From a runaway cat on a leash to haunting hamsters and clandestine burials at the Met, seven New Yorkers share funny, bizarre and heartwarming stories of life with their furry, fluffy and feathery friends.
Where Cats Roll Dice and Drink Milk From Paper Bags
By Noah Rosenberg
He looked at me. I looked at him. He looked at me again. And then he jumped.
My cat’s leash and harness, I realized then, were conveniently in my hand instead of on his small furry frame (yes, I said cat leash), crappy flip-flops were on my feet, and I was flying through the air over six brownstone steps, certain of several things including the incredulous stares from our neighbors and the likelihood of a sprained ankle in my very near future. But above all, I was sure of one thing: my fiancée would become my ex and they’d never find my body if I let our cat run away during one of our thrice-weekly “crazy walks.” And to think, I was always the dog person in our relationship.
Under normal circumstances on a normal day—because all of this is clearly quite normal—I’d put the thin blue leash and miniature black Velcro harness on Tanner before actually leaving the apartment. But this was early September 2012, a few days after launching Narratively, and I was, shall we say, a bit distracted.
So, leash and harness sailing through the thick summer air like a pathetic kite behind me, I pursued our tabby-Bengal mix down our street, him darting left then right and peering over his fluffy shoulder as if this were all a game, or a blessed getaway—I couldn’t quite tell. When I saw Tanner hang a left toward what can only be described as a feline favela, I felt what any parent must when his child flushes his life down the toilet and into a cauldron of cat sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.
We live on a perfect block in a perfect stretch of Fort Greene in an all-too-perfect part of Brooklyn. Oysters and wine are consumed on front stoops, a vintage knife-sharpener crawls by in his vintage knife-sharpening truck on weekend mornings, dogs frolic in the park and lap up water from the courtesy bowl outside the artisanal coffee shop. But the neighborhood cats—gangbangers, really—avoid this bourgeois business at all costs, instead gathering in the grassy, weedy alley behind the quaint brownstones. We hear them at night, screeching and cavorting. Tanner doesn’t seem to mind; he came from back there, issuing a squeak for help from halfway up a pine tree when he was a four-month-old kitten. He hasn’t been back since. He’s a privileged kitty now. He eats canned duck. SAT prep wouldn’t be out of the question. I’d make a joke about orthodontia but Tanner’s teeth are damn flawless.
But here was our beloved cat, sprinting toward this dark, forbidding place. If he ever emerged alive he’d have a teardrop tattoo under his eye and an awful case of the clap. I was sure of it.
I know what you’re thinking, and the mailman thought the same thing the first time he saw Tanner and me own that little stretch of sidewalk in front of our apartment. “Really?” the mailman said, cocking an eyebrow and staring over his reading glasses at the cat dragging the man around on a leash. “Really?” There was also that time a teenage girl pointed at us, shrieked, and exclaimed with delight, “Oh shit!! I gotta get me one of them leashes for Fat Boy!” Our walks have gotten me invited to an underground restaurant in Clinton Hill and inspired a neighbor to tell me that our block was once home to Walt Whitman. And single men with dogs think they’re the cat’s meow? Wrong. Tanner, it’s clear, is a genuine conversation starter.
But he’s also a living, breathing being, so why should he be kept inside all the time like a…well, like a cat? After our first walk together, he meowed at the door for hours. I knew it was the start of a very embarrassing routine for my fiancée. But Tanner and I don’t mind. We’ve become quite popular in our neck of the woods. Recently, an Asian man, short on English and pushing a cart heavy with cans, broke into a broad grin when he walked past. “Awwwww!” He nodded vigorously and gave us the thumbs-up.
So when Tanner slipped through a hole in the fence that September day I thought it was all over. He would never survive back there, where Calicos roll (and chase) dice and Siamese drink milk out of paper bags. But then Tanner stopped and quite literally smelled the roses growing in the brush. Turns out he just needed a little afternoon in the grass like the rest of us. I frantically scooped him up, scratching my arms on the fence’s auburn rust, but I felt no pain.
A few days later he did it again, leaping from my arms when a garbage truck pulled up. He gets scared sometimes. But instead of running toward the kitty crack den, he made a beeline for our apartment, back to his stuffed toys and his stash of green beans—yes, the cat eats green beans—straight back to his sugar-free cereal and his D.A.R.E. t-shirt. Tanner was home. And what a lovely, boring and safe place that is.
Noah Rosenberg is Narratively’s founder, CEO and editor-in-chief. He is a regular contributor to The New York Times, and his writing, photography and documentary film work has also been published by The Wall Street Journal, GQ and New York magazine, among other outlets.
Marian Runk writes comics and country songs in Chicago, Illinois. She enjoys bird-watching and walking her fluffy grey cat on a leash.
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Black Feathers and Regrets
By Justin Porter
On a late August day in the mid-90’s I met a crow in Union Square.
Before the Greenmarket got popular—when it was only there one day a week and the only regular was the guy selling wheatgrass; when it wasn’t smooth octagonal cobbles but rough blacktop—that was when I found the crow. I was seventeen. I don’t know how old he was.
The sun was hiding behind the hazy, overcast sky pressing down on the city, making it feel like the whole thing was inside a dog’s yawn. I’m sure the crow would have flown away had he been able, but his wings had been clipped. I use the generic ‘he’ because it’s virtually impossible to guess the gender of a crow without an autopsy. The feathers around his head and neck were ragged and jutting out, and his head movements were rapid, manic.
Typical New Yorkers, they ignored him as they passed. The only hint of their acknowledgment was the detour they made around him. I knelt down close and slipped into that bubble, and the crowd flowed around us as I talked to him and tried to feed him cornbread that I’d fetched from a deli. While I was gone, I hoped that nobody would rescue him, while at the same time hoping for exactly that, or that perhaps I’d been wrong about his wings and I’d come back just as he disappeared among the rooftops.
I’d like to say that I rescued him and took him home, where I lived with my father and step-mother, but things were shaky there and I didn’t want him to be turned out, to become yet another trouble I returned with.
But he didn’t. He ignored me and the food I tried to interest him in, instead walking around in a circle crying out in his melodic, broken voice.
Maybe I was too lazy to get involved or afraid to touch him and have his own kind avoid him forever. Years later I would learn that this is an old wives’ tale, that a bird would avoid others of its kind after a human had touched them; perhaps something to keep the kids from bringing home every fledgling that tumbled from a nest.
All the reasons that I have for why I could not have done something are nothing compared to the fact that I did not. The guessing games we play, rubbing salt into the scrape of an unsatisfying decision.
My favorite story about these birds is from the Bible. Noah first sent a crow from the deck of his ark and it did not return, so he sent a dove, which faithfully brought back an olive branch, revealing the nearness of land and saving all of them from further wandering. A nearly identical Sumerian myth reverses the fable: the dove only circled and returned to the boat, but the crow’s disappearance proved the proximity of land. I prefer the Bible’s version, that the crow looked after himself and let the humans figure it out on their own. Let the dove enjoy its servitude and captivity; humans have a bad habit of judging one another’s worthiness in direct proportion to how well they follow orders. The handful of myths vilifying this family of blackbirds is dwarfed by the number praising them. Through this species, gods have acquired wisdom, men have been given fire and a world on which to stand and struggle.
I left the crow alone that day—this homeless dawn-bringer, trickster, bad and good omen, hero and creator of the world—and left him to fend for himself among all those passing people who hadn’t bothered to notice him or the buildings that rose over his head, pressing down as surely as the iron-gray sky and wet heat.
I have few regrets, but I’ve carried this one like a pebble in my shoe. Now I see crows everywhere I go and talk to them when they’ll listen. They don’t answer much, but maybe I just don’t yet understand. Perhaps they’re angry I didn’t protect one of their own. I’ve heard that crows can recognize the faces of men and tell each other about the ones that have been unkind.
My father is crestfallen that I didn’t bring him home; he says he would have been welcome in our apartment. I wish I had trusted the concept of home more. I wish a lot of things.
Mostly, I wish I’d stepped in when I had the chance. Instead, I left well enough alone, and that’s the absolute weakest outcome to enjoy.
Justin Porter was born and raised in New York City. His writing has appeared in Thuglit, Plots With Guns, Steampunk Tales, Pulp Pusher, Demolition Magazine, Aliteration, Sex, Thugs and Rock & Roll, Blood, Guts and Whiskey, and The New York Times. He can be reached here and posts new work regularly at portersnotebook.tumblr.com
Alabaster Pizzo is is a cartoonist, illustrator, printmaker, and crafter living in Ridgewood, NY.
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By Rebecca White
We always rented, so we could never have cats or dogs. The landlord said that the coarse animals would scratch up the floors and chew up the rugs.
So we had hamsters. It was as simple as that, like church on Sundays, ice cream after dinner and muting the commercials. Hamsters were our only pet option.
I got my first hamster in middle school. I named him Szhu-Szhu, and in an odd turn of events, there are now toy hamsters called Zhu Zhu Hamsters. I don’t know what that says about the universe, but it says something.
Szhu-Szhu was personable. Fluffy. He had the kindest soul and the gentlest heart. He was a golden-brown, long-haired, teddy-bear hamster. When he walked, his hind legs swiveled back and forth in a way that reminded you of a grown woman on the hunt for a man.
But this was not his intention.
Szhu-Szhu died a sad and emphatic death, one you’d think I’d have remembered.
I don’t, though, because I’ve dreamt a hundred hamster deaths since then. I am plagued by hamster dreams.
In one of them, I am about to put food in my hamster’s bowl, but my hamster is missing. I find him under his wood shavings, but there’s something wrong. His face is contorted—eyes too small, mouth twisted like it’s been drawn on by crayon. I must feed him; I’ve clearly neglected him, and it’s almost too late.
I’m frantic, and suddenly I’m forcing him to eat, but he has now shrunk to the size of a cashew. I can barely find his mouth and now he’s a flattened worm, bloody, with the head of a cobra.
And then he is gone.
It’s crazy how something in your life can become a metaphor for something so much larger. The year Szhu-Szhu died, everything went wrong. I got two teeth pulled and the rest were strapped with braces. My grandmother died. I went from being a great softball shortstop to a gun-shy right fielder with what might as well have been elephant hands.
I had two more hamsters during high school: Pepper and April Peach.
Several years after they died, I met Mr. Man, the first hamster I owned as an adult. I was a college sophomore trying to rekindle an old flame. Pet love is real and reminiscent.
Also a fluffy brown ball of love, Mr. Man was the smallest person I’d ever met. His eyes knew more than yours did. He chewed on the lid of his cage as if there were an intricately designed escape map hidden in a safe below his shavings. He was smarter than you, and he was also a hedonist. I had a three-foot-long tube that I let him run through. Mr. Man would exhaust himself in exhilarating glee by skittering back and forth as fast as possible. He never tried to run past either of its ledges. He knew that this was not real life—no field, no sandy desert. It was a cardboard tube on a sofa, and that was just fine with him.
When Mr. Man died, it was winter and I was living in Astoria, Queens. An unwieldy tumor on his backside took him out of this life. He’s probably a quiet ten-year-old boy right now with a mop of fine, unruly hair and a name like Christopher or Jacob.
To commemorate his character, I felt I needed to bury Mr. Man ceremoniously.
I put his body in the freezer at first. Pushing aside the ice tray to store your dead pet is surreally unappetizing. Afterward, I tried to piece together burial tools. I went fishing through my silverware and found a grapefruit spoon with sharp, ridged edges. That’ll work. I grabbed a few knives and a large serving spoon. I’d wrapped Mr. Man in some sort of cloth, an old towel perhaps.
Wanting to put him into the holiest ground I could think of, I brought his little body to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I went in its backyard, to a patch of grass. A large tree provided shade from a sun that wasn’t nearly warm enough. I knelt below the tree and tried to make room in the earth for my old friend.
But the ground would not part ways. I almost broke my grapefruit spoon.
I suppose I could have Googled “how to bury your hamster in nyc” or “nyc pet cemetery,” but the idea never crossed my mind.
When someone that you love dies, you simply do not Google.
Flummoxed, I turned my head toward the tree. A cavernous hole in the center of its trunk seemed not to have a bottom. It was Alice’s rabbit hole. It was where time meets God meets love.
It was the spot.
I looked left. I looked right. I looked behind me, into the large glass panes of the west side of the museum.
When I felt that it was only me, Mr. Man and the tree, I lowered my arm into the hole up to my elbow. Holding his taut cold body in my hand, I let him go.
Almost ten years later, the hamster dreams persist. So does this tree, I assume. I do not know for sure, though. I never returned.
Rebecca White is Narratively’s Director of Operations & a Contributing Editor. Her work has also appeared in such publications as The New York Times & The New York Post. Follow her @RebeccaWhiteNY.
Do you have an imaginary friend? José-Luis Olivares wants to hear! As part of his #imaginaryfriends project, José-Luis is drawing people’s invisible mates. Tell him your story here.
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By Liz Weber
It wasn’t until the cloud of smoke came around the corner, raging toward us, that I thought of Rufus. I had just seen the south tower fall from outside my apartment, two blocks away, in Battery Park City. Until that point, I hadn’t worried about him because he was safely tucked in my apartment, away from planes flying into buildings and people falling from the sky.
But I had to run, and the thought of running away from my home without my beloved Rufus was unfathomable. I couldn’t imagine life without him. As my legs defied my heart and took me away from the smoke (which I thought was fire), I cried for the first time that day, thinking that he was going to die alone.
Rufus was a gentle dog whose front legs were shorter than his back, lending him a kind of strut as he walked. His floppy ears, soft grey fur and white markings on his chest and paws made it seem as though he was wearing a tuxedo. He’d been abandoned twice before I adopted him, and the thought of him being abandoned once again made me stop and try to go back for him.
“I have to get Rufus,” I said to my friend Lyn, who’d been running beside me.
Lyn had a dog, too. We lived in the same building on the same floor and had become good friends. We both worked nights and were standing outside our apartment building when the first tower fell. She was an arm’s length from me, but I could hardly see her through all the smoke. I’d decided Rufus was safer in the apartment and we continued to run south, toward the Statue of Liberty.
After the second tower fell and there was nothing left of the World Trade Center, Lyn and I made our way back home, stunned by all we’d witnessed. At the edge of our neighborhood was a policeman yelling at the hundreds of people in front of us.
He was wearing the same white painter’s mask we had been given by the EMS workers while we were waiting to go home. “There’s a gas leak in the neighborhood. Everyone has to evacuate now!” the policeman yelled, his voice muffled from the mask.
Some people ran to waiting boats immediately, while others stood around trying to process what he’d just told them. It wasn’t enough that each time I thought things couldn’t get any worse that day, they did, and now this.
“But, I have to get my dog,” I said, pushing my way to the front of the crowd.
“Lady! This neighborhood is going to BLOW up. You CAN NOT GET YOUR DOG! Now get on the boats!”
“Fuck you!” I said, and ran past the cop knowing full well he had much bigger issues to deal with than me.
There was no way I was going anywhere without Rufus. Not that time. If he died, I died.
“Come on!” I called to Lyn, who was trying to catch up from behind. “We have NO TIME!”
We tried to get into our building, but the front doors were locked. I peered through the glass doors and saw people filing out the back entrance. Thankfully, someone let us inside as we yelled and pounded on the doors. The power was out, along with the elevators, and our super stood in the doorway to the stairwell holding a flashlight to guide the remaining tenants down the stairs to safety.
“It’s not safe here. We have to evacuate,” he said to us. “I can’t wait for you. I’m so sorry.”
I bounded up the stairs ahead of Lyn and past the last of my evacuating neighbors as the super disappeared with his light. It hadn’t occurred to me to keep track of the number of flights we climbed, and I had no way of knowing what floor we were on. There were nine in total and Lyn and I lived on six.
“Stay here,” I said, panting as I entered one of the dark hallways hoping to find a clue as to where we were. A lone emergency light flickered at the end of the hall and I ran to it, trying to make out the apartment numbers on the adjacent doors.
“Two more flights to go,” I said when I got back to the stairs.
“I can’t,” I heard from behind me in a small voice. Lyn was losing it.
“You can do it,” I said, turning around and edging my way back down the stairs towards Lyn. There was a voice in my head screaming, “Forget her! Save yourself!” while a softer voice urged me back toward my friend. It was like having an angel on my shoulder and the devil on my back.
“Nooo,” she whined. “I can’t.”
“Put your arms around my waist,” I said. “We’ll do this together.”
And we did, one agonizing step at a time, until we got to the top and went our separate ways to retrieve our dogs and whatever else we could carry before the place blew up.
When I opened the door, Rufus stood there as he always did, wagging his tail with delight. He was dusty as the windows had been open and everything was covered in ash and debris. It was in that moment I knew I’d done the right thing in coming back for him. I could have died right there and I would have been happy because I was with him. After everything that happened, I was willing to die along with him if it meant he wouldn’t have to suffer alone.
Liz Weber is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. Her book, Memory Card Full, will be out in September.
Sean Ford is a cartoonist. His first book, Only Skin, was published by Secret Acres. He’s working on a new comics series that will start coming out in Fall 2013 or so. He graduated from the Center for Cartoon Studies in 2008. He lives in Brooklyn with his dog, Maggie.
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By Olivia Gushin
“Keep your dog away from me.”
I was at Petco with my puppy, Petey. Petey loves Petco. He loves the dog toys, the dog food, the rawhide smells and the other dogs. But he loves the cashiers above all because they give him treats. He can hardly contain himself when we have to wait in line. He wags his tail so hard he can barely walk. Most of the cashiers love him, but one didn’t.
Most people would describe me as a bubbly, upbeat person. I rarely lose my temper, so it’s all the more surprising to me that since adopting Petey I can now summon unlimited amounts of the vicious ferocity pit bulls are said to possess. An alternate personality has taken up residence in my body: The Snarling Banshee from Hell.
To preclude these fits of anger, I try to be conciliatory and pro-active, shouting, “He’s friendly!” as soon as I catch people huddling against the buildings when Petey and I approach. I have become the Pit Bull Defender.
Petey came from Animal Care and Control on 110th Street. The ACC is a city-funded shelter. The walls are institution green. Most of the dogs available for adoption are not cute purebreds, but mutts and strays. A volunteer took me past a row of cages. All the dogs were standing at the front of their cages, barking as if to shout “Pick me! Pick me!” One small, skinny dog was curled up in the back of his cage, looking forlorn. Petey glanced at me with his big, sweet, almost bovine eyes that seemed to say, “I’m not even going to bother getting up, no one ever picks me. I look like a pit pull.”
“Can I see that one?” I asked the volunteer.
The small dog came hurtling out at as if shot from a canon. He catapulted himself into my lap, and in a flash had rolled himself onto his back, licking my face all the while, and stuck all four legs in the air, as if to say, “Rub my tummy!”
“I’ll take this one,” I said.
Petey had spent the first seven months of his life on the streets of the Bronx. Although he was a relatively small dog at a scrawny 35 pounds, he hadn’t been used as bait in dogfights, as many stray street dogs are. He had no scars. Chronic diarrhea from eating garbage on the street had made his ribs visible and the lines of his strong pit bull jaws even more pronounced. Someone had obviously been kind to him, as he was thoroughly socialized. If anyone made eye contact with him on the street, he’d roll over and lay down on their feet.
Petey’s loving personality wasn’t immediately apparent to everyone, however. Even I will admit that when I first got him, he was a trifle scary looking, and my own mother had reservations.
“You can return that dog and get a French bulldog,” she kept telling me.
But I kept him. And kept running into trouble.
On Third Avenue a woman hollered “Keep your dog away from me!” when Petey had barely brushed against her coat. I fixed my deadly Pit Bull Defender stare on her.
“You’re fat!” I spat into her shocked face, and kept walking.
I’m not the only dog owner who turns into a crusader for her canine. One of Petey’s myriad friends is Kumba, a large (O.K., I’ll admit it, intimidating) Akita. One day, Petey and Kumba were tumbling around in the park. It doesn’t take a towering intellect to figure out that dogs don’t have hands. They play using their mouths and their feet and they play rough. Apparently too rough for some people.
“Your dogs are making me nervous,” a passerby shouted to me and Kumba’s owner.
“Then GET OUTTA THE DAMN PARK AND STAY THE %#*$ INSIDE!” Kumba’s owner shouted back. Kumba’s owner is not an unhinged maniac. She is a smart, soft-spoken graduate student from New Hampshire.
“I hate people like that, they make me so angry I don’t know what comes over me,” she confessed. “I almost hit some lady on Fifth Avenue the other day.”
“I’m the same way,” I told her. “Petey can’t help what he looks like, and he’s obviously so sweet. I turn into Linda Blair in The Exorcist if people even look at him the wrong way.”
If Petey were to run for mayor of my neighborhood, it would be a landslide victory. We can’t go anywhere in a hurry because he has to say hello to all his doorman friends. Or we have to stop and play with Allie or Sugar or Hank or Millie. When my mother walks Petey for me, she reports back on all the new people she’s met who say hello to him. Every time it rains she insists I get him a Burberry raincoat because “he’s a poor orphan and he hates the rain.”
“Does your dog bite?” a little boy asked me recently when we were walking down the street.
“No, but I do.”
Olivia Gushin is a lifelong New Yorker and dog aficionado. She is an online advertising professional and Narratively’s Director of Strategic Brand Partnerships.
Alison Brockhouse is an artist and photographer based in Brooklyn, NY.
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By Robyn Chapman
Robyn Chapman lives in Ridgewood, Queens, where she publishes comic books out of her living room. You can see them at paperrocketcomics.com.
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By Dan Slotnik
I am a Poe apologist.
Let me backtrack a little. About a year and a half ago, my wife Ae and I adopted a small, soft kitten we named Poe from a Midtown shelter called Bideawee. I pushed for a cat because one fits our lives better, although we both grew up with dogs.
Poe appears to be wearing a blue-grey suit and tie with white shirt and shoes. I met her first, but only after I spent an hour convincing many skittish kittens to play with me. Poe, then named Olivia, was being treated for parasites. When the volunteer let her out of her cage she leaped into my arms and began purring furiously. She also climbed onto my shoulder and bit my ear, which the volunteer assured me was normal for a 3- to 4-month old kitten.
I brought Ae to meet Poe that weekend, and we decided to sleep on it. Another couple watched us playing with Poe, whispering about how cute she was, then scooped her up while we met other cats.
We peeked into Poe’s cage again as we left. She meowed loudly, then stuck a paw through the bars and touched my hand.
I swear. It was crushing.
We convinced ourselves moments later that if we didn’t adopt her immediately she would get snatched up. I was far more intent on getting Poe than Ae, but she acquiesced under pressure.
Ae went to work, and my brother and I were soon leaving Bideawee with a bundle of energy whose paw regularly snaked out of the airholes in her cardboard carrier.
That cute gesture should have been a warning. Poe’s exuberance, so welcoming in a shelter where most cats were reticent, indicated mischievous energy bordering on the demonic.
Poe is tripolar, shifting from cuddly to skittish to aggressive with nary a warning. She is a biter who likes to ambush her prey, meaning people, and sink in her teeth.
I tend to be optimistic about Poe while Ae becomes frustrated more rapidly. Part of this is because Poe seems to prefer me and bites Ae more. Another part is that, frankly, Ae still wants a dog. I am O.K. with a cat, a cooler animal, only affectionate when she feels like it. Not having to get up at 5 a.m. and race home at 5 p.m. for walks is a plus.
I am an indulgent owner. I speak for the cat (literally, I come home and use a falsetto for her voice). I am her advocate, even when I’m recovering from puncture wounds inflicted by her razor-sharp incisors.
This is where my apologia comes in. Poe had a traumatic childhood. She was abandoned on the streets of Brooklyn before she was adequately socialized. I’m also inclined to believe that some of her personality defects (if you can call basic feline dickishness “defects”) are due to our inexperience with cats.
More importantly, characterizing her behavior as “bad” is really the grossest kind of anthropomorphizing for an animal that acts on instinct. A lot of Poe’s behavior is typical for young, energetic cats.
I cite these things when Poe is annoying and I want to defend her, but Ae doesn’t see it that way. She believes that Poe is aware and is deliberately naughty, if not spiteful, in the manner of an attention-starved child. I’ve had similar feelings: she will jump directly in front of the TV, sit down and just grill you, waiting for a reaction.
One weary night, after we had finally turned out the light and retired to our newly made bed, I heard a curious “HWORK” coming from the night table, followed by a splash and a pungent odor. Poe had projectile vomited undigested cat food (tuna and skipjack in pumpkin gravy, if memory serves) over the trashcan directly next to the bed to splatter our clean bedsheets. All we could do was laugh—after the fury subsided.
As I wrote this piece, Poe alternately curled up in my lap, stared out the window at passing birds and glared at me. She also contributed several times by walking across the keyboard.
But Poe is family, no matter how much Ae and I joke about bringing her back to the shelter.
I have become a devotee of Jackson Galaxy, flamboyant cat behaviorist on “My Cat From Hell,” an Animal Planet show featuring cats who make Poe look like Lassie. I’ve scoured the interwebs and turned to my many friends who own cats for advice. Here’s my takeaway, would-be cat people:
-Cats aren’t dogs. I don’t care if they’re “dog-like,” “good-natured,” “easily-trained,” whatever. They are not dogs, they do not know shame and they will probably not do what you say. We have taught Poe to sit for treats, sort of, but it only works if she’s in an indulgent mood.
-Cats have a time limit. When they start to act agitated or fidgety, leave them alone or face the consequences.
-A favorite Galaxy maxim is “Play is prey.” Cats are predators and if you do not take care of their instinctual needs they will hunt you for sport.
-Do not use your hands to play with cats when they’re little, or they will consider hands and the human beings attached to them acceptable playthings. (Whoops.)
-If you want the cat to stop destroying things/eating your houseplants/tearing your coatrack out of the wall by climbing up a winter coat, try spraying them with water from a water bottle. This makes Poe angry, but intrigued, and often leads her to repeat the behavior—our poor coat rack.
-Put double-sided tape on surfaces where you don’t want the cat to walk or scratch. This works, but Poe is so willful or forgetful that she keeps walking on the surfaces until the tape wears off. Is it weird that I’m sort of proud about that?
-Cat personalities are not fully developed until they’re about a year and a half old, which makes adopting a kitten a potentially risky proposition. If we’d only known.
-The best antidote for a rambunctious, bored cat is adopting another cat or animal to keep it company (don’t mention this to your wife when your kitten wakes you up at five a.m. for the sixth time that night.)
Daniel E. Slotnik is a contributing editor for Narratively. He has worked at The New York Times since 2005, has written for several Times sections and blogs and is a frequent contributor to the obituaries department. Follow him on Twitter @dslotnik.
Sam Spina is a cartoonist in Denver who has two cats and works in an Italian restaurant.