The first pet I bonded with in life was a cat. The rhubarb was a fluffy white Persian, a soft fluffy cloud that only scratched me occasionally when I dragged it around the house. Or so the family story goes; I was still in childbirth and have no direct memory of a cat other than tattered black and white photographs in an old family album.
Years later, I learned that there were actually two rhubarbs. The first version ran on the highway and was hit by a car; my parents, not yet wanting to initiate me into the mysteries of death, went out and found another white Persian, and I never noticed the switch. Cats really do have multiple lives, although I don’t know what happened to Rhubarb 2.
With hindsight, the white lie makes sense; my mother had the Southern ability to not only continually edit our family history, but also to occasionally write awkward characters completely out of the script. Never mind the rhubarb; to this day, I wonder why Cousin Kenny, an occasional visitor and playmate when I was around 10, ever ceased to exist altogether. “You never had a Cousin Kenny,” the mother said, ending all discussion.
Perhaps this explains my early distrust of cats, a sentiment deeply rooted in Western culture. Mysterious and independent – and lending their name to the worst Broadway musical of all time – cats have for centuries been the butt of fear, scorn and abuse. Perhaps that’s why, for years, they’ve come in second—behind dogs, of course—as the most popular pet in the United States.
When I was growing up, we were a family with dogs: a cuddly black cocker spaniel named Floppy. A tan cocker spaniel named Champ. A feisty little terrier named Spunky who liked to bite people he didn’t like.
Cats remained on the sidelines of my life during these years. I took care of a dorm cat during my sophomore year in college, but failed to bond deeply with an animal whose only interest in me was to smack my face in the face. dawn every morning, demanding food.
I took to the dogs easily, however, and shortly after graduating from college I found myself the owner of an extremely intelligent German Shepherd named Leda – I once counted dozens of English words she clearly understood. After a trip to the Canadian Arctic, where I fell in love with sled dogs, I returned home to Los Angeles and bought a purebred malamute, which acquired the name Elk. It was a pleasure to backpack with him as he could easily carry almost anything we needed for a weekend outing.
Then, around the same time, Elk and Leda came to the end of their natural life, I married a woman who doesn’t like dogs at all, and we moved to the countryside.
Enter, once again in my life, the cats. After our rural farmhouse turned out to be infested with mice, we decided that a cat – of the outdoor variety – would be the best solution. The job was taken on by Wally, a mature charcoal gray cat who came from a friend moving into an apartment with no pets. Wally not only quickly reduced the mouse population, but immediately befriended our toddler son and was soon invited to become an indoor/outdoor cat, a change he wholeheartedly approved of.
It was the first in a multi-decade series of indoor/outdoor mice that included Rosie, Juniper, and Prudence, all of whom did their jobs well but functioned more like cordial employees than members of the family. family.
Then came Bernstein. Named after journalist Carl Bernstein, this is a rescued feral barn cat who appeared in our lives shortly after Prudence ended her mouse career. Camilla Mortensen, the editor of this article, once mentioned that she has one extra feral kitten in the small trailer where she lives with two big dogs, and didn’t I need a cat?
Seven years ago this fall, Bernstein took over our home. A beautiful gray tabby cat and excellent mouser, he is the most intelligent and engaging cat I have ever met. Although not as literate as my late German Shepherd, he clearly understands enough words to navigate life among humans with finesse.
He is also devoted to me in an almost canine way. Cats aren’t known for their loyalty, but Bernstein curls up in my office every night after dinner, waiting for me to come over and sit down and read or edit photos. He often asks, jumping on the chair and meowing, to spin around in an old office chair that is largely his own; other nights he taps on a box of toys he wants to play with and turns to me to pull one out. At 10 p.m. he reminds me, if I feel like I’ve forgotten him, that it’s bedtime, and at 6 a.m. every day I’m woken up by a purring cat curled up on my shoulder. right.
I still love dogs, but I’m definitely a cat person now too. One of Bernstein’s many charms is that he is very low maintenance, requiring little more than a spoonful of cat food in his dish twice a day and a chair turn in the evening.
Meanwhile, I’m having the best of both worlds: as I write this in my office at EO, a sweet-natured rescued pit bull named Biggie is curled up asleep next to my feet. He and a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Aksel are full-time office dogs here, giving me lots of canine play and affection – without all the time, energy and money that owning two large dogs requires.
And, after work, I come home with a loving cat.