I have three cats. Their mother gave birth to a litter of five in a shed that housed garden equipment in my New Jersey back yard. When I first saw them they looked to be all huge ears and scraggly tails with not much in between. Catching enough mice to feed a family of five is a gargantuan task for a feral mother cat, herself as scrawny as her kittens. So Good Samaritan that I am, I thought I’d help her out. Big mistake. Within a few days, Mom, certain her off-spring were in good hands, took off for parts unknown, never to be seen again.
Adoption was out of the question. My house was up for sale and I was planning an out-of-state move. My intention was to trap them and place them in good homes. I’d lost two other cats several months before, one at age twenty and one at eighteen. They’d both had long and happy lives but losing them was painful and I didn’t want to go through that again. Cat-trapping, however, isn’t in my job description. It turned out to be a harrowing experience for me as well as the kittens, and two of them escaped. I was soon disabused of the notion that I could find homes for the remaining three. No one wanted these feral nondescript- looking kittens which were already showing signs of neuroses.
I’ve had animals all my life. When I was a child I would bring home stray cats much to the displeasure of my mother, not an animal lover, who often opined that if I didn’t look so much like her she would think the hospital had given her the wrong baby. Once I had my own place I was never without a dog or a cat or two or four of them at a time. Which is probably why Carrie, in my “Other Deadly Things” series, has three cats and an elephant-sized dog, and Samantha, in my latest book “Ablaze” gets thrown off the NOVA Victim Assistance team when she charges into a burning building to save a dog.
I used to believe that there is something inherently good in people who love animals and that those who don’t are suspect. In my books my protagonists conform to that theory. I’ve found that to be an unfair generalization. As I mentioned, my own mother fell into the latter category and I’ve heard that Hitler liked dogs.
The animals in my books are like the animals in my life. I love them, I have conversations with them and they respond with affection, but so far none of them has saved any lives or performed extraordinary feats. One editor who read “Pink Balloons and Other Deadly Things” prior to its publication suggested that I have Carrie’s dog, Horty (named after the elephant in Dr. Seuss’s “Horton Hears a Who”) solve the murder. That idea didn’t fly with my Dell editor, for which I was inordinately grateful. I didn’t want to have to rewrite the ending and I liked the one I had.
I ended up bringing the three neurotic cats with me when I moved to California to the tune of two thousand dollars including the desperation hiring of a chauffeured limo at midnight to get us from the SF airport to our destination when the previously hired animal transport didn’t show. They have accepted me but no one else. I am mother and the Pied Piper rolled into one and they’re never happier than when snuggled against me. But the ring of a doorbell sends them scurrying for safety. The shout of a child has them under the bed for the day. And the sight of my son’s dog had one of them so traumatized he stopped eating. The vet suggested Prozac for life!
Additionally, a very definite hierarchy has emerged. The female is low man (actually low woman) on the totem pole. Licorice, the largest, is the Alpha cat and is deferred to by the others. He gets the choice spot next to me on my bed and Tootsie Roll, the traumatized male accepts second position just below him. Poor little Buttercup (after Poor Little Buttercup of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) is often banished to the cat tree. Is this sex discrimination or is three a crowd in the feline world as it is in the world of homo sapiens?
None of it matters. To me there is nothing like having pets. They are work and expense but their love for and loyalty to their chosen person never wavers. Can we say the same for homo sapiens?
Don’t get me wrong. I love all the homo sapiens in my life, sons, daughters-in-laws, friends, guy-friend (who good-naturedly puts up with sharing our bed with crazy cats) and I’m lucky to have it returned. But there will always be a cat or two or three and maybe a dog again one day in my life. And they will probably find their way into any future books.
Author’s note: This guest blog originally appeared on October 10, 2013 on The Perseverance Press Authors’ Blog, Get It Write.