I Miss My Cat

Beatles or Stones? Ford or Chevy? Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair?

They say you have to pick a side, and when it comes to the dog-vs.-cat debate, I've always found myself squarely in the canine corner.

Dogs have more personality, you can attach a leash to them without getting mauled, and unlike felines, they aren't picky about when they'll accept affection. A pooch will never turn down a good belly rub (neither will I).

But when I moved in with my wife--who has always had at least two cats living in her home--I also moved into a new camp: dog lovers who have grown awfully fond of felines.

Shelley and I, along with my Siberian husky, have shared living quarters for the past year with three cats: Buster, the wizened and wide-assed leader of the pride; Machete, the fearless yet strangely clingy rescue cat; and Bootsie, the timid and sensitive runt.

For the past 12 months, I've paid the price of being a multiple pet owner. These animals walk all over me--literally.

As we sleep, or rather as I try to, they jockey for position on top of my head, swat at the window blinds with their paws, and stare deeply and longingly into Shelley's open mouth, wishing they could step inside and investigate.

These cats will, without warning, attack my toes when I'm at the kitchen table, apparently mistaking my socks for varmints. They will physically insert themselves between me and my computer screen, amazed at my audacity in hogging all the warmth that emanates from this magical device.

Machete drools on me if I pet him for too long.

And then there's the scratching. Both at the door and at my skin.

I've endured a lot as a newly minted husband. But somehow, these odd creatures have insinuated themselves into my life and my heart. They keep me company as I work from home. They nuzzle my hand until I agree to pet them. They sit on my chest and purr me to sleep.

I couldn't imagine not having them around.

Sadly, I'm going to have to get used to missing one of them. We lost poor Bootsie this week, and it's affected me more than I thought possible.

The death of a dog is different. I mean, I've seen "Old Yeller" and "Marley and Me." On the horrible day that Malia the Husky passes away, I already know I'm gonna be a wreck. I will call in sick to work, and I will be useless for weeks.

That's my best friend we're talking about there.

But I found out this week that I loved Bootsie a lot, too.

When a neighbor knocked on our door Thursday to ask whether all of our cats were accounted for, my heart sank. She said she'd passed by a cat that had been hit by a car, and she feared it might be one of ours.

I knew it was.

Still, as I walked up the street to make sure, I tried to keep it together. I hoped so badly that I was wrong. There are a lot of tabby cats in the neighborhood, I told myself. Could be anyone's.

But as I got closer to the body, with the distinct fur on the stomach and the little white paws (hence her name), I knew.

Poor little Bootsie. She was a terribly ugly duckling when we she and Machete first arrived at our home a few years ago. She looked as if she had been dug up from a compost heap, and I'm sure she was harboring worms, mange and all other manner of health issues.

Everyone--including me--gravitated to Machete, with his bright, wide eyes, his bushy tail and his inquisitive nature. He was the immediately attractive kitten; Bootsie was almost an afterthought.

I confess I didn't hold out much hope for her.

But Bootsie blossomed under our roof into a really beautiful girl. Not many people knew that because she was skittish around crowds and liked to hide in our hamper. But I like to think we had maybe just a small hand in her development.

She hadn't wandered all that far--really just a few feet outside our backyard--but it was just far enough. And she hadn't been struck very hard. But it was hard enough.

I called in sick to work Thursday--just as I will for all of my animals when the time comes--and through our tears, Shelley and I at least were able to collect Bootsie's body and offer a proper goodbye.

With apologies to Buster and Machete, Bootsie was my favorite cat.

She didn't like to be held for very long, but she let me get away with it as long as I scooped her up the right way, turned her on her back to rub her belly, and then gingerly placed her back where I'd found her.

Gentle, sweet and unassuming, she didn't always get the attention that the flashy Machete or the boisterous Buster gets.

But she was my favorite.

Worse, she was my dog's favorite. Actually it was probably the other way around. Malia--after her first few encounters with claws--has learned to keep her distance from most felines, but Bootsie was the one cat she allowed to come close and nuzzle her nose.

Are you picturing the cutest thing you've ever seen? Good. That's about the size of it.

I take comfort in remembering that the night before the accident, I playfully scratched Bootsie under her chin--which was her favorite spot--and she repaid me by licking my hand and purring. This was right before I went to sleep, whereupon I'm sure she walked all over me.

Any time, Boots. Any time.

We miss you.

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