Under Cover Cats

Tammie preferred living in dorms during her college and grad school years. Although the convenience and location worked for her, it also meant that she couldn’t have a pet. “Unless,” my daughter pointed out to me one day, “The pet can breathe under water for more than five minutes.”

I cynically commented, “Well, that rules out a cat. But we could get you a nice, colorful Beta fish, though.”

My daughter exclaimed emphatically, “No! I want a cuddly kitty like the ones I grew up with.”

During the last four years of higher education, Tammie spent countless hours wishfully staring at shelter cat pictures on a computer screen.

One day, shortly before Tammie graduated, she was home for a visit. Her sister Niki commented, “A stray cat has been hanging around our house for the last few weeks. Anne and Jon named her Buttons. Last weekend she crawled under our back deck and gave birth to a litter of six kittens. It was cold and raining, so I ended up taking the mother cat and kittens into the house.”

Tammie snapped to attention. She announced, “I’ll take two of the kittens off your hands. By the time they’re old enough to leave Buttons, I’ll be in the apartment I’ve rented and working as a librarian.”

Niki’s children fell in love with Button’s babies and gave them names. They didn’t want to give any of them up, but two kittens went to a farm family and were never heard from again. The children were allowed to keep two. One was gray, and hilariously named ‘Moldy Cheese’ while the black and white one was called ‘Salt and Pepper’. Tammie took the orange and white cat named ‘Macaroni and Cheese’ and a gray tabby they named ‘Carla’ after they heard Tammie say that was the name of the library director at her new job.

The kittens settled into Tammi’s new life as a much loved and coddled pair of royalty. One day one of her co-workers asked if her new pets were house trained. Tammie answered, “Mac is good, and even though she’s shy, Carla uses the litter pan like a good girl.” Her words, “Carla uses the litter pan.” seemed to hang in the silent library office air. Hearing that it sounded as if their boss used a litter pan, some of the other workers looked up and giggled.

From that day forward, my daughter always called her little girl cat, Carla-Cat.

For sixteen years the two cats kept Tammie company and entertained her. She loved how Carla-Cat enjoyed crawling under the covers in bed at night. Mac made sure Tammie stuck to her daily schedule by poking her with his paw when it was time to go to bed, time to get up, or time to put cat food out.

When Carla-Cat died this summer, Tammie was heartbroken. She decided to get another cat as soon as possible, explaining, “I’m not replacing Carla-Cat, I’m just letting another small, amazing, gentle predator share my life.”

I cautioned, “I hope you don’t expect a new cat to do all the cute things Carla-Cat did. Few cats like to crawl under the covers. I don’t know if too many cats will allow themselves to be held like teddy bears at night, either.”

While looking for a black and white tuxedo cat at pet shelters, my daughter came across a one-year old gray and white tuxedo with a black nose and a white exclamation point between her eyes. The minute we stepped into her enclosure, the kitten aggressively sought petting from us. Her strange meows sounded like the quacking of a duck. Tammie laughed, “Her low voice makes me think of women who’ve smoked cigarettes for 30 years!”

We’ve named this sweet, loving little gray feline, Lucy! Mac is ready to be her friend. He misses Carla-Cat so much, he wanders through the house, as though looking for her, meowing mournfully. Lucy! isn’t totally sure yet if Mac can be trusted.

The other morning Tammie joyfully announced, “Last night Lucy! crawled under the covers. She’s an undercover cat!  When she came out, she crawled into my arms and we both went to sleep that way.”

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