Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Authors and Their Cats

The boys, soon after adoption
Authors and their cats—it's almost a cliché, isn't it? And I fit right in. I'm an author and mommy to three cats who own my heart and drive me crazy at the same time. In my house, we all know we live here by the grace of the three little kings, and they make sure to remind us of that fact on a regular basis.

I've always had cats. Mr. Mittens, my first, let me dress him up in doll clothes and wheel him around the neighborhood in my baby buggy when I was five. He was a giant black-and-white tuxedo cat, and he was absolutely gorgeous. I loved him with my whole heart. I still miss him terribly, though he passed away over twenty years ago.

Captain Jack, still at rescue center
My husband and I adopted a grey-and-white tuxedo cat when we got married. We named him Ansel after the photographer Ansel Adams, since my hubby is a photographer. Ansel used to sleep on the back of the couch with his head nuzzled into my neck, his face buried in my hair, and both paws on my shoulder so I wouldn’t dare move. I would sit and read, and he would stay there for hours, purring in my ear. I loved that time with him.

When Ansel was five or six, we adopted another rescue kitty, a kitten we named Clyde. He was another black-and-white tuxedo cat like Mittens (there's a theme here—I love all cats, but I am very definitely partial to tuxedos!) If Ansel was in his place along my back, Clyde would snuggle up along my thigh or in my lap. The two of them were the biggest loves ever. They moved with us from California to Wisconsin and then to Washington, where we live now, and were true members of our family, every bit as much as our three kids.

Commodore Norrington
Sadly, Ansel developed kidney problems not long after we moved to Washington. We nursed him along as best we could—more than a year longer than the vet had predicted—but finally, he was so miserable that we knew it was time for him to rest. Before we had a chance to recover from losing Ansel, we discovered that Clyde had diabetes and needed insulin shots twice a day, a new diet, all sorts of changes. It was an adjustment for all of us. My husband would hold him while I administered the shots, and when I had to travel, my oldest daughter would do the honors. Clyde didn't especially appreciate those moments in his day, but he reacted well to treatment. We thought we had it all under control until one day, after about eight months of shots, he took a sudden turn for the worse. Three days later, he was gone.

Mr. Gibbs
Losing Clyde and Ansel so suddenly, and so closely together, was extremely traumatic for our family. We were all heartbroken. None of us wanted to even think about adopting another cat for a long time. But out of the blue one day, about six months later, my husband spoke up. He missed having our babies around, and he was thinking about a new kitty. I still felt resistant to the idea, but he brought up the kitten rescue shelter's website on the computer "just to look." And there on the home page was a photo of a tiny, six-week-old black-and-white tuxedo kitten, who had just come up for adoption.

Jack, the first day we saw him
The first words out of my mouth were, "That's my kitty."

We all hopped in the car and made the twenty-five-mile drive to the shelter to see him. He was the cutest little thing, with long, fluffy fur and great big green eyes. I fell in love immediately. And I also fell in love with his two tabby brothers! So we ended up with three kittens instead of one, and made the fifty-mile-round-trip drive to visit them every day until they were ready to be taken home at eight weeks, after being neutered and getting their latest shots.

Chow time for the boys, at home
When we first brought them home, I could hold all three kittens at once, and they loved to be held. We named them Captain Jack (the tuxedo cat), Captain Norrington (the short-haired tabby) and Mr. Gibbs (the long-haired tabby), after our favorite Pirates of the Caribbean characters. I tried to get the rest of the family to go for Harry Potter inspired names, since I'm a HUGE Harry fan, but I was overruled, and somehow, the piratical names ended up suiting them perfectly. Even as babies, they were some of the wildest, craziest cats I have ever seen. All three are very affectionate, but wow, are they destructive! My house is a testament to the strength of their claws and teeth, but we love them anyway, no matter how they've torn up the sofa and carpet.

Jack & Norrington
Three-and-a-half years later, they are still kittenish in behavior, but they're all grown up in appearance. Norrington is the most independent, while Gibbs and Jack will cry if they don't get enough attention. Every morning, as soon as I come downstairs, I spend at least fifteen to twenty minutes in the middle of the sofa, Jack on one side and Gibbs on the other, while they get their morning strokes. If Norrington feels like joining us, he'll curl along the back of the couch.

Jack loves to sleep
on his back
They have very distinct personalities, and I love them all, but of the three, Jack is definitely the writer's cat (although sometimes I admit he is a writer's major distraction!) He is no longer a tiny fur ball, but a gentle giant at nearly twenty-eight pounds. When he was a baby, he used to climb up into my arms when I was at the computer, roll over onto his back with his paws thrown out wide into the air, and fall asleep that way. I'd have to type one-handed, which is a lot harder to do than people might think when you're not used to doing it that way!

Jack in a box!
Now he's so heavy no one can pick him up single-handedly. Even with two hands, it's tough. But he still loves to be with me while I write. Unfortunately, our main computer sits on a desk that isn't that big, certainly not big enough to accommodate him and still allow me room to type. But that doesn't stop him. He just hops up and flops over, directly onto my keyboard. He's erased more than a few story sections that way in the past. Most of the time, though, I write using my laptop in the dining room, so Jack will either sleep right next to me on the table, or along the back of the living room couch, which is directly behind the dining room chair I sit in to work.

The boys on their cat tree
If he's sleeping, it all works out fine. But if he's awake, he wants to play, and his favorite game is fetch. I've never seen another cat do what he does, but he loves balled up paper. As soon as he hears paper being crinkled, he comes running, and he won't leave me alone until the ball gets thrown. He chases it down and carries it back and either drops it at my feet or sets it right in my lap. Then he waits for it to be thrown again, and he bats at me with his paw until I cooperate. It is the cutest thing I have ever seen.

He'll keep the game up for quite a while, which can be a problem if I'm working, but he's just so sweet about it. I can't resist him. When he's had enough of fetch, he'll bat the paper around on his own or carry it around the house in his mouth, and he sings to it like a baby. He croons and talks to it and carries on quite the conversation.

Getting bigger, and into trouble!
Jack giving Gibbs a bath
So far, none of the boys have found their way into one of my books, but don't be surprised if they do show up eventually. They're such a pivotal part of my life, and take up such a huge place in my heart, it's only natural that one of my heroes or heroines will have a passel of cats to wrangle, on top of whatever romantic dilemma he or she is facing.

Besides, life is just better with cats!

Gibbs & Norrington snuggle up
Jack still loves to sleep on his back

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