Two things I inherited from my mother are my support of charities and my love of animals, but my approach is different from hers.
With charities, I pretty much give only to local organizations. If you don’t know why, just look up what percent of contributions to national charities actually go to the supposed recipients. And while you’re at it, if you really want to get bilious, check out the CEO’s salaries.
With animals, I love almost all of them (biting insects clearly to the contrary). My mother, on the other hand, was a dog lover. And while not exactly an ailurophobe, she couldn’t deal with cats.
I think she assumed they were dogs of a different shape, so any attempt she made to approach them resulted in failure. Thus she quit trying and instead decided if cats weren’t possessed by dybbuks, they were of a strange and slightly sinister disposition that rendered them unfit for the home.
After I left home, I always had a cat.
Anyhow, a perfect place to combine my support of local charity and my love of animals is The Tri-Lakes Humane Society. There might be people in town who work as hard as the folks at the humane society, but I doubt anyone works harder. And it should go without saying, there aints any of the humane society peeps getting rich doing it.
Cats with creds
I try to drop off a check to them regularly, which I did last week. Unfortunately, when I did, I made a huge mistake.
And what was it?
Just this: I went in the back.
Every other time I’ve been there, I’ve done the same thing. I walked in, handed whoever was at the desk a check, and then turned on my heels and split. OK, sometimes I’pet one of the shelter cats, but after a perfunctory pat or two, I’m gone. But not last week. Instead, I handed Lena the check and then, as if driven by bizarre inner impulse, I asked what cats she had there. It seems like an innocent question, but only because you don’t know Lena.
Lena Besaw is the shelter manager and is a Jill of all trades. In addition to overseeing the day-to-day operation, she’s the animal control officer for the village, and maybe for the Tri-Lakes as well. So before, during, or even after work she can be shlepping somewhere to rescue some unfortunate dog, cat, horse, chinchilla – you name it.
To Lena, her job is less an avocation than a mission. She isn’t merely acquainted with the animals in there – she knows them, intimately. She knows their background (or as much as can be known), their health issues, their dispositions, their quirks — you name it, she knows it. And so my asking her what cats were there turned into a guided tour that was like Steve Irwin meets Monty Python.
We approach the first cage where there’s a fat grey tiger.
“This is Butterball,” she says. “Someone found him in a barn in Vermontville, where he’d been living for maybe three months, last summer. He’s really sweet, but he doesn’t like dogs and he’s scared of loud noises.”
In the next cage is a tiny black cat.
“This is Smoky. She was a surrender because the daughter was allergic. She’s pretty shy and tends to stay away from tall men with beards. She lived in Placid, but was originally from Wilmington.”
After that is a tri-color named Trixie.
“She’s very standoffish. She’s neat and low-key, but doesn’t really like to interact much with people. She likes to play with those plastic milk bottle caps and she meows loudly, especially at night.”
And on and on it goes. I now know more about the shelter cats’ family histories than my own. But it doesn’t matter, since I wasn’t getting a cat. But if that’s the case, why did I ask Lena to see them in the first place? Let me backtrack a bit.
Sanity at its best
A few weeks ago I had to put one of my two cats to sleep. Shayna was a sweet little critter and in the eight years I had her, she never did anything “wrong.” She always used her litter box, she never scratched anyone, and best of all, she never woke me up early.
Once she was gone and the emotional dust had settled, I had a great sense of relief. She hadn’t been sick very long and she didn’t suffer badly, so I’d made the right decision. Beyond that, I was now down to a three-dog, one-cat, one-goldfish household.
That may seem a bit excessive to most peeps, but to me it was a reasonable number; certainly, it made things simpler than they had been. I could see that clearly, rationally. I mean, I needed three cats about as much as I needed a third eyebrow. But, somehow, that clarity and rationality vanished like mist over the moor when I handed Lena the check.
And there I was looking at cats…and not with objectivity and detachment, either. Clearly, I was looking for Shayna’s replacement. Luckily, every cat she showed me had some quirk that made it a bad fit for me.
We went through one cat room, then another, till finally there was only one left. The animals in there were, like the others, not my kind of cat. One hated dogs. One hated cats. One would scratch you deep and hard, just for the hell of it. And on and on … till we got to the last cage.
In it were two kitten brothers. They were six months old; one was a grey and white, the other was an orange tabby.
I looked at them; they looked back at me.
I put my finger in the cage and petted the orange one. He rolled over, reached out and tapped my finger with his paw. Then he tapped it a few more times. And each time he did, he did what cats almost never do — he kept his claws retracted. The game of pet and tap continued for a while, till I realized something was missing — my clarity, rationality, and resolve not to get another cat. I thanked Lena and immediately left.
The next morning I was back at the shelter. As I got out of my car, there was a woman getting in her car.
We exchanged hellos, then she said, “The shelter’s not open yet, but you can go in the middle door if you want to see anyone.”
“Matter of fact, I do,” I said.
And then I launched into my life story, or at least my recent life story about my dogs, cats and goldfish and how I was now down to only one cat and really didn’t need a second one but I’d just met this little orange tabby and on and on and on.
“Well,” she said, “I think you should adopt it.”
Period, end of sentence, with no trace of doubt in her voice.
Then again, I thought, since she was someone obviously connected with the shelter, what else would she have said?
I’d never seen her before and had no idea who she was, but she was perfectly reasonable and articulate, her shoes matched, she wasn’t covered with fur, and she had no mad gleam in her eyes. So whoever she was, she wasn’t one of those crazy cat ladies we all read about.
And if she wasn’t a crazy cat lady, I figured she had to be a sane cat lady. And if she was a sane cat lady, then her advice was wise. And if her advise was wise, then I’d be in-sane not to follow it.
So how did this story end?
Well, I’ll put it to you this way: I know I’m a bit on the odd side, maybe even more than a bit. In fact, in a lot of ways I’m very odd. But I am definitely not insane.