We doubled our cat count during the pandemic. I would have Feelings about that, but it’s at least 50% my fault.
Our story begins in 2003 (?) when I was dating this guy who was pretty bad at taking care of himself. He’d get involved with a school project or a D&D night or trying to beat a video game, and he’d basically forget to eat. He was working for a vet at the time, and someone had brought in a cat to be spayed. They called the client to let them know that the cat was already quite pregnant, and the owners never came back. The vet offered free veterinary care for the kittens if his employees would just take them. My boyfriend called me and asked what I thought. “There’s this one really mouthy one. I like her.”
I thought that if he had a cat that he had to feed, he’d be better about remembering to go to the grocery store and maybe buy some food for himself while he was there. Sure enough, it worked. We were reading His Dark Materials at the time, and I convinced him that “Lyra” was a good name for a cat.
And then I married him, because you just don’t let a cat like that out of your life.
We were a one-cat household for a very long time after that. We didn’t think Lyra would tolerate another cat around. She likes attention, and she isn’t a big fan of other animals. She seemed to enjoy Ender, when she was in a certain mood, but generally, we didn’t think she’d be thrilled about another feline.
And then Petra started wanting to foster kittens. Lyra hated it at first, but before we knew it, she was tolerating them. In 2019, we decided to let Petra “foster fail” Hairy Pawter. Lyra had been more friendly with Hairy’s litter than with any of the others.
I kind of think Lyra ended up enjoying having Hairy around, another cat friend who didn’t leave after a month or two.
A year later, when Silas asked to foster fail Porco Rosso for his birthday, it was an easy thing to say yes to.
It was 2020. The pandemic was awful. Everything was awful. He hadn’t seen his friends, his whole life was turned upside down and constricted and made more anxious. How could we say no? It was the one little spot of joy he had found. So sure, why not? But no more cats.
And then. Well.
We happen to live near a particular spot in our county where people often dump animals. We don’t know why. But this landmark happens to attract that kind of activity. At any given time, we’re usually aware of three or four strays kind of hanging around. Mostly they are male. We don’t pay much attention to them unless they bother us or our cats. It’s annoying, like littering.
There was one, though, a dark tortie that the kids called Tortilla. We figured out she was a female at the beginning of the summer when she very loudly went into heat and we began to see handsome strangers beyond our usual cast of characters. Before we could catch her to get her spayed, she was pregnant. She had two kittens, Taco and Burrito, and when they were about four weeks old, Burrito broke his leg. We found the kittens in our old chicken coop. I know this sounds bonkers, but we think she left them where she knew we would find them and help. Prior to this injury, she had kept the kittens in the woods and we’d only spot them in rare glimpses.
With help from our friends at Cat’s Cradle, we got them the medical attention they needed, had them neutered, and found them homes. We tried all summer to catch Tortilla to get her spayed, but failed, and before we knew it, she was pregnant again.
After she had another two kittens (one of which, we only saw once—we’re not sure what happened to him, but it probably wasn’t good), we finally managed to catch her and the remaining kitten. The kids called the kitten “Quesadilla,” keeping with the theme. We took Tortilla to get her spayed and have her ear notched, and then released her. She’s still hanging around, but no more babies.
“Quesadilla” was too small to get spayed, so we figured we’d just keep her inside until she was big enough, rather than having to figure out how to catch her again. Maybe we’d even find a decent home for her.
We had fostered literally hundreds of kittens. But this specific one somehow won my heart. She’s a sweet kitty, with thick, soft fur, and a purr engine that takes a bit to get started, but just won’t quit once it’s going.
I didn’t like calling her “Quesadilla,” though, and the name that came to mind every time I looked at her was “Clementine.” So that’s her name. She’s darling.
So, now we’re a four-cat house. It feels like it should feel like a lot, but actually, it’s just right. I joke that we have two kids and four cats, but Bethany has four kids and two cats, so we’re still doing better than they are.
It’s funny how each of our cats has a personality that matches up with each of our people. We’ve always said that Lyra is JC’s daemon, matching his personality quirks pretty exactly. She doesn’t do anything, from drinking to grooming herself, the way normal cats do. She puts on a frustrated, grumpy air, but really enjoys the chaos we have around here.
Petra said to me one day, “Do you ever feel like Hairy is silently judging you?” and I almost said, “Yes, and I also feel like you are!” Hairy can be aloof sometimes, but he is also a sweetheart. He thinks it is his job to manage everyone and figure out the solutions to all the problems. When he wants to be a goofball, he can be, but only until someone notices. Which all could just as easily describe Petra.
Porco (aka “Bad Kitty”) is our clown kitty. He is shockingly uncoordinated for a cat, and also constantly Up To No Good. But because he’s a klutz, he’s not sneaky, so he always gets caught at whatever he’s doing.
He’s also a major cuddler. Of the four of them, he’s the only one who will climb up in our laps and demand snuggles.
He’s very smart, too. One day, I was watching him, and I realized that he had figured out how to nudge a crystal to make the rainbows on the wall dance.
He’s the first cat we’ve had who has enjoyed catching birds, and so we got him this ridiculous clown collar. Research says it lowers bird-catching by 80%, so we’re giving it a try. But it does solidify his status as household jester. His face even looks like motley.
But I could say nearly all of this (except the face) about Silas.
And then there’s Clementine.
She and Lyra have similarities and oppositions: dilute tortie and dark, young and old, both fluffy, both female. Seeing them together is satisfying on a rhetorical level.
Clementine is not an in-your-face kitty. She keeps to the background and shadows. Sometimes, I’ll go all day without seeing her. But she also loves to play with the other cats. She might not seek out friends, but she gets along well with everyone. She’s focused and practical—a great mouser, good at finding the best spots to hide and go pounce. When she’s in the mood to hang out, she is a lot of fun. All of the cats except Porco are introverts, but I think Clementine is the most introverted.
She’s exactly the kind of cat I like. She won’t sit on my book while I’m reading or put her butt in my face when I’m typing, but she comes nearby and just offers quiet support.
Four cats feels like a lot of cats, but I have no regrets.