He likes to make himself at home, wherever that may be. Windowsills, the tops of chairs, the bathroom sink. We rescued him when we lived in Miami, just before Katrina hit, from the animal hospital where my partner, Carlos, used to work.
Tuxedo had been adopted out many times, and always brought back within a day or two because "he's mean and hides all the time."
The last time, before we saved him, he was returned to the animal hospital and one of the doctors decided to declaw him so he might be more adoptable. WHAT? Let's see......mean cat.....hides all the time. What to do? What to do? I know! Cut off his fingers!
See, declawing a cat isn't just taking off the nails, it's actually removing their "fingers" down to the first knuckle. So they can't scratch themselves, protect themselves, play.......and it doesn't make them nicer, it turns them into biters.
Oy! People are stupid.
But we took a chance and brought Tuxedo home. That first night he hissed at us, spit at us, growled like a demon cat, tried to bite and hid from us. But everyday I went in the room where we were keeping him, and I sat there. And everyday he came closer, sometimes close enough for him to bite me, sometimes close enough for me to pet him. It took a good month or so, but Tuxedo, or Tucky, Tuck, Tuckleberry, became the sweetest cat, the smartest cat, the most playful cat.
Believe it or not, you can learn lessons from cats that you can use if your "real" life. If someone seems a little mean, a little shy, maybe even, oh I don't know, a biter, sit with them, hold out a hand, and maybe, after a while, they'll come to you and become one of the sweetest friends you'll ever have.
While living in Miami, Carlos and I were visited by our neighbor, the Witch. Okay, so she wasn't a real witch but she always wore black and was not what you would call friendly. She used to call the HOA on us because we left yard refuse by the curb too long. More of a bitch than a witch, I guess.
Anyway, as we ate dinner, she knocked at our door, and stood there holding a little gray kitten. Someone had tossed it over her fence and then run off. She said she couldn't keep him because her cat Morris didn't like strangers. Didn't like strangers? That darn cat was living with the strangest one of all.
But I digress.
So Carlos took him to work and got the little guy all his shots, and was going to put him up for adoption--we had a brood of cats of our own and didn't think we could add another. But I stood up for the little kitten....and begged for the little kitten....and won the little kitten.
So Max Goldberg, of the Boca Raton Goldberg's, became our newest cat in the Spring of '05. Tuxedo hissed and spit at first; clawed and ran away from Max, at first. But now they are best friends who play together eat together sleep together and fight together.
Max and Tux.
Another rescued animal in the house. I sometimes wonder if we rescue animals or they rescue us. I think it's a bit of both.
We had a friend who found Ozzo, brought him into her house, named him....something...I don't know. Her kids loved him; her big dog didn't. So she asked us to dogsit for a week, and then all of the sudden, we had Ozzo. He looked like a Black Lab puppy, and we were thrilled to have a big dog. We'd had a poodle, and I was ready for a, well, a real dog. So we took Ozzo.
And we waited for him to grow. And he did. A shade longer. A touch fatter. Not a bit bigger. Apparently our cute little Black Lab wannabe was actually part Daschund! WHAT? He wasn't going to be a big dog, a real dog; he was, to paraphrase Jack MacFarland, a "pocket dog. Slip him in a briefcase, a manpurse, a shirt pocket, and you're good to go."
Who runs like the wind and leaps into the air for a rope toy or a Frisbee. Tiny little lab-wannabe who chases the cats and loves you like nobody's business. Mini little f***er who goes bananas when the doorbell rings......on Frasier. TV doorbells make him nuts.
Who doesn't much care for other dogs unless they are ten-times his size. In Miami his best friend was a Saint Bernard; Ozzo looked like something a Saint Bernard would leave on a lawn. In Smallville, he befriended a Great Dane; he was no bigger than that dog's paw.
Consuelo Roca Jones
This was a Carlos pick, though I am more of the Old Cat Lady than he, but the moment he saw her up for adoption--she was a rescue cat--he fell in love with her Calico-ness.
Carlos has a special place in his heart for Calicos, because of our old Bitch Spunky--see her story below--so when he saw "Mollie"--her adoptive name--he was hooked. We made several visits to "Mollie", and got the chance to sit with her and pet her, and finally she seemed calm enough to be adopted into our household.
And, while skittish at first, of every sound, every light, every meow, or growl, and every tiny black dog, "Mollie" became Consuelo Roca Jones, with a back story of how she emigrated from Mexico to America, married well, but then her husband, Mister Jones, passed, and she downsized to South Carolina. And us.
Consuelito fits right in with the rest of the kids, though she remain unsure about Ozzo. I remain unsure about Ozzo--I kid. She steers clear of Tallulah for now, because she knows Crazy when she sees it. She and MaxGoldberg run and play like kids.
The biggest surprise is Tuxedo, whom we thought wouldn't do well with a new cat. Being de-clawed--DON'T DO THAT--he's nervous around other cats. But, after just a few days, and, to be honest a few hisses and spits and growls, he and Miss Jones have become the best of friends. They run together and fight together and eat together, and the other day I caught them sleeping together.
Platonically, of course.
But Tucky has taken a shine to Miss Jones, and she to him. I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship, for a multi-colored cat, a Gray Tabby, a Grey and White Eccentric, and a well-dressed Black and White.
We're still learning about the dog.
And Now For The Ones We Lost
When I met Carlos he had seven cats and a dog. The dog was Dengoso, a poodle, and, though I was not, am not, a fan of the poodle, he was a sweet, smart dog. We had to put him down when he was seventeen or eighteen; it nearly broke Carlos' heart.
Carlos also had Squeaky, a Cancer survivor; Spunky, a Calico who was quite a bitch, but in a loving way. There was the old man, Scruffy; the slightly crazy Sweety; the hot-to-trot Lady; her neurotic brother Voncie; and the big guy, Thomas. Over the years, we've lost all of them, and added to them as well.
Except for Squeaky, whose cancer returned and she went quite quickly, I have been the obituary writer for all our cats. Because they aren't just cats; they're our family. So, since I am a natural saver of things, I thought I'd share with you our little family. First up:
February 4, 2005
Well it finally came down to making that decision, the right one for Spunky, no matter how much it hurt Carlos and me. Tonight we decided to let her go. The last few days she seemed to be in so much pain; the cancer was spreading and there was nothing to be done. She had stopped eating unless you fed her by hand, and she only drank very cold water—we think it eased the pain a bit. So we kept her in the house, with us, and Carlos gave her the shots.
We held her, and cried some; petted her and cried some more. It was much more peaceful this way because she would have hated riding in the car to the animal hospital. She could spend the last few days with her family, and then slip away while we held her.And so now I sit here and cry, thinking that she was only a cat—one of six no less since we lost Squeaky.
But then I remember how, when I first came to Miami, Carlos introduced me to Spunky and told me she was ‘the mean one.’ Then one day, not long after that, I woke up one morning and scooped Spunky into my arms, flipping her on her back. I came downstairs, holding the mean one, scratching her belly. Gloria took one look at me, and shouted into the kitchen, “Charlie! He’s holding the monster!”
We became instant friends, the monster and me.
Spunky was her own cat, with her own rules. She decided she liked showers and would run into the bathroom at the sound of water running in the tub, demanding to be held under the water for her bath. In the mornings she would pout and stomp around the kitchen until she was given a fresh strawberry with her breakfast, or a piece of melon. And she used to try to climb up the refrigerator to let us know she wanted an ice cube in her water dish. She was spunky, that one. She wanted what she wanted and oftentimes she got it.
I think the reason she and I became friends, why she loved to sleep by me, was that I used to fight with her, and she would fight back, wrestling with me and chewing on me. And we shared a love of iced tea, although she liked drinking from my glass more than I preferred. Too many times I walked into a room and found her trying to shove her head into my glass to get to the tea.
So, now we’re down to five. And the one who was the bitchiest, and the meanest, the one who loved to shower, the cat who longed to smack any cat in the house—even big, old Thomas—who made us carry her into the garden so she could smell the plants, who used to sleep by my head each night, is in a far better place—probably with Squeaky, sharing a plate of strawberries and listening to the rain.
Here’s to Spunky. She was something else. Christmas won’t be the same with the Cat in the Santa Hat.
Now we are down to only four feline children. Our neurotic cat, Voncie, was diagnosed with a large tumor on his intestine, and the doctors felt that any surgery to remove it might cause the tumor to spread to other organs. So, we made that same awful decision again, and let Voncie go.
He was our most abnormal cat, if you can believe it. He had a special whistle he answered to; it brought him home no matter where he went in the neighborhood. But he only came when I whistled. So many mornings I would be upstairs, listening to Carlos call for Voncie, yelling for Voncie, whistling for Voncie. Finally, he’d give up, and shout to me, “Would you please come down here and call your cat?” I’d open the door, whistle that whistle, and Voncie would dash inside.
He was also our smartest cat. When he wanted out, and you didn’t notice, he would stretch up the door, his paws trying hard to turn the knob. I used to smile at him, watching him paw at the doorknob; I really think he would have opened it one day but he ran out of time.
He loved you to pet him. But you didn’t dare stop until he was finished. Move your hand off his head or belly, and he’d claw it right back. And he’d look at you with those pretty green eyes, and he seemed to smile at the touch of your hand on his head. He always wanted to sit by people he likes, and run from those he didn’t. But if he liked you, and you liked him, he’d sit at your feet, in your lap, on your arm, or above your head. Just to be close.
He was a sweet boy, who loved to be outside, standing at the garden gate and watching cars and people and dogs and cats pass by. He liked to sit among the plants, or lie under the shrubs. He was so good at it, that there were times you could be standing right next to him and not even notice. Unless you whistled.
So, now he’s gone. With Spunky. With Squeaky. He leaves behind his buddies Thomas and Scruffy, his sister Lady, and his girlfriend Sweety, who would wait for Voncie to come home from his daily travels so she could groom him.
He also leaves behind two people that loved him very much.
And miss his neuroses, his smarts, his paws, and his green eyes.
We’ve lost another one, and quite suddenly for us. Thomas, our rough and tumble cat, the biggest one of our bunch, the one who raced down the street so fast the neighbors thought he was a raccoon, was killed by a dog this afternoon.
As was his habit, Thomas enjoyed a lazy breakfast and a nap at home, then went out around noon for his tour of the neighborhood. Some people gave him treats, or an extra lunch, and still others let him sun himself on their patios. Today, one neighbor left her gate open and her dog got out. Thomas was a bit too old to be a racing cat anymore, too old to dart up a tree, too old to fight back.
Thomas was mostly Carlos’ cat because Carlos saved him. Years ago, while walking the dog, Carlos came upon this fat cat sitting beneath a tree. He stopped to pet this tough looking cat, and then began to walk home. The cat followed him part of the way, then disappeared. This went on for several days, a walk, a scratch under a cat chin, then a walk home, with the cat getting closer to the house each day. Finally, one day, Thomas, as Carlos dubbed him, came all the way into the house and met the rest of the family.
Carlos wasn’t sure he needed another cat, so he took Thomas to his veterinary office, hoping to adopt him out. But Thomas, big and tough looking, his ears bent flat to his head, sat on the reception counter like a stone. Most clients thought him too big, too old, too mean, to adopt. And others. since Thomas sat so still, thought he was a stuffed cat. Nobody wanted him. That was all it took; Carlos brought him home and Thomas became one of the boys.
He didn’t have a lot of cares in the world: a corner to nap in, a smidge of dog food mixed with his morning dry food; a scratch behind the ears after dinner; and the offer to tag along whenever we took Dengoso for a walk. I don’t know how many times people asked, “Is that cat following you?”
And he was.
The last memory I have of Thomas was him sitting by my feet while I painted the new fence after Hurricane Katrina had knocked down the old one. Wherever we went, Thomas followed. Now he’s following Squeaky and Voncie and Spunky.
Big? Tough? Mean? He was a pussy cat.
We haven’t had a good pet year. It seems. In the last twelve months we’ve lost Spunky and Voncie to cancer, Thomas to a dog attack, and Dengoso to old age. Now, it’s Scruffy who’s gone.
Last week he suffered an embolism in his hindquarters, and lost the use of his back legs. We tried to see if medication would loosen the clot that paralyzed his legs, but after two days of treatment it became clear that Scruffy wasn’t going to get better. He had a bad heart….well, he had a good heart, a very good heart, only it didn’t work like it should.
Scruffy was a ‘found’ cat. Carlos found him and brought him home, and then Scruffy found his way into our hearts and our lives, quickly becoming the old man of the house. And he was a tough old guy, always outside, running up and down the streets, tagging along with Dengoso on his walks. He used to run, and I mean run, after the dog, playing Catch-up and Come-get-me.
But then he got too old to be outside. He had a bad eye and didn’t see so well. And he had a touch of arthritis in his legs, so he wasn’t up to running after poodles anymore. So Scruffy, because he was the boss, decided for himself that he should be an inside cat. And he moved inside to rule the house like he had ruled the yard.
But he was a playful cat, too. And a loving cat. He liked nothing better than to sit in your lap and rub his head under your chin. He was the snuggling cat, who slept with us every night, walking across our heads and licking our hair while we slept…or tried to sleep.
He was also an alarm-clock-cat. Every day at 6AM he woke us up to remind us that breakfast should be served. And he sauntered into the kitchen every afternoon at five to ring the dinner bell. He was The House Cat; he ran the show.
Scruffy lost an ear to cancer last year, so he became our one-eyed, one-eared, crooked legged tough guy. But he never flinched or complained, because it was only one ear and he still had us and he still ran the show.
Now he’s gone, too. But I like to imagine that, wherever he is, he has two good ears, two good eyes, and two good hind legs. He’s also got his family, his five best friends, Squeaky and Spunky, Tomas and Voncie, Dengoso, to run after, to snap at, to boss around.
So, if you ever see a skinny old man, with thinning gray hair, his Sansi-belt pants hitched all the way up to his chin, his shoulders hunched over, barking at kids to get off his lawn, think of Scruffy. Tough on the outside, but pure gold all the way through.
We lost our Lady today. She died peacefully in her sleep, surrounded by the people and cats, and dog, who loved her most. She was our oldest, nearly seventeen; and she was our toughest. She was called Lady, but she was no lady….she was more of a broad.
She didn’t take Scruffy or Thomas getting too close to her; she didn’t take Spunky at all; and she didn’t like her brother Voncie to even glance her way. She came and went as she pleased; Lady did what Lady wanted.
She spent her days sunning on neighbor’s patios, and drinking from the cups of milk they gave her, or the treats they set out, knowing she’d come by. On rainy days she took over the desk in the office, knowing it was too wet to be outside, and too boring to be inside. In Miami, she would disappear from the house right after breakfast, but always return for dinner. And if you went for a walk, you would find her, sitting by the lake or strolling down a street, tiptoeing along the tops of fences; and then she’d follow you home, ready for dinner, or a quick nap in the yard before she went out for the night. We once found her in the orchid tree and she wouldn’t come down until Carlos got the ladder; Lady always got her way.
When we left Florida for South Carolina, she became an indoor girl, only going into the backyard when we went out there. That first fall in Smallville, she loved nothing more than to be buried in the leaves, her face in the sun, and her tail thwapping at the twigs and dried leaves. If there was sun, she’d pick a nice spot and lie down; she’d stay there, while Ozzo ran around her, taunting her to play. He didn’t know that, if she’d only been a few years younger, she would have taught him the rules of the game, who was boss.
Don’t get me wrong; she was tough; she was the boss; she went her own way. But she could still play the part of the kitten, lying at your feet and rolling in the dirt, waiting for a belly scratch. She would come running when you called her for dinner, her bell clanging louder and louder as she got closer. And if you curled up on the couch, or fell asleep in bed, she'd snuggle in next to you, pulling at the covers and making her presence known. At dinner, she was the only cat who sat at the table, knowing there would be a piece of chicken, or a nibble of fish waiting for her. She even had her own chair. She loved her people, even if she wasn’t so fond of the other cats.
Until Tallulah came along. We got Tallulah because she looked like Voncie, Lady’s brother. And Lady would let Tallulah sleep with her, eat by her, walk with her, and rub up against her.
During Lady’s last days, Tallulah slept by her side and watched out for her.
Lady was tough.
Lady was bossy.
She did what she wanted.
Lady was no lady….she was one hell of a broad.
She was the last of the original seven; the quietest one; the shy one; the sweetest one. We lost Squeaky, then Spunky; Voncie; Scruffy, Thomas. And then Lady. We lost our Sweety on 25 October, of old age. She went peacefully with Carlos and me petting her one last time.
We called her “The Secretary” for a long time because when we lived in Miami, the office was her home; she slept on the desk; she slept under the desk; she napped in a chair. She sat in the window and watched the backyard. She would only come downstairs for her dinner break or a trip to the little cat’s room.
She didn’t want to associate too much with the other cats, although she was always curious about the smells that Thomas, Scruffy, Lady and Voncie brought into the house from their outdoor travels. And she didn’t have much use for Spunky, the terror. There were some chases and some claws between those two; like two sisters who don’t like to share.
However, Voncie was her boyfriend. Sweety and Voncie would sleep side-by-side; and she groomed him when he came home at night. Voncie was the only cat Sweety loved. She liked the others but she loved Voncie.
When we moved to Smallville, Sweety retired from her office job. No longer living in a two-story house, she discovered living rooms and kitchens, laundry rooms and sunrooms. She spent her mornings in the sunroom, basking in the sunshine, stretching out across the tiles with the sweetest grin on her face. And after her retirement, she grew more tolerant of the new kids who had come into her house: Tuxedo and Max Goldberg and Tallulah Belle.
Well, a little more tolerant. She did have a bit of the evil streak in her; and if push came to shove, she’d push…..and shove…but always sweetly.
Sweety was the kind of cat you could sling over your arm and carry from room-to-room so she could nestle in your lap when you finally sat down. She’d surprise you by trotting into a room whenever you called her name; she’d make you laugh when she did her impressions….well, her impression.
One day, sitting with her in the office, she looked up at me and she said, “Mow Wow.”
I asked what she said.
After that, whenever she was in the right mood, you could ask her, “Sweety? What does the dog say?” And she’d say: “Mow Wow.”
Sweet and talented. Our Sweety. And she was all girly-girl, too. She didn’t take too much too rough-housing or chasing other cats. She loved being pampered; having hands rub her belly, scratch her under the chin; kiss her on the forehead. And she loved playing dress up, wearing a bow at Christmas for the holiday cards.
Her days were simple. She was a house cat after all. She had simple routines: Sleep. Eat. Cat room. Look out the window. Find a lap. Repeat if necessary.
There wasn’t a chair, a table, a bed or desk that Sweety couldn’t turn into the best nap spot. And there wasn’t a closet, cupboard, bookcase, or dresser drawer that she didn’t like to crawl into, under, or on top of, and take her siesta. Her best spot was sleeping between the two of us at night; crowding her way in the center of the bed. Still, Sweety wasn’t all naps and siestas and hiding places.
She loved her toys, and she would surprise us by suddenly roaring into the room chasing a ball, or batting a toy across the floor; we had a feather on a string that she loved to grab.
We had a ball on a spring and, out of the blue, she’d go after it, batting it back and forth; attacking it like it was after her. She did love to play. She did love to be loved.
She seemed to be all things all the time.
The Dress-Up Girl.
The Hiding Cat.
The Napping Cat.
Mostly, though, she was the sweetest cat. Ever.
When we first moved to Smallville, it was so Carlos could take a job running an animal hospital and, one day, while there to pick him up, I noticed a cat in a cage that looked very much like a cat we'd had in Miami, Voncie.
Voncie was devilish and smart and crafty and fast and annoying, and I loved him until the day he died. So, looking at this No-Name Cat who could have been Voncie's twin, I became a petulant little brat, begging Carlos to adopt her.
And we did. And we learned that she was nothing like Voncie.
We named her Tallulah Belle because we figured she was a Southern Belle, and our first South Carolina cat, but we soon realized she was really just as mad as a hatter. Tallulah was Groundhogs Day come to life; rare was the morning that, when I came out to greet her, she didn't look at me as if to say, "And you are....?"
But a scratch under the chin and she remembered; and she would jump onto a chair and sit with Carlos and me while we had breakfast, asking for a head scratch or a belly rub.
Where Voncie was smart, Tallulah was eccentric; where Voncie was fast, Tallulah was plodding. She never ran, unless it was to a fresh bowl of food, or to the refrigerator to ask for ice for her water. Or to the back door to take a walk around the yard.
Our cats are indoor cats, but Tallulah was given the honor of touring the backyard on occasion, and always with an escort. Because she was slow-and-steady, we never feared that she would take off and run; she just meandered and stopped and studied, and, perhaps, wondered where in the hell she was.
She was that cat.
She was also Ozzo's cat, even though she wasn't his first. Those two loved to play, and play fight, and wrestle, always in good fun. Tallulah really wasn't much for games, but she was a sucker for Ozzo, and even he's wondering where she is today.
Tuxedo wasn't much for Tallulah. They spent a great deal of time glaring at each other, maybe raising a paw, until one blinked and ran off. They never fought, but they weren't really buddies, although Tucky loved to run behind her, smack her on the ass and dash away. Tallulah never chased, unless there was food in that direction, or some ice cubes, or an open door.
And she never talked much, and she never complained.
She had issues with her sinuses, and would, at times, become so congested we would put her in a cat carrier in front of a humidifier and steam her; those times we called her a Steaming Hot Pussy, which was quite the scary name for a cat with two Daddies, but she never complained.
We didn't even know she was sick until the other day when she didn't seem hungry. Carlos felt a lump on her side, and we both knew what that meant. In that way, she was exactly like Voncie; fine one day, and then...Time to make that decision, to decide to do what's best for the pet, and set aside your own needs and wants and desires and hopes. She wouldn't get better, she couldn't get better, and we couldn't hope for that.
All I hope is that her life was better for the few short years that we had her, and she had us, because I know our lives were better having her here.
Breakfast won't be the same without Tallulah at the table, but I'm sure there's a yard out there for her to wander through, and a dish of ice cubes for her to play with, and another cat that looks an awful lot like her to be her new friend.