The Cat in My House

Cinder with his best friend Daisy

Cinder (with his buddy Daisy)

Chester  February 2015

February 2015

Five months ago, our orange and white tabby was hit by a car and killed. Cinder was his name and he was a bit of a local celebrity. The second half of his life he took to roaming the neighborhoods and hanging out at our local high school. He became a fixture there and somehow convinced the teachers and staff to allow him free run of the campus. Most days you could find him sleeping in the classrooms or media lab, on the patio sunning himself, or hanging in the quad at lunchtime with the students. He had a Facebook account with hundreds of friends, a blog where “Cinder sightings” were posted, and his death was covered by our town newspaper.

Cinder was also the love of my son’s life. My son was four when Cinder moved in, and he grew up with this cat sleeping on his bed, following him around the house and all over the block as they ventured forth on trike and wagon. Cinder was a vocal cat, and my young son would meow to him in greeting and the cat would meow back. This would continue back and forth until both were meowing enthusiastically. My son was 14 when Cinder died, and until the very end, their pattern of greeting and talking with one another had continued. It was an amusing sight, a teenage boy emitting meows and a large tomcat responding, without any care for anyone around them.

Cinder’s death left a hole in our lives, and for months my kids tried to convince me to get another orange and white cat. My 11-year-old daughter took on the role of spokesperson, lobbying regularly for Cinder’s replacement. My husband and I remained united on this decision, giving this list of logical reasons why “we absolutely are not getting another cat!”

  1. We still have 2 dogs and 3 cats. And a gecko.
  2. Our cats are full-grown, territorial and won’t easily take to a new cat.
  3. Feeding pets, providing medical care, pet insurance, etc., isn’t cheap. Six pets are enough.
  4. Our house isn’t very big.  Pets are underfoot constantly.
  5. Bottom line, a new cat wouldn’t be able to replace Cinder (who was a real PERSONALITY—picture “Thomas O’Malley the alley cat” from the Aristocats movie).

So, in spite of my kids’ begging and cajoling, we stood firm, even as recently as a month ago when we saw a lovely orange and white cat at the local pet store up for adoption.

FLASH FORWARD… four days ago. I am awakened at 6:45 a.m. by my kids running into my bedroom with a scrawny orange and white cat in their arms. “We have a new cat!”

My husband came in next with the details.  He found the cat in the garage eating the dry food. The cat ran out immediately when he saw my husband. Our son dashed to the front door and meowed loudly as the cat was running away up the sidewalk. The cat stopped and turned around, meowed back, then approached our daughter as she crouched down with her hands extended. They fed him a can of food outside. The cat allowed the kids to pick him up and bring him inside.

At this point, I’m fully awake and climbing out of bed. The kids are in my bathroom feeding the cat a second can of food. They refuse to leave for school until I promise the cat will be there when they get home. I promise.

The kids head off to school and my husband texts our vet, Bruce. They agree to meet at the vet clinic at 9 a.m. to scan the cat for a microchip. Maybe there is an owner missing his cat? I sure hope so.

At 10 a.m. I get a call from my husband. “The cat is staying at the clinic overnight. He has no microchip, isn’t neutered. He’s covered in bites and scabs from cat fights. He has been on the streets for some time, according to Bruce. He’s dehydrated and malnourished. Probably about 6 months old. Bruce is going to neuter him, bathe and treat his wounds, give him vaccines and tests. We’re to pick him up tomorrow.”

I hang up the phone and sigh. I know what this means.

So yes, as I write this, we have 4 cats, once again. The kids named him Chester. He’s a tough young tom, a handful and a real PERSONALITY. He swiped at me when I accidentally rubbed one of his scabs and later when I gently removed him from the dining room table. He purrs loudly and constantly, with his tail swishing. He eats every few hours, like a teenage boy. He has a loud, determined meow, just like Cinder. He climbs the screens in our bedroom trying to find an exit at two in the morning. He walks around the house like he owns the place.

The dogs have accepted him. They find him intriguing while keeping their distance from his claws. The female cats are wary, but no blood has been shed. Our male cat has reacted as expected, with growls and claws and puffed-up fury, then a full-blown cat fight, so we have a task ahead of us getting these two toms to co-exist.

My son has been rushing home from school to hang with Chester. My daughter said to me last night as she was falling asleep, “I just knew we were supposed to have another orange and white cat. I wanted one so badly and he found us.”

Throughout my life, my mother always talked about her faith as “the mouse in the house.” (Click here for that post.) Are my lessons starting to come in the form of cats now, I wonder? I’d have to be dense to miss the message here. Chester is the balm to my children’s broken heart — which they never doubted would come. Their proof that life takes away but also gives back. And love keeps on going, even though it changes form. My lesson: I have so very little control over life, even when I think I’m in control. And closing my heart tightly in reaction to loss . . . well, not allowed to happen.

I sit here with Chester next to me on the bed – stretched out and relaxed, his eyes closed with a constant steady purr. No, he wouldn’t be here if it had been up to me. And yet he already feels like part of the family. I’m struggling with this one.

I’ve witnessed loss, through my profession and in my own life. Intellectually I know that sometimes the hole in the heart never fully mends. Loved ones we’ve lost, or a time of life once gone, cannot simply be replaced by new people and events. Or by a new cat. Yet my children have the ability to move on and look ahead with a fully open heart, not diminishing the love they had and the loss they experienced, but with utter confidence that the holes will be filled. I would like more than anything to return to that complete faith in life and love. I think I’m being shown how to do this . . . one mouse, or one cat, at a time.

  • Lorrie Reid Votrian

    I know Chester we have been feeding him for weeks but anytime we tried to get close he would dart. We always knew when he was around because he is quite a talker. So glad to hear he found his home with you all. We still miss Cindee but Chester is a nice guy to have around too

    • Alison Patton

      Wow! That’s great that you know him! He is indeed shy and shell-shocked from “being on the streets for months” (as the vet put it). He’s slowly becoming less skittish and he actually lets us pat him a lot now without scratching or biting. He sleeps for hours on our beds like Cinder used to do. He isn’t completely tame yet but we’re hoping he’ll eventually get over the scars from his homeless days and start to trust people more. He was covered head to toe in scabs from cat fights and dehydrated when we found him, but not painfully thin and we were wondering why he wasn’t completely malnourished. So good that you fed him. I still miss Cinder too. . . although Chester is worming his way into my heart.