Binx, the new cat, emerged from wherever he’s found to hide in this condo to stare at me for about three minutes, and then he turned tail and ran back to his safe space. I’m not exactly sure where that is. When I discover one, he appears to abandon it for somewhere else so he hasn’t been back in the fireplace, behind the bins of of cleaning supplies in the hall closet, or squeezed between the washing machine and the wall. The condo isn’t that big and there’s only so many possible places so I suppose that as I discover each one in turn, lowering his number of undiscovered hidey holes, he may eventually decide I’m not that bad and actually come out and join the fun. As long as there’s evidence that he’s eating, drinking, and using the litter box, I’ll let him make up his own cat mind in his own cat time. Oliver, the other cat, who is now about sixteen, appears to be ignoring him so I don’t expect any real issues.
I’ve had cats most of my adult life. I would, in may ways, rather have a dog or two but the odd hours I keep and my tendency to disappear from home for a couple of days at a time when working on both work and theater projects just precludes giving a dog the time and attention it really needs. Maybe after I retire. Steve and I started with cats back in 1993 when we moved from our 1200 sq foot condo to our 2700 sq foot house. Patrick Flanagan was the first. He was an orange tabby rescued by a friend from a feral litter under a nearby house. In Steve’s researches into the history of our condo (the top floor of a late Victorian house in midtown Sacramento) and our newly purchased house (an Arts and Crafts bungalow several blocks away), he discovered that both buildings had been owned, at one point by a Mr. Patrick Flanagan and so the cat was named in his honor, and because his ginger fur meant he was probably Irish. We then discovered that the modern day Flanagans of several generations later were living across the street and we became good friends. Patrick was joined by a second cat, Big Al (named after Allan Owen) for a while but he did not last long due to his unfortunate habit of spraying everywhere.
When we moved from California to Alabama, Patrick came with us. He did not appreciate the four days in the car that it took for us to drive cross country. He would lay splayed out on the floor of the car not moving and then, when we got to the motel, would crawl up under the blankets and hide for an hour before coming out to use the litter box and eat and drink. He eventually got used to the Aerie and was Steve’s constant companion during his long illness and helped keep me sane after his death. When Tommy arrived, a few years later, he brought his two cats with him, Shadow, a gorgeous Himalayan with Siamese seal point markings and Willie, a small grey tabby. Willie developed diabetes and one or the other of us was always having to race home to give him an insulin shot during the first year of our living together. He eventually died of complications of the disease.
A few years later, we got Archie, who was sort of a buff color with pointed Abyssinian ears. He was a trouble maker. That brought us up to three which we thought was a good number. Then Patrick died after a long life and we went looking for a third. At the adoption room, we found a pair of litter mates, long haired and gorgeous who we decided to take as a set, Oliver, a dark gray and Anastasia, an off white. We became a four cat household. Anastasia was very much the princess, serene and aloof while Oliver hated everyone and only turned up for meals asking for more. Over the next fifteen years, Shadow, Archie, and Anastasia all left for cat heaven after long lives leaving me only with Oliver (who changed his behavior to become a loving little fur ball after he became last cat standing) and now Binx. Oliver is about sixteen. Binx is less than a year so I assume I’ll be down to a single cat again in a couple of years unless someone else gifts me one. I have two requirements: fixed and litter box trained.
So what does this litany of cats have to do with viral pandemics? A lot. Our pets help sustain us during our dark times. They help us meet our need to be needed when we’re separated from others. They offer unconditional love and acceptance. Their antics amuse us. The provide some unpredictability. In this last few years of pandemic, especially those of us who live alone, have needed the feeling of companionship that a dog or a cat can provide. This is leading to a bit of a problem now that the world is becoming more open. People acquired dogs and cats out of immediate emotional need a couple of years ago and they don’t have those same needs now. The responsibilities of pet ownership, however, are still there – and the expenses. Food, vet bills, boarding and all the rest. There’s been a significant uptick in dogs and cats abandoned or surrendered to shelters. The current inflationary spiral putting a strain on household budgets hasn’t helped. You can get rid of a pet for cost savings much more easily than a child.
I can’t help but wonder, as certain forces in our society seem to be determined to undo all of the progress made over the last seventy years regarding the place and opportunities for women, if the people behind those forces wouldn’t like to see, or at least tolerate, a return to the days when couples sold their excess children that they could not afford to rear or abandoned their infants at the crossroads for childless strangers to pick up and informally adopt. We seem to be monetizing everything else in America, why not human life. It seems a natural end game. I don’t want to wander too far out in the weeds so I’ll leave this topic with my basic philosophy. I believe in a society where every child is wanted, loved, and nurtured. I believe in a society where children are regarded as the greatest investment we can make and where education is paramount and appropriately funded for all. I believe in a society that makes sure that babies are born healthy and develop into healthy children – for that’s where healthy adults come from. To me, the most important public employee in the US is the first grade teacher. That is the individual who will either instill or destroy a love of reading and learning that will last life long. And we all know what the pandemic has done to the education system and what the parents empowered by the social changes of the pandemic have been doing to teachers who try to teach concepts such as empathy and sharing and how to view different backgrounds and experiences to the young.
Enough of felis felicitas. We will return to our regularly scheduled programming next essay. In the meantime, wash yo hands, get yo boosters, love yo pets.