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The Warm Fuzzies

I'm going to share a bit of acquired wisdom that may shock and befuddle you, but bear with me. Roll it around on the tip of your brain. Savor its essence. You'll see that I'm right.

Are you ready?


The kids playing on the stairs
Bek, like any sibling worth his salt, loves to tease his little sister.

For most of my childhood, adolescence, and adult life, I held cats in contempt as, at best, the second most useless of pets (fish ranking slightly ahead). After all, they don't come when called, won't sit still to be petted, and delight in demonstrating their contempt for humans—me, at least—by skulking along the back of the sofa behind one's head and releasing into the immediate atmosphere some manner of vile intestinal effluvia.

This was how I thought, before I came to understand that cats are, like broccoli, an acquired taste (though still not quite as wonderful when steamed and topped with melted Velveeta). What I now understand is that they're like little people, with all the bad and good that that implies.

My wife and I currently entertain (and are, in turn, entertained by) two feline youngsters: -old Bek and his -old little sister, Bitsy.


Bek You're probably wondering what kind of name 'Bek' is. I know I did.

As I understand it, he had blue eyes when he was a kitten, so Cheryl named him BEK, for "Blue-Eyed Kitty". He seems to like it, and I guess that's all that really matters.

At slightly north of eleven pounds, he outweighs Bitsy by more than five times, yet once he got past the initial shock of having to share his turf with the tiny interloper, he's been the best of big brothers to her.

When he can shake his little white shadow, he still enjoys such hobbies as standing on the edge of the bathtub in between the shower curtain and liner to watch me shower (the little perv), and chasing bugs.


Bitsy Bitsy (a.k.a., 'Schnickelbitz') came to live with us after Cheryl finally convinced me that it was time to get Bek a playmate. I was skeptical, figuring that if one rambunctious cat keeping me awake at night was too much, then two would be unbearable. The woman's a lot smarter than I am, though, so I took the leap of faith and accompanied her to Operation Kindness. There, we were taken to the kitten room, where we spent about an hour and a half playing with and getting to know the orphans there. I was drawn to a fuzzy black rascal named Bingo, as well as a cute little Russian Blue mix, but Cheryl immediately fell in love with the scrawniest little runt of the bunch, judging her to have the sweetest personality.

She was right, of course.

She was also right in thinking that having a kitten around would give Bek someone to play with and help to wear him out so that he didn't wear us out by crashing around all night. In fact, he's a wonderful big brother and very tolerantly lets Bitsy chase him around, play with his tail, and generally be a pesky little sister. And I haven't laughed so hard in a long time.

Bitsy's hobbies include chewing Bek's tail and climbing Cheryl's artificial ficus tree.


I have discovered that certain widely-held beliefs pertaining to cats simply don't hold true, in our household. To wit:

Myth 1: Cats hate/fear water.
Not ours. In fact, the real problem is keeping them out of the sinks and the bathtub when we're trying to use them. I don't just mean the fairly common business of wanting to drink from the faucet, either. Ours stick their entire heads under the water and let it run between their ears.

Shower time is like nothing I would have believed, if I weren't there to see it. Most days, within a few seconds of when I step into the tub and pull the shower curtain closed, I find one or both of the cats standing or lying along the edge of the tub, between the outer curtain and the transparent inner liner. Sometimes they simply meow at me and watch as I go through my ablutions; other times, they actually step into the tub, still mostly protected by the plastic liner, and... well, I dunno. Drink my bath water or something. I really couldn't say for sure what they're up to in there, because I really am quite blind without my glasses.

I do know that when shower time is over, I have to be very careful while toweling off my hair, because the kitten thinks anything that bobs or jiggles is a toy. 'Nuff said.

Myth 2: Cats are nothing like dogs
You haven't seen Bitsy when she wants to play 'fetch'.

She has this little fuzzy mouse toy that Cheryl calls "Rocky", because it rattles like it has pebbles in it, when you shake it. One evening, I was watching TV on the bed, and Bitsy was shaking her toy around and making a racket, so I grabbed it by the tail and slung it out the bedroom door—Rocky, that is. Bitsy rocketed after it. A few seconds later, she hopped back up on the bed, carrying Rocky in her mouth, and dropped her toy next to my hand. I tossed Rocky again; Bitsy brought it back again.

It can go on like this for about half an hour before Bitsy finally tires of the game. This is one cat that definitely is a retriever.



Spot Spot was a fat, sociable, easy-going tuxedo cat and easily the most talkative animal I've ever met. Previous to meeting Spot, I assumed anyone who kept a cat as a pet had to be some sort of masochist. Most of the cats I'd encountered previously hid under the bed most of the time.

Spot's partied out
Feline alcoholism: tragic, but kind of cute.

Spot wasn't like that. She loved to cuddle and frequently crawled up on my afghan-covered lap to watch football with me, rumbling like the bad wheel bearing on a '74 Plymouth I once owned. She was the big fat lovable mush of a cat that helped me to understand that not all cats were unfriendly and... well, evil.

Did I say 'mush'? I meant lush. Yep, she was a party cat, all right.


Blue Blue (a.k.a., 'Bluesnoferos') was my neurotic Russian Blue cat, imaginatively named by his previous owners for the blue-gray color of his coat. After Spot convinced me that having a cat of my own might be kind of nice, I adopted Blue from a new mother who had concluded that she had to get rid of him to prevent his stealing the baby's soul, or eating its eyeballs, or some similar nonsense.

Blue was fixed and declawed, and blues as a breed had been recommended to me because of their quiet, sweet dispositions. I got him home and found him to be very quiet...but ladies and germs, we're talking about possibly the most high-strung, evil-tempered rodent who ever bit the hand that fed it.

The little dude was wound really tight.

I really didn't see much of him during the first few weeks, what with his cowering behind the clothes dryer and all. After that, it was some time before I had another solid night of sleep, as I was unused to all the unfamiliar sounds of a nocturnal animal prowling the house. Later, when the aforementioned girlfriend moved in and brought Spot along, the place became a feline war zone. Blue, a complete blowhard and documented coward, rejected all Spot's attempts to make friends. He hissed and growled fiercely and generally made an arse of himself whenever she came around, but it was all show. Usually, Spot was satisfied with working him into a lather and then walking away, but sometimes she decided she'd had enough of his attitude and the fur would fly. Literally.

I'd heard many a Cat Lover go on and on about how cats are so much smarter than dogs are, but I've never seen a dog nearly drown in its water bowl, as Blue did on a regular basis.

Eventually, Spot, the girlfriend, and I went our separate ways, and Blue calmed down quite a bit. He never did learn to like being held, as Spot had, but he had his own ways. Every night at bedtime, he waited until I was settled under the covers and then climbed up on my chest and butted my chin with his head until I petted him. After a sufficient amount of petting, it was his habit to lie down and go to sleep. If I slept soundly and didn't shift around, I often found him there when the alarm went off in the morning.

I often wondered just what it was that caused him to go from a vicious, hand-biting monster to a loving companion. My favorite theory is that the little furball that snuggled with me was not, in fact, the same cat that I adopted. I suspect that beings from Arcturus 8 (Hale-Bopp... whatever) took mercy on my wretched, sleep-deprived self and abducted the original Blue, leaving in his place a calmer, more affectionate substitute.

Or maybe I'd learned enough about being a cat for him to accept me.

On March 6, 2002, Blue could no longer keep up his years-long battle with liver disease. I had to have him put to sleep and was surprised by how hard this hit me. At some point after those first few rough years, I had developed a genuine affection for the little guy and really miss him now that he's gone.


Solid black with a smallish, pointy face that suggested some Siamese in her family tree, Salem first showed up as a kitten that the next door neighbors found in a Wal-Mart parking lot and brought home. They didn't allow her in in their house, though, and we soon assumed parental responsibilities, letting her inside our house to play with Spot's toys and even having her fixed and vaccinated when she was old enough. She was unusually clever and was constantly racing around, chasing birds and the other outdoor cats for our entertainment.

She liked to keep an eye on the neighborhood from her favorite vantage point on the roof of the house. One day, I came home from work and walked out to the street to get the mail. I turned around and saw her perched on the ridge of the roof, craning out over the edge like a little gargoyle.

"What do you think you're doing up there?" I asked her. (Mew.) "Well, you come down from there before you fall off and get hurt. (Mew.)

She trotted down the roof, leapt from the roof into the branches of a large tree, and then walked deftly along one of the lower branches until her weight bowed it toward the ground. When she was about five feet off the ground, she simply stepped off her makeshift elevator, landed with a soft plop, and looked up at me as if to ask what was so important that it required her coming down off her perch.

When she was about a year old, she just disappeared. There was no sign of her having been hit by a car, and Animal Control never called (we had bought Salem tags with our phone number on them) to say they had her in custody. It's a mystery, but I suspect Blue's alien doppelgänger always knew the secret of what really happened to her.


Clarence"Clarence" was a gray and white short-hair stray who was patterned like Spot but acted like the pre-abduction Blue. He looked sort of cross-eyed, hence his nickname. He was very muscular, with a bull neck and a large head, and he always had the sort of sad, wide-eyed look that you see in those velvet paintings of orphan waifs (at least, I always thought of them as orphans). He was a sweet guy, but he had obviously had a rough life and despite his size was very timid around the other cats. His favorite spot was the porch railing.

Some time during the week of September 6, 1999, we lost Clarence to the heavy traffic on a nearby through street. I especially hated breaking the news to the cheerful fellow who delivered our Chinese food orders and whose habit it was to inquire, with a large grin, "Wheah you big headeh cat?"


ChaplainChaplin was sort of a gray/brown/white long-haired cat (I think it's called a "tabby") that belonged to the people across the street. When he was out of the house and about, he came to hang out on the front porch, roll around on the concrete, and eat. He was Salem's best friend and the only one of the several neighborhood strays that didn't seem to mind being chased around. He was an outgoing, playful guy who often dashed from across the street, flopped down on the ground at our feet, and rolled over on his back to have his tummy scratched.

I don't know what happened to Chaplin, but I like to think he went to live with the neighbor's daughter when she moved out on her own.


Fred, a lanky, short-haired version of Chaplin, was an orphan. The story I heard was that he had belonged to the young couple who rented the house next door, while it was on the market. They kept to themselves, so I didn't find out that the husband had died until some months after the house sold and the new owner moved in. The new owner—the same woman who found Salem—discovered Fred hanging around, and when she tracked down the woman who'd been renting the house to ask about the cat, the woman told her that she'd always hated that cat and, as far as she was concerned, he came with the house. Not wanting to turn Fred over to animal control, she less and less reluctantly continued to feed him, and on any given day he could be seen trailing along behind her as she worked in the yard.

He was strictly an outdoor cat, very territorial and a bit wild, and he never liked to have anything to do with the other cats. When he came around for handouts, there usually ended up being a yowling and glaring match between him and one or more of the other 'porch monkeys'.

As unfortunately happens with strays, Fred disappeared in 2000 and we never learned what became of him.