Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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November 2, 2011

Lessons My Cats Have Taught Me

SAVE THE DATE! Don't miss our guest, DONALD MAASS, blogging at Writers in the Storm this Friday.

Ever since Jenny wrote about her dog Hoshi, I've thought I should write about my cats and what they've taught me.

Anticipation:  When I was in first grade and we moved from our apartment to the house my parents built, they made good on their promise to give me a kitten.  I had no idea what to name her, but since Mitzi was her mother's name, Mitzi became my little Siamese kitten's name.

Patience:  Mitzi had patience with a capital P.  I used to dress her in doll clothes and walk her around my new neighborhood in my doll buggy.  When women would come over to see what they thought was a doll they were surprised to see a sealpoint face peering out from under a bonnet.  Mitzi never bailed out of that buggy.

Unconditional love:  I was fortunate to have two parents who loved me, so I grew up surrounded by unconditional love.  I didn't understand their love at the time, but I understood that no matter what I did or didn't do to Mitzi, every night she hopped on my bed and purred when I petted her.

I have to admit that I didn't learn responsibility from Mitzi.  My mother fed her and since Mitzi was an indoor/outdoor cat, there was no litter box to clean.

When I got married, Mitzi came to live with me.  My husband never had a pet (His mother thought they were dirty and unruly.)  Very quickly he found himself wound around Mitzi's little paw.

Since we lived with coyotes walking through our yard, Mitzi was restricted to being an indoor cat.  That was fine with her, because she was definitely "retired" as a seventeen-year-old cat.  Though I fed Mitzi now, I just couldn't stand scooping the litter box, so my husband did that.

The Pain of Loss:  Before our first anniversary we lost Mitzi.  It was the first time I saw my husband cry.  A few weeks later he asked me if I'd like to get another cat.  No, it would hurt too much, I told him.  But he said, "I never had a Mitzi, and I'd like to have my own pet."

Joy:  Soon thereafter, we were given a Siamese kitten, which my husband promptly named Mitzi.  She was his cat.  He would lay on the floor and she would crawl all over him.  She would fetch the little knit ball he threw.  My former light heavy-weight wrestling husband, who ordered a sixteen ounce "cowboy steak" when we went out to dinner, now ordered lobster.  And he brought half of it home!  You got it.  He was bringing the rest home to hand feed to his cat.

Sharing and Devotion:  Don't get me wrong, she was just as much my cat as his.  She was an equal opportunity lap-sitter.  But he trained her to walk on a leash and to wear a life preserver when he took her to our boat.  She would wait at the kitchen door for him to return home.  I didn't know that I had learned so much about devotion until years later.

My original Mitzi was seventeen when we lost her.  We expected "new" Mitzi to live even longer since she had always been an indoor cat and been given healthy food from our vet.  Unfortunately, we lost her when she was just sixteen years old.  We had helped her fight kidney disease successfully once, but we didn't win the second battle.

Loneliness:  For five years we lived a catless existence.  We were unwilling to deal with the sorrow that we knew would ultimately come if we loved a new kitty.  My father decided to take matters into his own hands and rescued a feral part-Siamese female cat.  He told us to come over, he had a surprise.  When he tried to hand me the cat, she jumped away and hid under the couch.  Unfortunately we still weren't ready to live with a cat and told my dad we couldn't take her.  Shocked--and grumpy--he looked at my mother and said, "Well, then, I'm keeping her."  And he did.

Three years later my husband was diagnosed with cancer.  We'd been seriously talking about finding a new cat, but when he found out he was so ill he said he didn't want a cat.  One morning, a month into his treatment, he woke up and said, "I want to get a kitten. Today."  I was amazed.

Excitement:  I had looked six months before for a breeder of traditional Siamese cats--not an easy find.  To my surprise, the woman who taught the two writing courses I'd just completed at the local college was a third generation breeder of the old "apple head" Siamese cats.  When I called she said I was lucky.  She hadn't bred her two mother cats for two years, but she did have kittens that were ready to come live with us right now.

We drove ninety minutes to her house, then spent two hours with seven kittens.  Well, I spent the time with seven kittens.  My husband picked up the kitten that reached for him and never put that one down, even though I held each of the other six to find the perfect one, as my former writing instructor told me the personalities of each.  We added the kitten that picked my husband to our family.  My husband named him Shogun, Emperor's Warrior.

Healing:  Since my husband couldn't work during his treatment, Shogun kept him company, entertaining him with the typical antics of a kitten--chasing a twirling ribbon, or popping up from an empty flower pot or box. hiding, When my husband was having a bad day, Shogun would jump in his lap and within three minutes my husband would fall asleep.  An hour later he'd wake up feeling better.

Discipline:  My husband had definite ideas about proper feline behavior.  Shogun was not allowed on the dining room table, the kitchen counter, or in the garage.  My husband would pick Shogun up from the verboten area and say, "That's a kitty no."  If Shogun persisted he was put in "Kitty Time Out."  Really.  My husband trained Shogun to sit in a corner of our bedroom until he was picked up.

One time when I came home from work,  Shogun was nowhere around.  My husband was working outside on a project.  I asked him where Shogun was and my husband froze.  "Oh, no!"  He ran to our bedroom and swooped Shogun into his arms.  "I forgot I put him in Kitty Time Out!"  Shogun had been sitting, waiting patiently for over two hours.

Shortly after Shogun's first birthday, my husband died.  We grieved for him together.  Shogun would curl up at the foot of my husband's empty chair.  I didn't have the heart to keep him off the dining room table or out of the garage.

Serendipity:  My dad died the year after he rescued the feral cat.  When my mother died five years later, her neighbor asked if she could have Mitzi.  I was delighted to give Mitzi to her since she'd just lost her cat and I had Shogun.

Well, two years ago my mother's neighbor died.  Seventeen-year-old Mitzi now lives with Shogun and me.  It was not easy at first, but last week, for the first time, I came home to find them snuggled together, napping.  How wonderful is life?  I have my dad's cat and my husband's cat to love.  And to keep teaching me about life and living.

Mitzi wraps herself around my neck and Shogun sits in my lap while I write.  How good is that?

Have you learned life lessons from a pet?  Has a pet helped you through an illness or grief? We'd love to hear about it.


0 comments on “Lessons My Cats Have Taught Me”

  1. Oh Fae,
    No fair making me cry at 4 am!
    I'm a cat person too, and I understand every point you have.
    But try to imagine my cat respecting a "kitty time-out?"
    She'd learn how to raise her middle finger to me first.
    Damn cat.

    1. Sorry for making you cry, Laura. I didn't intend for it to be a tear-jerker, but I guess I should have known it would be when I had to stop before I finished it and run for the tissues. Bur really, your cat isn't even close to Garfield's personality! Love...

  2. What a beautiful and inspiring post! I loved my cats dearly, but after years of fighting the allergies (I was highly allergic) I had to find them homes. I was able to work with a service and found them both great homes, but it nearly killed me. Four years later, I still shed tears over them.

    A kitty time out? Awesome.

    1. I have to applaud you for taking cats into your home even when you had allergies. And I bow to you for your honorable placement of them even though you were suffering so. Separation is so painful.

      Last year Shogun did something that really frightened me; he ran out the front door. I caught him only because he stopped at the driveway. I took him back in the house and set him on the floor, on the while giving him a stern lecture. When he strolled back to the front door I yelled in frustration the words I hadn't thought of for years and had never said. "That's a kitty time out!" He turned and looked at me with disbelief, then, head down, he started trotting to the back of the house. Needless to say, I scooped him up before he made it to time out.

  3. VERY sweet post, Fae! I had the same experience Stacy had with my cat, Sugar. I loved that cat...but it was one long sinus infection. 🙁

    I can't wait to see the comments for this post. The ones for my baby Hoshi's blog brought me to tears.

  4. I had to wait to stop crying, Fae. That was a wonderful story and if you don't turn it into a book, you will be cheating so many from the joy, sorrow, laughter and tears you just gave to everyone who read this post. We were never allowed pets, but my husband and his family were dog people, so we had a dog who became my children's guardian angel. My daughter chose to be both and so her blonde lab and her rescued gray tabby lived together in perfect harmony until we lost Zoey, our gentle lab. I had a dog and a cat that I swore talked to me, the dog sang and the cat pounced by the apartment door and warned me someone was approaching.

    There are a hundred different ways these loving members of our families teach us with their uncondontional love and funny antics. Thanks again for sharing 🙂

    1. Thank you for suggesting I turn my life with cats into a book. I'd never thought of that, but there was so much I couldn't put in the blog--it's a great idea. Shogun is a watch cat, like yours. He finds me in the house and does a little dance to tell me someone's coming to the door. And before Mitzi came to live with us Shogun's best friend was a mini-schnauzer. I believe you about your cat and dog talking to you. One of my friends is an animal communicator. She says we could all talk to animals when we were children--before adults told us animals didn't talk. I'm so glad you've had the joys of living with animal family members. Love--

  5. Very touching post, Fae. Makes me reminisce about my late siamese kitty, Sheba. Sure she had a whinny meow but made up for it with all her hugs.

    1. My Siamese cats have always been quiet. Maybe because they used kitty mind control to make me do what they wanted. Unit my father's Mitzi. She is only seven pounds but she can bust out that Siamese yowl to wake someone in Australia. But you're right, she makes up for it with love. Thanks for reading.

  6. Pets and stories like this are enough to rip my heart out. We put our emotions, sometimes our very souls on the line for our pets...and the ones we love...all doomed to part one day. Our Yorkie, Ginger, died last December 3rd. She was only 3 years old. Damn near did me in emotionally, I swore I'd never get another dog, until Taz came along last March, and here we go again, headed for heartbreak but soaking in all the love and fun while we can.

    1. Oh, Terry. I'm so sorry you lost Ginger way before her time. We do have too few years with our furry loved ones, but I believe our lives are so much richer with their love. I also believe that universal timing gives us what we need at just the right moment if we're willing to see it, and I'm so happy Taz came into your life. Enjoy every moment and all those doggie kisses. You're headed for lots of love and fun for years to come!

  7. I have a dog, but he has the same kind of loyalty and his own, unique set of antics. How beautiful that you have the kitties to remind you of your loved ones.

    1. Thanks so much, Karen. I love all kinds of cats and dogs, it just seems that the cats that have chosen to come live with me have all been Siamese. Interesting, I'd never thought of that before.

  8. My cat Sammie was a lover from the moment I brought him home from the pound. My college roomie and I wanted a cat, but it was clear he was mine from the first moment our eyes met in the shelter. He wooed and made passionate love to any stuffed animal in the house and would keep me company in the bathtub, him on the side, me in the water. When I got married, my husband had never had a cat (his family hates them) he wasn't sure what to do, but Sammie won him over. And when our daughter was born he was the best nursemaid in the world. He would fetch us to her room before she could even fuss, to tell us she was awake. When she cried, he would meow to get someone's attention, but never left her side. He was the sweetest, most loving pet I've ever had and even though he's been gone for almost 10 years, I still miss him.

    For my daughter's 10th birthday, we got a pair of kittens. I had forgotten how much trouble they get into and how much fun they can be. One of the gruesome twosome could use a kitty time out - pretty much every day and each one has taken on the personality of my children. Which is scary and cute at the same time.

    Thanks for sharing. I think something got into my eye, and now I need a tissue...but I'm not crying! Really!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing about your family, Jacee. I had forgotten how, like your Sammie, my first Mitzi sat on the side of the tub--and even jumped in the water!--when I took a bath. Sammie sounds like he loved you and your family a lot. (Oops, something got in my eye, too.) Our furry family members give us softer hearts, I think. I bet your children are having so much fun with their kitties. So much wonderful memory making in progress! Thanks again for your stories.

  9. How beautiful. What a joy cats are.They do teach us so much. My Willow lived 21 years and There has never been another like him. my husband like yours was a "cat whisperer' and could do amazing things with them. I just loved your story Dory.

    1. Thank you for your kind comments, Dory. I have heard of cats that have lived into their twenties and always prayed for that longevity for mine. How fortunate you were to have Willow and experience the joy of Willow and your husband "working" together. I think Shogun would say that he's trained me well. Ha!

  10. What a beautiful story on your many cat loves. I, too, have been blessed with many kitty friends. I can't imagine a world without them. Do continue to blog about your cats. You have many feline stories to tell.

    1. Thanks for your kind response. In fact, when I realized the blog was getting waaay too long, I slashed much verbage. I did think about making it a two-part blog, but decided no one would come back for part two if I made them (unintentionally) cry in Part 1! I took a risk sharing conversations between Shogun and Mitzi and my animal communicator friend in responses to a couple of comments, but my husband called me his Crazy Lady so I guess it won't hurt if other people do too, now. Thanks for making me smile.

  11. Jenny pointed me to your blog (thanks lady!) and this is simply lovely. My live is my pets--literally. And I live with a traditional Siamese (well, a wannabe, anyway) dumped as a kitten and named Serendipity. *s*
    You have such a lovely gift for capturing the emotional connection we share with pets. As another comment suggested, a book could be something to consider (check out http://www.catwriters.org if you'd like info on that).
    My best to you, Mitzi and Shogun.
    Incidentally, my Seren-kitty walks on a leash, will sit, come, sit up, wave...and has served in Kitty Time Out (but I doubt she'd stay in place the way Shogun did!).

    1. I'd never thought about writing a non-fiction book, but that's to the wonderful comments, that idea is on my radar. I will definitely check out that link--thanks so much for suggesting it.
      How wonderful of you for giving that poor abandoned kitten a home. Not long before my dad's cat came to live with us, I'd gone to the shelter to see about adopting a cat, after asking Shogun if he'd be willing to have a buddy in the house. In typical Shogun-fashion he said, "Depends on the cat." (I'm so lucky to have a wonderful friend who is a full-time animal communicator.) Soon after, Mitzi came to live with us. It sounds to me like Serendipity and Shogun would enjoy a nice long walk. I'd love for him to learn to wave!

  12. Fae, what a lovely, touching story! Thank you for sharing it. I and my husband are cat lovers from way back, so I know how much joy kitties bring into a family, as well as pain when they leave us. I agree you should expand on your stories into a book. I did that with my own cat tales, creating Six Cats In My Kitchen, available exclusively in Kindle format at amazon.com. And yes, I really did have six cats swarming around me in the kitchen every morning, loudly demanding their breakfast. All of the six are now departed except for 16-year-old Tiger. She has been joined by three younger boys, all strays, who drive her, as well as my husband and me, crazy. What can I say? I'm a softy for cats! 😉

    1. Oh, my goodness! Six kitties! I freaked out when I realized I would have two. I know I have enough love for six, but I'm not sure about sanity. My animal communicator friend had a long talk with Mitzi and Shogun yesterday and asked them if there was anything more they needed from me. Mitzi answered, "Don't worry. When I want something I just use kitty mind control on her." Best wishes to Tiger and the three younger brothers.

  13. Thank you, Fae, from Tiger, Casper, Rusty and Raven. Hugs to you, Mitzi and Shogun. BTW I had a cat named Mitzie when I was in junior high. One of her kittens, named Blackie, lived over 22 years. She was my mother's best friend.

    1. Hugs back to Tiger, Casper, Rusty and Raven. You can never have too many kitty hugs! Lynn, thanks so much for letting me know about Blackie. I am so hoping for that time with Shogun and Mitzi. Even though Shogun "escaped" outside today and I ran like a wild woman to catch him as he teased me by running and waiting for me to catch up to him!

    1. Oh, dear, Amy. I hope it's only a one-hanky piece. Originally I thought it was going to be humorous, but when I started crying, I should have known. Thanks for sharing the blog love!

  14. Hello Fae - I found you via Amy's blog and am so glad I did. What a wonderful, wonderful story you have shared and I agree there is definitely a book waiting to happen. I've had cats and dogs all my life, until recently due to travel plans. I was widowed in my forties (23 years ago). Three months before my husband's unexpected (and devastating) passing he gave me a soft-coated wheaten terrier pup for my birthday. Your comment about Shogun grieving with you really struck home. A beloved pet can be a tremendous source of comfort and love in helping to deal with such a loss.

    1. Our stories are very similar, Patricia. Animals are so empathic--and psychic, to, I think. Isn't is wonderful to connect this way?
      My hairdresser recently welcomed his second wheaten terrier after a his first passed several years ago. He's so much happier with an animal in his home again.
      Thanks for taking the time to share.

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