Last October my wife told me she was ready to venture to the Addison County Humane Society and get a cat. (Note the singular: A cat.) 2008 had been a hard year for our family in the pet department because three of our five cats had died of (in chronological order) old age, cancer, and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, or the cat equivalent of HIV. This reduced the pride from five cats to two. Given my wife’s love for our animals, I was going to leave it to her to tell me when she was ready to start replenishing what author and anthropologist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas refers to as the tribe of tiger.
And so I was thrilled when she said we should get another cat. Sure, I had gotten used to a household with two cats instead of five. Trust me, two cats are a lot easier. Two sandboxes instead of five and only 40 percent as many hairballs. The turd hockey is less competitive. And the time it takes for a couch to be transformed from a piece of furniture into a three-dimensional hulk of shag carpet increases exponentially. But the reality that my wife was desirous of another cat suggested she was healing. The plan was that she would venture to the shelter and scope out possible new additions to our household, and then I would join her for the final selection.
She reported that there were between 90 and 100 cats at the Humane Society. (When there are that many cats and you don’t actually work there, it’s hard to get a precise count.) They were living in the cat cages and the dog pens, and some were dozing in the offices and playing on the carpeted, multi-tiered cat condo. As soon as my wife gave me this report, I knew we weren’t getting a cat. We were getting two cats.
She proposed that we get one kitten and one mature cat that might be difficult for the shelter to place. We chose a tortoiseshell kitten we named Lula and a 2 1/2-year-old the shelter had named Seven. Seven was shy and withdrawn and panicked like a wild bird the second a human tried to hold her. She had been in a cage for not quite six months.
Why did we keep the name Seven? Partly, I think, because there is an episode of “Seinfeld” in which George tells his fiancee that he wants to name their child “Seven Costanza.” Seven was Mickey Mantle’s number and so, George explains, “Not only is it an all around beautiful name, it’s also a living tribute.” But we kept the name Seven as well because for the first month that the cat lived with us, we rarely saw her. She lived under the couch during the day and behind a toilet at night. It was like we owned three actual cats and a low-maintenance hologram. We couldn’t really get a handle on the quirks that might suggest an alternate name, other than Hermit, Recluse, and “Dances with Dust Bunnies.”
I love both new cats equally, of course, because favoritism among cats increases the likelihood that the burners on your stove will become four miniature litter boxes. This is not karma. It’s payback.
And I’m happy to report that after a month of giving Seven her space (Translation? Largely ignoring her and never trying to pick her up), she has begun to realize that we don’t eat cats. She is as likely to sleep on the couch as she is underneath it and she will allow us to hold her as long as we don’t make eye contact and we aren’t holding a cookbook.
Lula, meanwhile, is fine. Eats like a piranha that thinks food is love. She bullies the older (and bigger) animals away from their cat bowls.
In any case, we are now a four-cat household. This makes more sense for us than being a two-cat household — and the turd hockey games are a lot more raucous.
Local humane societies have plenty of cats and dogs waiting to be adopted, and a new pet is a terrific way to start a new year.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on January 4, 2008.)