asian woman climbing a hundred steps to the temple, because “she’s always done it that way.”

    There is no substitute for acknowledging, as you have, the importance of the familiar to our health. As a Tamoxifen user, I have found few words sometimes, to write what it’s like in a new state, with new doctors, and no possessions except a laptop, a few clothes, and some china teacups under the bed.

    I wish your daughter a new cat PRN.

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