Since I’m hardly an “animal person,”
I promised myself I’d never write
a post about pets
with one exception:
With mixed feelings I share
the story of “4L, the Cat¹”
So…forgive me. Go through the DOOR
if you’re up for more…
It began in the summer of 1998.
Driving back from somewhere late at night, my oldest son entered the kitchen with a gray walking hairball that looked like it had spontaneously generated in a Hoover vacuum dirt bag.
“What is it?” I asked.
“A kitten,” he replied. “I almost ran over him on Heart Lake Road before I came down the driveway.”He must have been born just days ago. When he saw me he got scared and ran uphill until he could run no farther, fell down, and rolled over on his back.”
“And?” I asked.
“Dad, don’t worry, I will take care of everything–tomorrow.”
I watched him take a tiny can of tuna from the shelf. He opened it, and in a minute it was all gone and, glancing at the creature’s distended stomach, it looked like the can had disappeared as well. He opened a cupboard and found his mother’s turkey-basting pan and half filled it with dirt. “Do it!” he ordered, depositing the newcomer inside.
And the creature “did it.”
Tomorrow came and went. “The pound wanted $75 to take him,” my son declared. “And–“
“You considered it a bad investment,” I offered, glaring.
By Day 4 my son was long gone, and the kitten was not. By this time two brothers and a sister,whose pet experience had been limited to hermit crabs, were involved with the gray fur ball intruder, watching him wander several feet further away from his cardboard box bed in the kitchen each day.
By Day 7 I finally touched him. My wife was not happy.
Now the name: I’ll be brief. “A one-L’d lama is a priest/ a two-L’d lama is a beast/ but I would bet a silk pajama/ that there is no three-L’d lllama (thank you, Shel Silverstein). My oldest son once brought a girlfriend Lisa to the Lake for a visit, and his brothers as usual were merciless: As long as she stayed, she became “3L,” and fortunately, she was good-natured about it. 3L had come and gone, however. So I branded the cat “4L,” and that was that for as long as he stayed.
Which happened to be 18 1/2 years.
And, since I’d named him, I became the default caregiver. Further, though 4L would cater to anyone nearby to get what he wanted, if I was there he always came to me first. And everyone knew that when several laps were available for down time, mine was his first choice.
If you seek a cat to become your own cat, and just not a nuisance , let me make some observations and offer some pointers (a dozen, of course).
(1) Get a “new” cat, not a tired old hand-me-down. Much easier to mold into an agreeable creature.
(2) Most important: Do not cater to your cat so that he owns you! Make it clear to him from the start, HE IS THE “LITTLE CAT,” BUT YOU ARE THE “BIG CAT.” If you do, he’ll respect you. If you have two paragraphs to go in the story you’re reading or writing, and he starts whining for food or to go outside (if that’s a legitimate option), give him a brief look and go back to your business. If you wish, you can verbally add, “I’ll get back to you.” He needs to learn right away that your needs are more important than his–unless he’s just been hit by a car or something. Now this doesn’t mean that you let him suffer or go without; it means–without shame–that your needs come first.
(3) Play with your cat while he’s a kitten–with cat toys, laser pointers, stalking, sparring, and wrestling, roughhousing just enough, but never being cruel. If a good start is made while the cat is young, it can be fun. Two observations here: (a) Twice when we were playing on the floor, he–not knowing his strength–bit too hard and it hurt. Immediately, my hand came around and smacked him halfway across the room. (I know karate well enough to know he wasn’t in the least damaged, just startled.) Each time, too, I was immediately beside him, cuddling him as I frequently did. (b) He loved to be chased and was clever enough to escape, often ending up under a bed upstairs. But I, as the Big Cat, was clever too. One time I went up stairs ahead of time and shut the door of every room. Back on the ground floor I shouted and went after him and he flew upstairs. When I immediately stomped up behind him, he was in front of a door, ridiculously trying to dig (without claws) under a rug. I came down on top of him with a roar, softly cuddling him when I landed. We were forever friends after that and he never feared me though he still loved to spar…Now, keep this creature
(4) indoors only, or with some occasional outside time in the proper place. Declawed (the front ones only) and spayed saves the furniture and around-the-block forays. Halftime we lived in a cottage in the woods on a lake. He was the best mouser one could find, and even more, bats² from high rafters to the floor had never a chance of surviving. He could stalk, wait, and strike. But since we like bats, once the house was cleared we built a bat house in the front yard. Before the bats in the area died out from the white-nose infection (according to National Geographic), mosquitoes were never a problem day or night. But when 4L dumped a hummingbird on our back porch, we were not pleased.
(5) Each day 4L was desirous of 1 min. 27 sec.³ of one-on-one cuddling without interference, and if he didn’t get it, he would jump down and sulk away as if you were the scum of the earth. That’s okay; that’s life. After his special time expired however, you could type, holding your arms over him using a keyboard for an hour or more. During evening news he would sit alongside me, but would get ticked off if anyone sat on his other side so that he was between people.
(6) He was not a sleep-in-the-bed-with-you-at-night cat.
(7) For the 6700+ days of his life it was Meow Mix. If it didn’t come out of a yellow bag, it was wasn’t worth paying attention to. (Okay, maybe he missed 50 days or so surviving on other stuff.) Treats? A very few, but not worth mentioning here. He never got really fat.
(8) And traveling from PA to FL and back? No problem. He–usually–stayed in his cage in the back seat with the cage door usually open. When we drove and did overnights, he stayed in the car. One time when he was young and I was driving, he was perched on my shoulder taking in the action. Suddenly I had to jam on the brakes and he dropped a load down inside the neck of my t-shirt. My glare dared the people in the next gas station to make a wise comment as I slowly shuffled stiff-backed to the men’s room. Never once did he enter a motel or escape from our car. In the lobby of the vet’s office he sat in my lap. No cage was needed. No passing creatures ruffled his fur as he royally sat squint-eyed without moving. He was a perfect traveling companion–with that one exception.
(9) He was almost never sick.
(10) When you called him, he actually came about 50% of the time. Not bad for a cat!
(11) When visiting, he got along with other families’ dogs and cats. They didn’t mess with him and he didn’t mess with them even in our hosts’ houses. But he would watch over the years as their pets grew from newborns until their final approach to dog and cat heaven. He outlived all those that were around when he entered the family.
(12) On extended trips–more than 2 weeks–friends happily kept him, even taking pictures of him on their living room chairs. One family, impressed by 4L, went out and immediately bought 2 cats after they had to give 4L back to us. He was that grand of a companion. 4L never saw the inside of a kennel.
But even the best pets don’t live forever.
And his ending came at an awkward time. One of my sons and his family was visiting us in Florida. And after checking at a couple of vet places, it was confirmed that 4L was suffering from Alzheimer’s and his end was near. For several minutes he would try to go through an open door on the side where the hinges were. He became almost totally blind. It took him forever to wander from the laundry room where he spent the night to the lanai sofa 50 feet away where spent the day. Finding his way back was nearly impossible. My 5-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter Evie was very concerned about him. I showed her how to carry him, which she did, and he allowed, to his daytime place. Every hour or so she, on her own, gently rotated his body on the cushion, which he accepted. In a couple of days he got stuck behind the washing machine and began yowling in the early morning. His time had come. Everybody, according to my urging, said goodbye to 4L and left for their planned day-long trip to Legoland. My wife Karen went with them. 4L and I stayed behind. He was my cat. I would take care of things myself. I’d never had to put down a pet before. Hermit crabs and goldfish have their own ways of privately expiring. The vet was very understanding. I cuddled 4L gently and held him down one final time on the examining table. He’d always trusted me not to push too hard and take advantage of him. In minutes it was over, I removed my hands and this time I had to pick him up. Tears came. The vet and her two assistants signed and mailed me a sympathy card days later.
I quickly buried the box they gave me as deep as I could behind our small house in Geezergate, certain I was breaking some rule in our half-inch-thick book of rules and regulations. I dared anyone to try to stop me fiercely working with my pick and shovel. Fortunately, the “turf shepherds” must have gone to bed early. To the uninformed, the new narrow stake with “4L” on it could be marking some cable or pipe. When the Legolanders returned, the house was cleaned, cat hair scrubbed away, litter box, bags of cat food and supplies were forever gone. “As I said before you left,” I told them, “4L is now gone.” There was a moment of silence. “Can we dig him up?” Evie inquired. Not an unexpected question, really. We all smiled. “No, I don’t think that would be a good idea. We have memories of him, though, and we can keep those forever.” Everyone seemed satisfied and, as it is when kids are around, life continued to go on surprisingly well.
In his last years (of 18 ½) 4L wore a red collar with small Christmas bells sewn on it. One could softly hear him come and go. Only one bell was left on the collar when his life ended. A week after Evie and her family arrived home, a small package came to her with a tiny miniature wooden trunk inside. And inside the trunk was the bell and a thank you note from me, her grandfather, that has now begun our land-line, unhackable, correspondence-–at least for a while.
[Since this post has attracted much attention, even before it was formally posted, let me invite you to come back for more, “liking & reacting.” We have offered 3 new posts each week–and this is #725–since 2013.]
¹ The name “4L” will be explained in Part II. He was a very ordinary-looking short-haired gray cat with green eyes. One brand of flea collar has a cat that looks exactly like him on its box.
² Until a half dozen years ago, dozens of bats lived in and around Heart Lake. And noticeable numbers of mosquitoes did not–day or night. Things are different now since the bats died off.
³ The time of “1 min. 27 sec.” may not be as accurate as it sounds. I certainly wasn’t watching a clock! Give me a little leeway here…