AT SOME POINT DURING THE shrill and shameless attacks on Sarah Palin, I didn’t bite when I read that on top of everything else “she hates cats.” Certainly there was no corroborating evidence, nothing along the lines of the shabby treatment Mitt Romney meted out to the family Irish setter during a vacation trip some decades ago. Back when my family had an Irish setter, I would have sooner ridden in a crate atop the roof myself than subjected him to such cruelty. As far as I was concerned, the backseat was his natural habitat, with both windows rolled down if that was his preference.
Not to stray too far afield (like my wandering setter invariably did), I think no matter what the truth, Gov. Palin’s reputation is safe with me. You see, I’ve just been accused of being a cat-hater myself— all because my wife and I recently purchased a purebred instead of adopting a cat from the local shelter. Can I say something in my defense? Or at least plead extenuating circumstances?
It was like this: Back in the fall of 1996, our boys fell in love with two Abyssinian kittens they saw in a pet shop. And if you saw how those cats were kept at the shop (one was actually asleep in his litter box), you’d have liberated them too. Supposedly these beauts were half-brothers, one a ruddy, the other a blue. A friend expressed alarm that we actually paid money for them. And what did we get in return? Two gentle cats who never liked to be held or sleep on a lap. By morning they wanted out for a day of solitary hunting. Sometimes they’d come in for a midday snack, but mainly they’d wait until sundown before joining us for their main meal. The ruddy, it turned out, was more of a homeboy. To this day he’s always within calling distance, allowing his prey to come to him. He weighs too much and never seems to smile. But as he’s aged he’s become nicer and even sleeps on our bed at night.
The blue, by contrast, preferred to go on safari, sometimes disappearing for days. Once he crawled back home badly mauled and infected. Emergency surgery saved his life—it was only when we picked him up the next day that the loving look in his eye told us that he knew who we were. He remained grateful the rest of his days, which ended in the dark of last winter. Cancer.
His departure left an awful void. No way he could be replaced, but when the time came we knew we’d get another blue. But try to find one. Which we eventually did—on the other side of the continent. He arrived by plane shortly after Labor Day. A tiny little thing, but with more personality than a gaggle of New Yorkers.
Our older son was aghast—how could we do this to the senior cat? No problem, as it happens. The old boy pretty much ignores him. Plus he eats up all his special cat food. The little guy in turn samples the big guy’s turkey. And they now eat from the same plate, atop the counter, at safe remove from our mini-dachshund— who’ll be hurt that I’ve only now mentioned her. So let me hastily add that no one greeted the new arrival more enthusiastically than the doggie, her maternal instincts kicking in immediately (her wagging tail was the giveaway). The little guy licks and hugs her, with both paws, and jumps on her back. It’s a nice bit of theater and heaven combined.
One thing I wasn’t prepared for. Our late blue, as I mentioned, wasn’t a hugger. A great companion, yes, and loyal, but he just wasn’t big on emotional displays, other than always rubbing against my legs when he came in, or flying after me if I left for a walk. But Mr. Bluey (that’s the new guy’s name) sits on my chest and pets me, scraping the whiskers off my beard with his sandpaper tongue. He’s something else to observe, a perfectly gorgeous creature. You might say he has something in common with Sarah Palin. Or at least with Piper Palin.