“I wish that my writing was as mysterious as a cat.” –Edgar Allan Poe
At age 10, we welcomed our very first cat into our home. He was an all-black Norwegian Forest. At the beginning, he hid under the couch and only came out for food. The first couple of days, he called out for his brother around dinner time. It was a downhearted scene: our new six-month-old kitten meowing loudly in search of his sibling that had not been adopted with him.
Toupi (tou-pee) was the perfect cat. He never bit or scratched. He was a cuddler, a healer, and a true empath in moments of darkness. He would sit next to me until my broken heart was mended by his mere presence. He also purred at first sight. Toupi was a lover, not a fighter.
From time to time, I cat-sit my friends’ three cats. I also volunteer at an animal shelter outside of Calgary.
At the shelter, one kitten caught my eye. His gaze was both human-like and omnipresent. It was like this kitten had this uncanny gift for reading people and their deepest secrets. It felt like he understood life better than anyone I knew. It was a weird but instinctual feeling.
When I started cat-sitting Ernie, Gordon and Gandalf, I knew I would be fine because I had been around numerous stray cats in Greece and had owed a cat previously. But, it took some listening and observing to understand the dynamic between the trio.
All three cats are male. They are all around the same age, although Gandalf might be a bit younger. Ernie and Gordon have lived with each other for awhile. Gandalf, however, was a late addition to the duo, which makes me think that “playing house” with two other cats must have not been easy.
Gordon is a sweet and sensitive, orange and white cat that I see as the alpha of the group. He competes for this “alpha” title with Gandalf regularly. Lately, Gandalf seems to be OK with not being the alpha. He even welcomes licks from Gordon.
Gordon is the first cat of the trio that greets me at the door, and the one that escorts me to the front door when I leave. The last time I left, I felt an extreme sense of sadness as the boys and I had spent nine long days together, getting to know each other on a more intimate level.
Ernie is a beautiful black and white short hair. I see him as the “buffer,” the middle-child, if you will. Ernie rarely looks for trouble, if ever. He stays away from all things “alpha” and doesn’t mind going by his own business. Just like Toupi, he purrs as soon as he gets a few pets. He finishes leftovers if I forget to remove the other food bowls.
He is the biggest cat of the three. One would think Ernie would be the alpha male just for his size but his temperament is gentle and artist-like. He gets easily scared by a thunderstorm on the TV or a raised voice. When Ernie wants something, he’ll meow in my face in a very needy middle child-like way. It’s not as annoying at it sounds. It’s in fact very cute.
Usually the day before I leave, Ernie sits on my suitcase and other belongings and gives me the stare-down in a very kind Ernie way. I always wonder how he could possibly know I am leaving when I haven’t even packed my bags yet. Animals sense these things and Ernie senses departures radically.
Just like me, Gandalf is the naughty youngest child. We had a rough start, him and me; perhaps because we are similar in how we express our highs and our lows.
At first, Gandalf would hiss at me while I prepped his dinner. I would automatically raise my voice like an authoritarian father. This would scare Ernie more than anything, so, I stopped. Gandalf would also try to claw my head in the stairwell from the top ledge. It was like this cat was out to get me from the start.
I should have known better. The naughtiest children are the ones that usually need the most attention. Pets are no different than humans, kids and adults alike. When kids are being naughty, we shame them, we tell them to go to their rooms and, often, we raise our voices at them. We don’t try to understand the problem. We simply categorize them as “bad” and we leave it as that. At least, this was the old school way.
Essentially, I stopped ignoring him because of his “bad attitude”. I tried to give him that unconditional love that you give to the people closest in your life who do awfully annoying things. I started petting Gandalf more, even if it looked like he did not want to be pet and I tried harder at play time, even if he looked uninterested. With time and patience, it worked.
You see, naughty kids are not naughty because they want to be. It is usually because they want to be seen and loved. Slowly, Gandalf started coming in for pets in the morning and coming in for cuddles on the couch.
As I take the time to observe the cats around me, at the shelter and at my friends’, it is not hard to see that we are more alike than we think. We seem to experience similar emotions like jealousy, anger, grumpiness, playfulness and bliss. We all need love and affection, we all like feeling taken care of and we all like clean toilets!
It’s my last day. I am going back and forth between the foyer and my car. Gordon bows his head in the stairwell in dejection.
I reach out to pet him but he sulkily turns his head the other way, as cats do when they feel they are being abandoned. As I lock the door, I hear him meow a long cry that surprisingly breaks my heart more than it should have.
Earlier, Ernie said his goodbye attempting to block me from filling my suitcase (he was sitting on it), and from the white fluffy chair in the corner of the living room, Gandalf is pretending not to care but lifts his eyes to observe as I move my stuff to the car.
The boys are sad. I am too. But we will see each other again.