Monday, August 13, 2007

Ode to Felines

I come to praise the domesticated cat, not to throw a cup of water over his head. (Shakespeare)

If you have the opportunity to put your ear to the stomach of a purring cat, I highly recommend that you do so. That rumbling, content sound is the energy of the Universe, at peace.

I have had cats in the house since childhood - Oreo and Harold, of blessed memory, and Kitty, who disappeared to parts unknown with her boyfriend - and when I imagined my life as a "grown-up," there was never a question that felines would comprise a central part of that picture. A bit over five years ago, my friend Nili took in an intelligent, verbal, pregnant cat, who then gave birth to five healthy kittens; Nili was willing to keep the mother, but could not keep the litter, and I inherited the alpha male of her kittens, whom I named Harry after my previous cat.

(I am a good Ashkenazi Jew, naming children after lost and beloved relatives. My grandmother named the orginal animal Harold after a human professor and friend at Brown University.)

Harry, a tiger striped British Tabby with piercing green eyes, started out as a house cat, until he accidentally fell off the balcony from the third floor and discovered the garden and an entire territory over which he could rule. But I am his human mother since the age of one month, I donned the "Gloves of Malice" to teach him to fight; he still "milks" me as a massage, grooms himself while sitting next to me, speaks to me on a regular basis and sometimes gets so happy to see me, he drools. Those who dislike cats, claiming that they are a selfish and unfriendly bunch, have not been owned by them, and have not felt the unconditional love and sense of purpose that flows generously and continuously.

While Harry resents the home office, because it takes away attention that he should be receiving, he will often come into the treatment room and warm a patient's stomach, because he instinctively feels that cat therapy will only enhance the results for this particular Chiropractic client.

Before Harry had his small surgery, he had a brief window to flex his fatherhood muscles and helped conceive a kitten who looks eerily like him, and shares the same birthmark on the inside of his mouth. This kitten lived on the street for almost a year, and I found him one evening, run over by a car, his tail literally flattened (like in the cartoons) and his hip broken. Having no intention other than to save him - or have the vet put him out of his misery - I rushed him to an emergency veterinary clinic, where he received orthopaedic surgery, and had his tail removed. Two weeks later, after coaxing from the vet ("Who else will take in a cat with no tail?"), Sarel joined the family.

Sarel has never gotten over the insecurity of living on the street, and so he has destroyed several pieces of quality furniture, and must sample any food being eaten or prepared. He camps out in my suitcase when I pull it out to pack -to prevent me from leaving, of course - and gets asthma when he nervous and feeling confined. Just the rustling of a plastic bag sends him into a panic attack. Because he lived on the street, he is the more friendly of the two, and has brought the complication of street cats into my life: Sarel adopted a gold-eyed ginger tiger striped street kitten from birth, now a fully grown cat. While this cat is afraid of me, he eagerly accepts food from me and has begun to come closer to me when I leave the house, much like the taming of the fox in The Little Prince. This cat has also found a way to sneak into the house at night and eat their higher quality food, and I have been forced to find creative solutions to keep him out.

Before you call me a Crazy Cat Lady, or tell me that it is my fault if I have indeed fed cats on the street, allow me to explain why I have chosen to regularly leave piles of street cat food where they congregate: after Hurricane Katarina, and after giving money to agencies to help the human victims, I still felt that I could not connect or relate to the tragedy on an individual level. Then I passed by a soaked, bedraggled, and starving cat, and decided that my continuing charity would be distributing street cat food to the Jerusalem feline population, and performing an occasional cat rescue, knowing that I make a difference in their existence on a daily basis.

I do not expect a thank you card from these animals, watching them dig into the food satisfies and gladdens me in ways that I did not think possible. On an otherwise uneventful birthday last year, one of the cats - I had fed her regularly and she disappeared after she gave birth to her litter- presented her almost independent kittens to me, lining them up like the Von Trapp children in The Sound of Music. All five kittens stood politely in a row, while she meowed the equivalent of "this is the Human who will feed you and will take care of you now." The scene moved me to tears.

A cat lover will tell you that animals have a clear sense of the human who will hurt them, and the human who is sympathetic to the cause, an honorary feline. I seem to be broadcasting that billboard, because anywhere I go, in any city in Israel or in the United States, an injured cat will ask me for help, a hungry cat will ask me for food, and a bored cat will ask me for some petting and attention. I take pride in the knowledge that the Universe has blessed me like this, and will continue to enjoy this demi-cat designation.

Don't worry Mom, I do not see pets as a substitute for children and family, and I hope that some day, when I have my own human children, my cats will protect them as their own, as part of the family.

[Check out the "Cats, about Cats, People and Everything in Between" Exhibit at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, through December 31, 2007.]


Asher said...

What? No mention that Harry is in possession of certain secrets?

Then again, I never could teach him The Grip - he kept sticking his claws into my palm.

Doc Danzig said...

He didn't want to betray the trust that you placed in him, Asher