Top to bottom: Nigel, Fred, Reggie, Vyger. The palm tree was painted by a student in the middle of the night. He didn’t want to go back to Switzerland and THAT was his statement. We’d lived in this house a year when this photo was taken.

I like cats as much as I like dogs. For a few years in San Diego I was a crazy cat lady, known by the local Mexican kids as, ‘La bruja de los gatos.” It wasn’t exactly my choice to have ten+ cats. I wanted TWO cats. Soon after we bought the crack house we fixed up, the Good X and I went to Animal Control and picked out a little Siamese we named Chada and a beautiful Russian blue we named Fred.

We had NO idea what we’d actually done.

Chada was an aloof creature and Fred was gregarious. Once outside the door, he’d roam the neighborhood making friends and bringing them home. So here came Eddy, who looked just like Fred, and Jack Frost who looked just like Fred if Fred had been covered with frost. They all also brought their hunting trophies into the house — Chada was partial to alligator lizards and Fred was a bird hunting cat. Sadly, Chada (known fondly as Chowder Head) was hit by a car which seemed to have opened a cosmic door for Fred to bring home even more friends.

And then…my students, international students, would adopt a cat for the duration of their stay in the US and then guess what? I know, way too easy. That brought Mousch, a yellow tabby. Then a couple of students got kittens on a field trip (a very cute girl was giving them away) and that was Reggie and Nigel. THEN the husband of one of my colleagues left her and her daughter ran away; she held it together pretty good through THAT but when her cat had a litter she fell apart which brought Vyger. “I’ll take one, Suzanne, it will be OK. You’ll find homes for them.” THEN my neighbor’s husband was about to kill a tiny kitten in their garden and the neighbor called, “Martha! Come and help us! Chayo’s going to kill a kitten!” and THAT was an incredibly nice little torty I name Triffid. Not long before my vet’s office called and said they’d rescued a beautiful cat in an abandoned VW so THAT cat came to live with us, too. She was a cross-eyed Himalayan I named Catmandu. THEN another tortie showed up with long “whiskers” in her ears and slanted eyes and of course I had to name her Klingon. Then, a tiny little kitty came in my back door one evening when I was cooking supper. She was crying. I looked down and saw her little black and white being and thought she was a kitten, but no. She was a full-on adult cat of the mini-cat stripe. I named her Holstein (obviously)

I don’t even know if I’ve cataloged them all here. We kept all these cats vaccinated and had them all fixed. We bought cat carriers at the swap meet and when it was time for the vet, we loaded the cats into the back of a station wagon the Good-X had at the time and went to a mobile vet. It was a circus. Cats are fun, though. They are all different from each other, and interesting to watch and live with. Luckily for us it was San Diego, we had a verandah and lived on a quiet street and they could be inside/outside cats. Some were primarily outside and others were primarily inside. The last surviving cat was Triffid who died in his sleep in his favorite spot under the bird of paradise in front of the house.

Cat-mandu, charcoal drawing

Stray Cats

There’s no such thing as a stray cat
‘Cause now they all live in my yard.
I rescued them from the weather,
And a life unbearably hard.

They came the night of the cookout,
When they smelled a barbecue.
That night we had decided
To broil a burger or two

The first one to come was dirty,
He was gray, he was shy, he was wild;
He was hungry enough to approach us
And eat from our plates like a child.

First we tossed him a bit of a burger
Which he ate with incredible zest,
Then we gave him some cat food,
He tucked it away like the best.

Now Eddy is just a glutton
Who eats everything in sight.
The next one was much more fussy
On that beautiful starlit night.

She was fierce-eyed and ragged,
She clearly had seen better days.
She was thin, she was weak, she was tired,
And her fur stuck out every which way.

Nowadays she’s a princess
With beautiful tortoise shell fur,
And every night when she’s eaten,
She sits on my chest and she purrs.

Klingon, Charcoal drawing

The last one to come we call Jack Frost
He’s gray but all covered with snow.
He’s staying, I’ve just come to realize
Because he has no place to go.

Jack Frost, Charcoal drawing

Yes, there is no such thing as a stray cat.
And I’m giving this warning to you;
No matter how you feel tempted,
If you hate cats then don’t barbecue.

42 thoughts on “Cat-alog….

  1. Wow. I so hear you re the cats. But my story isn’t nearly as wild as yours.
    AND you really captured those cats! I love the drawings!!!

  2. Martha!! I didn’t know you were a cat person! You have captured the cats in the drawings – I can almost hear then purr. As for the poem – I’m delighted and when read out loud it makes me smile. I suppose the dogs wouldn’t much care for a cat sharing their space or person… I grew up with cats. My mother bred Persians and Himalayans. It was how we were able to afford new winter coats one year. I’ve worked with cats and owned cats and I would have then still but I married an allergic man and have an allergic son. So no more cats for me.

  3. You’re right, Martha–cats are fun. All that aloofness….it’s just an act! My neighbor and I had 7 cats spayed and vaccinations given. All 7 are present and accounted for–2 are my outdoor cats, who we now call our garage cats, since that is where they live. Only 1 got away without us being able to take care of it, and it was the most beautiful tortoise cat. No idea what ever happened to that one and it pains me still.

  4. Your story was great, made even better by the poem and the pictures! You reminded me of some great little friends, and their back-stories, that have slipped from my aging memory. I still remember Chada, Fred, Nigel and Reggie, but the others blur together. I’m very thankful for your good memories and your writing skill! We still have one cat, a 16-year-old Siamese named Diego who follows me around, indoors or out. 😉

  5. I don’t remember that, but I remember Reggie and/or Nigel draped around my neck while I was reading. I wish I had captured more of those days on film!

    • I’m sure we would have taken more pictures if we’d had the phones we have now. Maybe we didn’t think there was anything special about those days. I’ve been sharing with Jimmy photos of the boys when I find them. He has no other photos of his childhood. I have some photos in all my journals, but I also wish there were more.

  6. Such a fun poem…and story. A cat named Fred too 🙂. I don’t know how you remembered all those names and those very distinct personalities! Sweet drawings.

  7. Just three days short of National Feral Cat Day (October 16), I spotted a dead feral cat on the roadside, likely hit by a car. It was quite saddening to know his/her life and death would not at all matter to general society. On the contrary, many people would be glad that the cat would never harm another innocent bird, presuming it ever had.

    About three years ago, it was reported that Surrey, B.C. had/has approximately 36,000 feral and stray cats, so many of which are allowed to suffer severe malnourishment, debilitating injury and/or infection by callously neglectful municipal government as well as individual residents who choose to remain silent.

    (Progress can also be made by discontinuing allowing pet cats to roam freely outdoors and notably risk them becoming another predator’s meal or some sadistic person’s target for a torturous death.)

    When I made a monetary donation to the local Trap/Neuter/Release (TNR) program, a lady volunteer left me a tearful voice mail expressing her appreciation, which to me suggested a scarcity of caring financial donors.

    No wonder cat Trap/Neuter/Release (TNR) programs are typically underfunded by governments and private donors, regardless of their documented success in reducing the needless great suffering by these beautiful, sentient animals.

    It’s as though there’s a prevailing mentality of feline disposability.

    Could there be a subconscious human perception that the worth of such animal life (if not even human life in regularly war-torn or overpopulated famine-stricken global regions) is reflected by its overabundance and the protracted conditions under which it suffers?

    (Frank Sterle Jr.)

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