The Road to World Conquest: The Truth About Cats and Dogs
I’m not a cat person.
All the cats that I’ve allowed into my life were either by accident or through association with someone else.
I don’t hate cats. I’ve been around them ever since I was a kid. For the most part, we’ve tolerated each other. But I don’t feel the same sort of attachment that I do to a big affable dog like Huck.
That’s not to say I don’t get attached. I do. It’s just different.
I don’t remember much about Zachariah, the family cat when I was a little kid living in Ocoee, except that he used to come running home from his adventures in the wilderness when my mom rattled some ranch chimes. One day, he quit coming when the chimes sounded. That didn’t stop her trying.
When we moved to Union Park, we got a new cat: Kizzy, named after a character in the Roots miniseries or short for “kismet,” depending on who’s telling the story and how many glasses of amaretto have been consumed. What I remember most vividly about Kizzy is how much she enjoyed raking flesh with the claws of her back feet. Second most vividly: What she did to the thatched grass wallpaper that my parents put on the dining room walls.
One day, a skinny white cat showed up on our back porch, dangling by its claws from the screen door. We would pluck the cat off the door and offer to let it come inside, but it refused. We’d go back inside. WHOOMP! It was back to clinging to the screen, belly pressed against the window. We called this cat Bartleby, after the scrivener who liked to say “I would prefer not to.” Bart for short.
Over time, this cat with the male moniker got fatter and fatter. It spawned milk-bearing nipples. Eventually, she crawled down off the door to give birth to a litter of kittens.
I didn’t have pets during my time at the University of South Florida. In fact, I’d end up going pet-less until after graduating and getting a fiancee who loved cats. Joy’s family had a cat named Smokey. Smokey hated me. It didn’t help that Joy’s sister, Carolyn, would take a little too much glee in nudging the cat’s rear and framing me for the act. The cat would swing his head around and just glare at me in that special hateful way that felines can manage.
The in-laws liked me, though, so I stuck with it for a while.
When the day came, I didn’t want Elsa and Sienna. We already had two cats – Peepers and Mr. Underfoot – in the house when Joy brought home a box with two kittens that she’d acquired from an old man at the Pasco Food Bank in Land O’Lakes.
Joy had adopted Peepers from an animal shelter before we married in 1992. Mr. Underfoot, well, he just showed up in the bushes outside our house in 1994 and our chow, Bella, adopted him.
I didn’t think we needed two more cats, but here they were, and the more I looked at them, the cuter I thought they were, and the guiltier I felt about trying to get rid of them. So, I relented.
By the time we officially separated for the first time at the end of 2005, our chow, Bella, and the oldest cat, Peepers, had died and I had adopted Huckleberry. I had left the St. Petersburg Times to focus on developing online games. Joy kept the cats and stayed in a duplex apartment in Winter Park. I packed the dog in the back of my Honda Accord and drove to the Pacific Northwest. We lived in a cabin in the Columbia River Gorge for six months, until I landed my first video game designer job at Icarus Studios in North Carolina.
I wasn’t sure I would ever see Elsa, Sienna, or Mr. Underfoot again. Of the three, I confess, Sienna’s the one I missed the most, because she had been the “daddy’s girl” of all the cats we had owned. Elsa had always been Joy’s baby. And Mr. Underfoot always seemed to be a special brand of crazy, which made him sometimes love you and sometimes hiss you.
Eventually, though, Joy and I tried to pull the marriage together. She brought the cats north to Carolina. Not long after she arrived, Mr. Underfoot snuck out of the apartment, never to be seen again. Sienna and Elsa, who had experienced the lives of outdoor cats in Florida, much preferred living in the luxury, safety, and security of the Inside.
Ultimately, the reconciliation failed. Joy asked if I wanted her to take the cats with her back to Florida. It would have greatly simplified my life. It would have eliminated more ties to that old relationship. But I said no. If I’m honest, I think there was at least a little bit of anger, a need for vengeance, wanting her to have to walk away from us without something that maybe she did want. She didn’t argue, though. After all, it certainly simplified her life too. Got rid of those last ties to an old relationship.
So, I kept these two cats that I hadn’t really wanted to begin with.
They saw me through the rise and decline of Icarus Studios and the development of Fallen Earth. They moved from one apartment to another, then to a house, then back to an apartment in the course of two years. They traveled with me across the Smoky Mountains to Huntsville, Ala.
A few weeks ago, though, I had to bid farewell to Elsa. Ever since arriving in Alabama, she had been suffering occasional seizures. For a while, she responded to doses of phenobarbitol. One night, though, she went into a terrible twitching fit and although the seizure faded, she never came out of it. It’s like the wiring in her brain had all shorted out. She was still breathing, but there wasn’t any life in her eyes.
The next morning, I took her to Valley Animal Hospital, where they confirmed that nothing could be done. I spent a few moments alone with her, then signed the papers and stepped out of the room so that they could administer the drugs to end her life.
I miss her. I think Sienna and Huck do too, but it’s hard to tell. Huck’s the way Huck always is – affable, goofy, and a tad reactionary when it comes to noises outside and his insistence on hollering about them. Sienna has grown more social, more vocal, and more demanding in her sister’s absence.
Down to one cat and the dog. Sienna’s going to be gone someday, but it’s possible she will outlive Huck. Multiple vets have estimated that Huck will have crippling leg problems within the next three to four years. Eventually, no matter the order, I’ll lose them both. It’s going to suck.
And I’ll probably get another pet when that time comes.
It’ll be a dog, though. Another big one, probably, because I’m partial to those galumphing monstrosities. Sorry, kitties.