Our first cat was a stray my future husband found late one night, on a dark street in River Falls. He brought her home, an appeasement gift he hoped would make up for the fact that heâ€™d attended a party without me that night; it worked. We named her Foxy and she was the cat who took us from our twenties to our forties. We could safely consider her life with us an upgrade from the one she had been born to, a stray kitten lost in a college town.
We became dog people in our thirties, and although Foxy would never quite forgive us for inflicting her with a rowdy little dachshund, she accepted life with us and a dog. At the age of 19 and a half, she developed kidney disease, and was suffering, so we had her put to sleep. No more cats, we told ourselves; it was too painful to let go. Then, our little dachsie got very ill and also had to go to sleep to end his pain. No more pets, we said.
In the country, stray cats come and go, feral cats that move furtively through the yard, running away at the sound of a human voice, disappearing into the woods. So, I was taken by surprise when a big silver cat paused on the garden wall, peering at me through the spikes of the lavender plant, and meowed plaintively. He was scrawny, his face covered with wood ticks, his fur shaggy; another homeless wretch. Against my better judgment, I opened a can of tuna for him and took a paper plate out to the porch, where he was waiting. Another surprise was that he wanted human contact more than the food. I petted him for awhile, and then he ate. I expected him to be gone the next day, but he was back every day, sometimes sprawled in a big chair on the screened porch. I bought a bag of cat food and he wooed us through the summer; by late fall, Chris and I realized that we were once again cat people. We took him to the veterinarian, where we discovered that he had been neutered, and we had to change his name from Gracie to Smokey. The question of whether or not his life was upgraded when he met us remains open. Where he came from, who had loved and lost him, was a mystery. We lost him in the same, mysterious way. He wandered off into the dusk one evening in July, and never returned. No more outside cats, we told each other.
Months of grieving for an old friend passed by, until we felt ready to find a new friend. . . or two, as it turned out. A posting on Craigslist, a flurry of e-mails, and we found ourselves doing a lot of cleaning to prepare for the arrival of our cats-to-be and their foster parents. I thought Iâ€™d dusted, vacuumed, and washed every surface that cats and people delivering them could possibly see. . . It hadnâ€™t occurred to me to vacuum under the bed in the master bedroom.
Fate decreed that my husband would forget to shut the bedroom door, and that the room would draw the cats like flies to road apples. I found myself hunkered down on one side of the bed, with the foster mother on the other side, trying to coax the cats out from underneath. There was enough dust and fur under the bed for me to have spun and crocheted another cat; and in that moment, I was desperately wishing that I had just settled for a crocheted cat. I couldnâ€™t shake the notion that the cats had realized the circumstances: their accommodations had been downgraded.
It is that thought that has driven us to spend time, effort, and not a little money on creating a haven for our new friends . . . we even vacuumed under the bed! We came to the conclusion that cats will eventually adapt to any environment, be it ever so humble, and it turns out that love is always an upgrade.