Tribulations of a Black Cat

Nemo, last Halloween

My current cat, Nemo, is the second black tomcat I have had in my life.  He leads a fairly pampered existence and is unconscionably self-satisfied, as well as fat.  I fostered him for Forgotten Felines after he was abandoned in an apartment.  Needless to say I ended up keeping him (or he condescended to stay with me).  He’s lucky, because I have heard that black male cats are the last ones to be adopted from shelters.

He’s also luckier in many ways than the black tomcat I had on the farm as a teenager.  Someone had dropped him at the small grocery store and gas station miles from our house.  I had been sent to get some milk, and came home with the cat, much to Mother’s disapproval.  I named him Firecat, after the Cat Stevens album, but that lasted about two hours.  Mother said, “You can’t name him something I’m embarrassed to call out the back door,” and changed his name to Tom.

Tom, like most farm cats, got minimal care other than feeding and watering.  He lived outside summer and winter, spending cold nights in the barn.  I petted him, but he was not a cuddler.

Tom’s life was pretty good for a farm cat until I brought home another stray when I was in college, a tiny German shepherd mix puppy I named Chico.  Tom smacked the puppy with impunity and generally lorded over him.  But puppies grow, and before long Chico was even bigger than the average German shepherd.

Chico came up with a new game.  He closed his jaws around Tom’s head and carried him around the yard, the cat’s body hanging out of his mouth.  You could hear the cat’s muffled “meows.”  He never left a mark on Tom, but the poor cat must have been terrified.  I yelled at the dog until he dropped the cat, but I’m sure he did this a lot when I wasn’t there to intervene.  Tom started disappearing between mealtimes and staying well out of the dog’s reach.  Then he became very nervous–Mother thought he got hold of a mouse poisoned by strychnine, for he was high-strung and panicked at any sudden noise.

Tom finally moved to the woods and the barn, and would not come back even to eat.  I called him and called him.  At first he would answer me from the woods, but he wouldn’t come.  Then he didn’t answer.  He showed up at Aunt Lou’s house a few times, half a mile away.  Then he was gone for good.  He didn’t even come home to die, for Chico was still there.

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Why I Like Cats

Nemo, my current cat

I grew up with pets, mostly dogs but a few cats.  However, none of my animals were allowed to stay in the house, except for brief periods when it was snowing or during a thunderstorm if the dog was frightened.  Mother felt strongly that animals in the house were dirty and unsanitary.

I don’t know if this came from her childhood or her mother, Mama, who had a reputation as a strict taskmaster.  I do know that Papa, Mother’s father, had well-loved coonhounds–but of course hunting dogs never came in the house.  So none of my pets were house pets.  When I was in high school, my dog, Dusty, and my cat, Tom, waged a concerted campaign to come in, but to no avail.  So Dusty dug a hole under my bedroom window to sleep in, and Tom slept on the windowsill.  No doubt they wanted to sleep on my bed.

I never had an indoor cat until I moved to Atlanta.  I walked through an ASPCA adoption event at Cumberland Mall to look at the puppies, knowing I wouldn’t take one to live in my apartment.  A group of kids were clustered around one cage, holding their hands to the wire mesh.  I went over to look.  A thin brindled calico cat was rubbing her face against their hands.  She went home with me and was my closest friend for 16 years.  She slept curled up in the curve of my stomach every night and moved to New York with me, sleeping on the front seat of the car through the whole long drive.

I’ve had other cats since then, calicos, tabbies, black cats.  Each one had a different personality, playful, grumpy, affectionate, noisy, bossy.  But every one had a distinct point of view and was sure its opinion was as important as mine.  That’s why I like cats.  They are not eager to please, and they preserve their independence.  When a cat loves you, it means something.