Becoming Cat Woman
Right after I turned thirteen, my mother surprised our family. For years, bunnies, gerbils, mice, tropical fish, and parakeets inhabited our Northern Virginia home. She’d decided, suddenly it seemed, that we needed to acquire a puppy—and not just any puppy. A four-month old Golden Retriever with a real pedigree! For about a week, we argued as what to name this blond fluff ball with gangly legs and four enormous paws. Finally, “Lancer” was chosen, but we simply called him “Lance”. Along with music and sports, he became the center of my teenage world.
Although human and dog years aren’t the same, Lance and I still grew up together. In time, Lance’s dog show awards outnumbered my team’s division titles. By the end of the 1970s, he’d become a champion, perhaps the canine equivalent to a person’s PhD. I was so proud. When I went away to college, I missed him terribly. By the time I’d moved in to my own apartment, Lance’s daughter, Brandy, joined the human-canine pack. She birthed one litter in the garage, and Skyler never left the house where he was born. Three generations of dogs living under one roof, plus another. Perhaps it’s common among breeders; but I’ve never known another family with three generations of dogs. I thought it was very cool, and still do.
As the product of a canine family, I had little contact with domestic felines. Our neighbors on either side had a cat. Almost nightly, our yard became a combat zone. I collected tuffs of gray fur from our lawn on a regular basis. Cats were no more than fierce little beasts that woke entire streets at three in the morning with territorial battles that never seemed quite settled. Most of my friend’s families had dogs, or no pets at all. Only one classmate had a cat. I still remember Judy, an orange and white shorthair that lived around the corner and down the hill. To me, cats were as foreign as Timbuktu.
I’d been out of college for a decade when one of my softball teammates announced after practice that she needed to find new homes for several cats. She asked me whether I’d like to adopt one. I balked at the idea of such an alien creature inhabiting my home. I was a true-blue dog person and could never, ever be disloyal to Lance’s memory that way. My teammate’s persistence, plus my love of animals, finally won out. I adopted Pansy under one condition. If she became a problem child in any way, I could return her. My teammate agreed. Within days, a beautiful fifteen-pound tortoiseshell cat moved in. Rather than enjoying the cat paraphernalia I’d purchased, Pansy went into hiding seconds after I opened the cat carrier door.
For two days, I searched and searched for her. It occurred to me more than once that I’d locate Pansy only after a telltale odor led me to her whereabouts. If that happened, would I tell my teammate? She ran away? Did I deserve this new adventure for not adopting a puppy? Was Lance’s spirit trying to tell me something? My townhouse wasn’t large, but Pansy gave me a quick education in feline stealth. At the base of my stairs, a hole no more than four inches high, and six inches wide led under the staircase. Had Pansy escaped to my “storage room”? How could an adult cat possibly slither through such a tiny opening? It was clear Pansy could not be elsewhere, so I started moving boxes. Thankfully, I’d brought a flashlight downstairs. In minutes, two green cat eyes stared back from the darkness. I was so relieved that Pansy hadn’t exhausted all nine of her lives in my basement that I forgot to be annoyed.
Pansy’s cat gratitude concerning her rescue was immediate. She ignored me, and darted upstairs. Where would she be this time? Displaced sofa cushions revealed her location. How she found a new lair instantly baffled me, but I knew Pansy would flee to the stairwell again given the opportunity. Luckily, a piece of drywall leftover from a recent home improvement project still leaned against the laundry room wall. I custom cut a piece and nailed it over the opening. In the kitchen, I opened a can of tuna. Surly Pansy had to be ravenous by now.
Pansy’s fear of an unknown human was much greater than her hunger. I made a tuna sandwich instead. I had to let her do her own cat thing—whatever that might be. Several evenings later, I settled on the sofa to watch the news. Pansy still lurked behind the cushions. At last she emerged and positioned her front paws on my thigh. Suddenly, she began to knead. Eight razor-sharp claws penetrated my faded Levi’s. When I cried out, she leapt to the floor and darted down the stairs. I found her wedged between the drywall cover and the bottom step. With her second escape to the stairwell thwarted, I opened another can of tuna. This time, she ate—and ate.
Later, Pansy settled on my lap. This miniature panther adopted me at her own pace—not the other way around. As my next official duty as cat caretaker, I changed her name to “Casey”. Calling her “Pansy” seemed inappropriate for such a spunky, yet loving, cat. For thirteen years she was my loyal companion, and I adored her. I marveled how a creature built to kill could be so affectionate. Clearly, my not being a plump mouse was a factor. Yet cat lovers often forget that the purring mammals nestled on their laps evolved in to the terrestrial world’s most effective predator. Saying good-bye to Casey was so difficult because she was the first pet that was completely mine—minus her time with my teammate’s in-laws. She gave me the gift of becoming a cat fancier—an ailurophile—and because of Casey and the other cats that have combined their lives with mine, I always will be.
Ann E. Fowler
June 25, 2017