Vagabond House

When Kimberly and I married, we only had one cat, Millie. How loth I was to let that thing into my life...but it was a package deal. If I wanted Kimberly, I was going to have to accomodate Millie. Now, when Kimberly sees this post, she'll want to remind me and mention to you that Millie saw her through some pretty tough times when she was a teenager; that at times when she felt alone, Millie was always there for a nice cuddle.

Cuddle schmuddle, I say. Cuddling was all this thing was good for. At some point during Kimberly's childhood my blessed mother-in-law had decided to start breeding Himalayans. One of Kimberly's most uncomfortable and hilarious memories is of walking in on her little Millie while she was doing the deed with a monster her bathroom!

Millie, like so many of her breed, was inbred. Her eyes leaked eye-boogers constantly, due to the highly sought-after smooshed nose (although it must be admitted that Millie belonged to Kimberly because she wasn't show quality). She was very stupid. And she had been de-catted not only through the understandable practice of spaying, but also through the degenerate practice of declawing.

Kimberly's dad is a vet, so there have always been a lot of animals around her parents' house. At one point Kimberly had a pet bunny, Mitsy, who drowned in the pool. But nearly all the family pets were cats. When I met her, there were five or six cats inside, and two in the garage. I couldn't tell if the two  were outside in the garage because they weren't purebreds, or because they were incontinent with age; maybe both. They were allowed neither in the house nor out into the quiet streets of their neighborhood. All had been spayed or neutered, all had been declawed.

All of the animals in my in-laws homes lived a preternaturally long life because of my father-in-laws vet skills. Eventually they'd get put down, but not until they lived into complete debility, spending their entire lives wandering from beneath the couch to beneath the bed.

When I was nine my dad brought home our first cat, a tiny all-black kitten he had found mewling hungrily while he and mom went for a walk. We named him Lion-O, after the Thundercats, had him neutered, and he lived in our house and wandered around our neighborhood through two moves, from Belo Horizonte to São Paulo to Edmonton in western Canada. He had spent most of his time in Canada indoors, even during the summer. Dad found him dead in the house one winter day, and we watched him put the body in a grocery bag and toss it in the trash can in the back alley. We all agreed that the weather change had been too much of a shock for him.

Our second cat was Cora. I don't remember how we got her, but she was another mutty kind of kitten who was very playful, and who we all got attached to very quickly. She also spent a lot of time outside, and while still a tiny little thing, climbed into the wheel well of the car; my dad killed her when he tried to pull out of the driveway. I was the first kid he told, so I ran wailing back into the house spreading the news. This was before we had moved to Canada. Lion-O seemed unmoved by her death. That house, the first one we lived in in São Paulo, was the one where Lion-O was happiest. We lived at the end of the street, beyond which was simply a big empty lot, overgrown with grass. He would often bring us back coatis and diverse rodents. Dude was a stone-cold killer.

Although we ended up owning a total of four dogs when I was a kid, those were our only two cats. In my mind, cats were animals who lived with you. Sure, they were pets, but mostly they just lived with you. I'm not sure when I discovered it was common to declaw cats. I imagine it was late in life.

During our first year of marriage, Kimberly and Millie and I, a friend found a little black and orange kitten by a dumpster. She was working for a vet at the time, so she had her spayed, but she asked us to take care of the cat. I gladly agreed to. I was sure that this little kitten would bring sanity and wholeness to our pet life. And she did. We named her Sally. Sally had clearly been traumatized by her rough childhood, but I thought her a lot of fun. She loved to pounce on people's heads, which some found amusing, others not. I wouldn't allow her to be declawed. Sally and Millie learned to get along quickly, although each clearly belonged more to one of us than the other; the cats understood this. Kimberly learned to be nice to Sally, although I disliked touching Millie's fluffy fur, and avoided her until she died years later. Sally loved to be petted, but I seldom indulged her. She settled down as she got older, but throughout her adulthood was given to pouncing on Kimberly's ankles whenever my beautiful wife got up at night to drink a glass of water. She was allowed outside, but seldom wandered out.

When we moved to Idaho from Florida we took both cats with us. They became friends when we shoved them in a box together for the entire drive out. We brought her back to Florida with us, and even up to South Carolina, where she died of old age.

Before I brought wife and cats out to Idaho, I spent a couple of months out there on my own. I picked up Brerie from somebody, renaming her when I realized that the kids shouldn't have named a female Samwise. Once back in Florida, we gave her to a friend who wanted a cat, but she decided to run away. The friend felt very guilty.

After we moved back to Gainesville, Florida, Lewis the black cat started visiting us, and eventually I just took him in. Until we realized that he was living in two places. I talked to the "other" owner, who made it clear I had to give him back. I think she started locking him up.

I found Clive, another black cat, under my book shop in South Carolina. After the work of several days, I lured him up into the shop. Although I though that a used book shop should have a cat, a couple of regulars suggested he'd be better of at my home. He lived with us for a few months, ranging off every night. He got big, but one day just disappeared.

Last year I found Momo in the parking lot of a bar where I worked. I spent a half-hour on my belly behind a bar trying to lure him out from under a car. I could tell that he wanted to come out, but was too scared. When I finally got hold of him, he struggled, but quickly began trying to nurse; he was that young and that hungry. He's lived with us for a year and a half now. For a while we worried about the wounds at the base of his tail. He was going out every night, and by all appearances getting in fights. All of our cats kept their claws. He's the only long-term cat we've had who has kept all his reproductive organs. The kids and the other cats love him.
June, because July's not a name.

The other cats are two, Sally, who is eleven now, as old as our marriage. The other is June, who was brought to us by the neighbor who lives behind us. She rang our doorbell and said "Here, I'm allergic." She knew that Kimberly and I are suckers for this sort of thing. June is very young, and she was very thin when we took her in, but we think she might have had other owners. Perhaps she was abandoned. She seems to be settling in. Sally doesn't like June, but has learned to tolerate her. Momo is magnificently aloof. The kids love all three, and both Momo and June are very tolerant of the two-year-old's aggressive petting.

I'm curious to see how Sally's life goes over the next few years. Despite all the cats, she is the first cat I've had (not counting Millie, an in-law cat of bizarre health and long life) who lived into old age. Momo and June should be a part of our home until the kids are nearly adults. Unless we move. Then all bets are off.


  1. I've never been a cat man. I refuse to admit any attachment to that cat my parents took away with them when they retired to Idaho. I don't even remember Tillie's name... wait? Which brings up a more important question; where in Idaho?

  2. Moscow, up in the panhandle, south of Coeur d'Alene.

  3. My sister went to school there. Ever heard of Kamiah?

  4. No...just looked it up on a map. Never went beyond Orofino.


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