Like many people who write mysteries, I have a close relationship with cats. We haven’t deliberatelyacquired a cat in many years, but they move in and become part of the household.
One cat in particular, Gray Ghost, is a true desk cat. His place to lie is across my keyboard, especially if I am trying to use it. Then he happily bats at my moving fingers and tries to bite my hands. I usually just shoo him over a foot or two, and he lies there, watching the keyboard and planning a sneak attack on those moving fingers.
We do have a cat who might be considered a partial exception to the “non-deliberately acquired” category. Sometimes we foster kittens for the local humane society. We take a litter of motherless older kittens, beyond the bottle-feeding stage but in need of care and socialization. By the time they are ready to go back to the shelter, they are eating regular food and very playful. We can be sure they will rush up to anyone who comes in to adopt and will not linger long in the shelter. The first time we took a litter, however, we took a very young trio and their mother. The kittens were handsome and robust. The mother, however, was a plain black cat, painfully shy. She was not fully grown herself and much too young to make a good mother, although she struggled mightily and,with our help, raised healthy, friendly kittens. By the time the kittens were ready to go, she was exhausted, very thin and as timid as ever. What were the chances that she would be adopted? No way could we return her to the shelter to languish indefinitely in a cage. We adopted her and named her Arabella. And decided no more mother cats from that point on.
Her maternal experience came in handy a few years later when a tiny kitten showed up in the midst of a blizzard. We brought him in, and he hid in the basement for two weeks. We left food and water for him, and Arabella looked after him. When he finally emerged, he wanted to follow us wherever we went in the house, winding around our legs. He earned the name Jack the Tripper. Arabella was never quite satisfied that he cleaned his ears well enough, so she periodically pinned him down and took care of that herself.
One cat came our way via our good-natured, not particularly bright Newfound dog. I noticed he was drooling excessively. He always drooled, but he was leaving even more of a drool trail than usual. He appeared to be holding his mouth partially open, so I went to see if he had injured himself or had something stuck in his teeth. He was not particularly happy to let me look, but being a very obedient dog, he let me pry his jaws open.
He was carrying a kitten. A soaking wet, thoroughly disgusted kitten. When I got the kitten out of his mouth and down on the floor, she let all of us know how displeased she was, arching her back andspitting at everyone. Of course we kept her. She was a lovely ashen gray color with white chest and paws, and we named her Ashley. Our first glimpse of her feisty personality was accurate, so we took to calling her Ashley-Smashly. When she was about three years old, to our dismay she disappeared. There’s always a worry that cats who are let outside will meet with dangers. We lived in the woods, far from any busy roads, but with enough houses around to discourage coyotes and bears.
Just about when we were ready to give up on ever seeing Ashley again, she showed up. We welcomed her—not that she seemed pleased to see us—and she settled into the household routine. A few months later, she disappeared again. And returned again. This happened several more times. Then, she reappeared with a collar. Obviously she had adopted another family in addition to ours. I asked around, and discovered that she had been taken in by people who had a vacation home on a nearby lake. They took her with them when they went back to their primary residence, then brought her back when they returned. She continued to be a shared cat for many years.
We take all comers. When a cat shows up and stays for a while, we take it to be neutered and get shots. If it’s a fairly feral cat, we have to borrow a trap. It can be difficult to find a vet who will neuter and give shots all at one visit. I understand the thinking that a cat needs to have the shots and time to recover before the neutering, but we know that once we trap a feral cat and take it to the vet, we will not be able to catch it again for months, maybe years.
Presently we have five cats. We are getting older and have discussed moving somewhere more convenient, but every time we do, we look at our cat population and wonder what we could ever do with five cats, of varying degrees of domestication.
When a new, very wild cat showed up one spring, we decided we were not going add another cat to the menagerie, so we did not name him. We just referred to him as “the tan cat.” Of course, he stayed. We took him to the vet, and eventually he became known as “Tanny.” He lives on the back deck, hissing and swiping at anyone that gets too close to him, including the dog and our other cats, but totally ignoring the raccoons and possums. Not to mention letting birds come eat his food. He sleeps contentedly in a “cat cooler”—a Styrofoam cooler taped shut and with a door cut in it, filled with straw and placed inside a dog house.
Some of the cats that show up are fairly domesticated, and have probably been abandoned. I can’t understand how anyone could take a feline family member and just leave them like that. We had one very friendly, large gray cat appear. A very dignified cat, not one who wanted to be picked up or to sit in a person’s lap, but quite used to being around people nonetheless. Due to the well-groomed appearance and stately demeanor, we chose the name Lady Jane Gray.
When we went to the vet for the first time, he gently examined the cat. “What did you say the cat’s name was?” he asked. We didn’t bother with the whole title, just told him “Lady.”
“Well, I hate to disillusion you, but I have to tell you your Lady’s a Laddie.”
The cat had been neutered prior to arriving at our place, and since we never picked him up orturned him over, we didn’t realize we had a male. We would probably have named him Earl Gray, but the name Lady has stuck ever since, and he doesn’t seem to mind. He showed up at least seventeen years ago, and is now a fixture with a permanent bed on a chair in the kitchen, near the heat vent.
All our cats seem to live to a ripe old age. Since they are usually adults when they arrive, we really don’t know how old they are. But the last two we’ve lost have been with us for over fifteen years before they leave for whatever heaven exists for cats.
Last time one died, an outdoor cat who never did become all that friendly, we agreed that we do need to cut down on our cat population. When I went out the next morning, however, a new cat was sitting next to his bowl, waiting for breakfast. A notice must have gone out to the cat world. “There’s an opening!” He’s a gray tabby, and we rather unimaginatively named him Stripey.
Many authors include cats and other animals in their stories. I’ve included a cat named the Goddess in my Jesse Damon crime novel series, and in the last book, added an ugly little dog named Snaggletooth. Animals give my characters an opportunity to show their true selves.
Do you like reading mysteries with animal characters?