Friday, March 02, 2007


There are some that say the world is divided into dog people and cat people; if that is the case, i am not sure where my feet are placed. As a child I was undoubtedly a dog person, living with cats. A dog was a member of our family for a period of time - i am unsure how long. S/he wandered into our lives at some time when I was very small- and, interestingly, was named Gyp by my parents - and then some time later, wandered on again. I have no recollection of the animal itself - gender, breed - but I still remember the faint echo of sadness when I realised s/he was gone forever. I loved her dearly - my mother told me that when she could not find me, she would look in the dog house, and we would be curled up together, asleep.
The three cats - Pinky, Spotty and my brother's ginger, Nicky - were all I had in the way of furry animals, and not so satisfying at that. The 2 white ones (pink nose, black spots) were not overtly friendly - not cuddly lap cats at all. I was always overjoyed when they condescended to sleep on my bed, and would curl my small body around their lumps, and happily abandon the blankets for their comfort; a habit i continue today, which is more challenging with one ( or more) 40lb dogs.
When I turned 12 I was allowed to get a dog of my own - a gorgeous golden retriever called Lisadyce; I remember so vividly her presence in my life: I adored her (the only remaining cat - Spotty - did NOT feel the same way). She expanded my life with her wagging tail, and swims in the pool, and after school walks. My father and I would go to dog shows and talk about showing her - she created quite a bond between us, of jaunts and outings. I was a very shy and awkward child, and Lisa was someone to be myself with, and relax into true happiness. When I left for University, she traipsed with me from shared house to shared house, like a well-loved security blanket; only when I went overseas did she stay with friends. On returning to Australia for the second time after a long stint away, in my mid-twenties, I was heartbroken. My now silvered and arthritic girl had developed dementia, and did not recognise me. The pain was sharp and penetrating; I wanted so badly to have my dear friend to stroke and love as I always had, but she had left. I realised she was happier staying with my friends and their menagerie, where she was loved and cared for with devotion, to the extent they carried her outside to the bathroom when her legs gave way. In that moment a precious piece of my childhood was lost to the past, and I wept deeply. She lived some years longer, and was buried on a farm where my sister lived, on the outskirts of Sydney. I was not there; my friends planted a tree, I hope it has grown strong and tall.
Somewhere in my adult life, cats began to infiltrate my heart. I had never disliked them, but they had been second choice. There is a robustness about dogs - the walks, the licks, the wags - that is so solid and energetic, which nourishes me. The interaction is present, vivid, dynamic, sure. Cats are more subtle in what they offer, no less rewarding, but not so assured. I will say, however, that there is perhaps nothing as comforting or soothing as a purring cat on your lap or the bed. The sound, the vibration - it ripples through the pores of the skin and settles the mind to a more tranquil place. Unfortunately for me, most of the cats I have owned have not been affectionate lap cats, much too independent for that. So, on the rare occasions it happened I would stay glued to the chair, not wanting to move for anything, just to allow that experience to stretch for as long as possible.
When the Katrina rescue animals were being transported here, I insisted we maximise the number of cats. The poor woman doing the checklist had to deal with my repetitious - WE HAVE ROOM FOR 6 - again and again. She came through, and we indeed had six in our small cat rescue room, and I was the cat lady. When we were down to the very last one - an extremely affectionate calico - after the rest had been fostered or adopted, i was worried she would be lonely, so dragged my sleeping bag into the cat room, and surrounded by dangling toys and baskets, slept there. That was exquisite; here was a cat who had been loved in a home, then thrown into the chaos of the post-hurricane trauma, and who had not slept on a bed, with a person for months. She purred and cuddled and trampled her little paws all night, in and out of the covers, she was so happy to be loved and held in that constant way again. I cried when she was adopted, but rejoiced later to hear she had eventually been reunited with her original family. I can only imagine what that meant for her and her owners.
Well, on Sunday my feline yearnings will again be fulfilled. Zeus, pictured above, is coming to live with us. I have been busily planning and building and nailing for a couple of weeks, in preparation; it has been extraordinary fun. I have created a small fully enclosed outdoor yard (I have to protect the darling birds I feed), and filled it with cat things to climb in or on. Of course, I needed a cat door to get into the room, and so pulled off a small square board from the side of the log cabin. Amazingly, it was perfect; instead of a cavity, as I expected, there was an old hand-made brick as a base, and bits of tin as wall, and an opening the perfect size for a cat. I sawed out a hole on the inside planks, and attached some shelves to the wall, so now he can get in and out with ease. Future plan is to enclose the back porch with screen, and create a covered walkway from the yard to that, so he has 3 places to enjoy. Right now it is the room (maybe 18' x 18') and the yard. And 3 dogs.
I have explained to the three of them why I am doing this, and they have been interested to investigate and help. However, I don't think the word CAT is truly in their vocabulary, at least not in a permissible way. According to Milo's report card from the Shelter where I got him, he had, as a puppy, lived with 2 cats - with whom he played roughly (he was as a 6 month old puppy relinquished to the pound because of his energy). So I think he will come through. Gypsy will be horrified and stare at me with those round brown eyes, but she is ageing and arthritic and will deal with it. Nyima is the wild card - loves to chase, including the barn cats - now gone - whenever she gets a chance. Actually, all 3 of them hunt squirrels, and a cat is not so different. But there will be no place for chasing, and besides, the lady who rescued Zeus some weeks ago recommended he get placed here, because he has that masculine authority (look at those eyes!) to deal with dogs. He is currently living with 3, and holding his own - sometimes friendly, sometimes, beware! She assures me he is also a lap cat.
It will be a challenge to keep him inside, and teach the dogs they don't have free access all the time. I have hung a door between the small kitchen and the main room, which has already surprised them, but we will all adjust.
So, only 2 more sleeps and my family will expand, and I am sure some chaos ensue. But i am looking forward to it very much.
In the meantime, tomorrow is a wonderful day - a sacred day for Buddhists - where we try and devote as much time as possible to prayer, and deeply recognising the essence of kindness and compassion, where the potency of whatever you do or think is magnified. So I wish every one a day - a lifetime - of joy and accomplishment and prosperity, that the goodness in our hearts may ripen and flourish. And I also wish you lots of fun, because getting ready for Zeus has reminded me that simply having fun can soften some abrasive edges, and make the sun glow golden inside your very heart.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Ani ~ My heart wept with revisited tears and also with joy as I read about your work with animals displaced by Katrina. I moved from New Orleans shortly before Katrina struck, and during that time of uncertainty about friends and family, I also prayed that somehow someone would remember the animals. Perhaps some of the cats from my old neighborhood even ended up at your shelter. Thank you, and everyone who was able to step forward, to offer those animals a place of refuge. ~Sherab