Growing up, my family always had pets. The first one I remember was Socks, a white and buff Cocker Spaniel that came home in a Christmas stocking. Then I somehow bargained for a white, long-haired kitten from the pet shop by my elementary school. My mom used to pick me up from school now and again to go out to lunch, and we would always make a couple of side trips after we ate–one to buy candy and the second to the pet shop. One day I fell for the little guy, and as I recall, the deal went something like “place in the top three at your gymnastics meet this weekend, and the kitty is yours.” Well, I placed fourth (or maybe 6th…7th?)…who knows, it’s irrelevant. Let’s just say, I was crushed and probably cried the whole way home. Now, I’m not a parent, but I can imagine that dissappointment like that is hard to watch. And it must have been for my mom, because the kitty came home with us anyway–despite my failed attempt at gold, silver, or bronze. I named him Snowball, but many years later, he became George (a name my dad felt was much more appropriate). I got him when I was in third grade…he didn’t cross the rainbow bridge until after I graduated from college.
When my younger sister, Kimmy, was at the begging-for-pets age (about 4th Grade), we ended up with a Golden Retriever named Goldie–by far one of the world’s best pets. I remember Kimmy lugging the poor puppy around under one arm, feet dangling below…without complaint from the dog. We used to create a trail of popcorn throughout the entire house and then watch her, nose to the ground, follow the path until the last bit of popcorn was snarfed up. Ashamedly, we even used to put the area rug at the bottom of the stairs, cart the dog to the top of the stairs, and then throw a toy down the steps just to watch her slide across the hard wood floor when she hit the rug at the bottom. Goldie loved to be loved and was always such a good girl. She had a favorite step (#4 I think) on my parents’ stairwell where she would spend most of her time lounging. Mutter a polite “excuse me” on your way up or down the steps, and she would move just long enough to let you by. Now my folks have Barnum & Bailey, two Maltese pups, who are basically little people dressed in white fur coats.
So, when it came time for me to be out on my own, the need for a pet ran deeply. I couldn’t imagine not having one, and since I was finally beyond the restrictions of college dorm/sorority house/rental house living, the possibility of taking on a new furry friend became reality. I went to the Humane Society and picked a four-year old Black Lab mix named Ilsa. My roommate, already hesitant about adding a new live-in, insisted the dog go back after she shredded the carpet and the front door…all within the first two days in her new abode. I was devastated and embarrassed that I had taken on more than I could handle and spent the whole weekend looking for a rescue facility to take her in. One finally called me back–the afternoon after I reluctantly returned her to the shelter.
From the beginning, the plan had always been that I would take Snowball/George in as soon as I had my own place. My mother always feigned hatred for the cat, yet when the time came for me to take him in, she protested with reason after reason why he should stay at her house instead of making the move. And although I teased her about it, I knew that she was right. Snowball had spent almost his entire life in the same place…there was no need to uproot him now. So my mom took me to the Humane Society in Kokomo, and we picked out a perfect little kitten for me to call my own. I named him (I forget now what it was) and brought him back to Indianapolis to start his new life in the big city. Two days later, he died in my closet on top of a pile of my shoes. After poking him with a hanger to confirm his demise, I called my parents in hysterics. Thankfully, they were in Indy for a play and offered to come retrieve said dead animal from the closet and return him to the shelter. That was it…the pet thing was out of my system.
Then came Thanksgiving of 2000. I came home the day before, dirty laundry in tow, and started to head to the garage to unload my basket. I stopped as everyone jumped from their chairs like a bunch of hooligans screaming, “DON’T OPEN THAT DOOR!” When I gave them a much-deserved “you’re crazy” look, my mom came over and opened the door to the garage–revealing a relatively scrawny little tiger kitty. My step-nephews had rescued the poor little guy and wanted to keep him, but their household had already reached it’s domesticated animal limit. So they dismissively told me, “If you don’t want him, we can put him back out in the cold.” Admittedly, I was a little skeptical about taking on a new pet with my track record thus far. But he was especially cute and had the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen on a cat. I decided to take him in but refused to name him until after he had been checked out by the vet and made it through his neutering. Finally, sometime after the new year, he began going by Kelso.
Kelso has come a long way since his paltry days as a half-dead stray. For starters, he made up for those days without food or shelter by packing on the pounds–at his heaviest he weighed a whopping 16.5 pounds–before slimming down to a svelte 12 pounds on his vet-recommended, low-cal kitty diet. He has loved, and lost, his best and dearest friend Lizard* to the massive and indiscriminate jaws of our Labrador Retriever. Then there are the four relocations he survived, though he’s down to eight lives after one of the moves. And now, he basically runs the household. One behavior, in particular, has grown a bit cumbersome. It’s a little trick he does, which I’ve dubbed The Scream Machine. Going on his highly tuned and mysterious inner clock alone, Kelso sneaks up to the ears of unsuspecting sleepers [Marc & me] and lets out the loudest meow he can muster. This generally sounds something like a banshee crying out in the night and takes place anywhere from 3:00 – 5:00 AM. It’s a big ol’ giant MRRWAAAAH that resonates through the dark room like the remnants of the cymbal whacked on The Gong Show. The only difference is that it is repetitive….over and over he MRWAHs at a tone and pitch that is guaranteed to grate even nerves of steel. Every morning, Marc grudgingly drags himself from the warmth of the covers, scoops up the offender, takes him to our spare bedroom [which has come to be known as Kelso’s bedroom], and closes the door.
We realize that Kelso’s war cry is in fact his way of informing us that he is ready for breakfast, despite the fact that it’s much too early. But Marc has his theories. He explains to me that cats have brains the size of a golf ball and that if they use the same percentage of their brains as humans do, well then…the usable part of a cat’s brain is about the size of a pencil eraser. Marc is convinced that it’s the only way to account for why our finicky feline is so persistent even when his belligerent behavior produces the same results each morning. Personally, I would like to think that it’s just his small, albeit misguided, attempt to say, “Thanks, you guys…what a life!”
*Note: No animals were harmed in the making of this blog. Lizard was a rubber, suction-cup clad toy.