I have always had cats in my life. There were times when I was growing up that there were far too many: my mother developed the habit of adopting stray cats from the neighbourhood and at one point had adopted so many that we had a rudimentary structure built from wood and chicken wire in our backyard that housed the adopted cats, since allowing cats to live outside in Australia is extremely irresponsible due to their impact on the native wildlife.
Here in Israel that’s less of an issue, but we live in the middle of a city with busy roads everywhere and lots of unhealthy feral cats so we keep our two cats inside.
I wonder if there is anything truly original left to say about owning cats. Anything that cat lovers like TS Eliot or Mark Twain or Mark Kozelek haven’t already said more eloquently than I can. So I suppose all I can really do is talk about my own experiences owning cats, about the spine of cats which runs through my life.
The 1990s: the cat run years #
I grew up in the Blue Mountains, in a weatherboard timber house built in the early twentieth century, set on a half-acre block of land. The sort of thing that baby boomers were able to snap up for very little money at that time in history and which have since become extremely coveted assets - this house today is worth more than half a million dollars, almost ten times what my parents paid for it a generation ago. Outdoor cats are dangerous in Australia because they tend to murder the unique and endangered local wildlife, so we had a “cat run” in the backyard of our boomer mansion (actually a fairly modest family home) to house all the adopted strays. I guess my Dad built it, a ramshackle structure designed to keep the cats in (and presumably out of the main house). They had an odd collection of names: Woody, Bugs, Grey Cat, Wally. This cat run was where my love of cats was born.
The 2000s: Snowy and Smudge #
The most beloved pet I had in my childhood was a large white male cat called Snowy. Snowy had a real personality, he was a bully sometimes, really liked to eat, and didn’t like everyone, only a select group of people that he decided were worthy of his attention, including me. He once scratched a friend of my mum’s badly enough she needed to go to the E.R. Another, very sweet and quiet female called Smudge after the inky smudge on her nose, only began to open up after Snowy died, finally able to claim the house as her own.
I was with him when he died. I took the day off work from my excruciating student job washing dishes at the last minute, responded to my mum’s distressed call to watch over him while she was at work. He was sick, and old, fourteen, and a big cat, and the same is true for them as for us: there are old cats and big cats but no big old cats. Snowy was a real friend, a comforting presence in my life and my first up close experience with death. I felt his heart go, saw him fade away, and heard his pain. It was not until many years later that the full force of the moment hit me.
Now: Fistook and Maple #
The dynamic between these two childhood cats is replayed daily in my house today, between my two cats here in Tel Aviv. Fistook is a huge ginger male, talkative and curious and unfortunately aggressive around his more submissive female companion. Maple is without a doubt one of the most strikingly beautiful cats I have ever seen: she is at least partially Somali.
Visitors to our apartment are often struck by the extent to which it is possible to communicate with a cat. Fistook responds to his name, and displays a variety of distinct emotions and behaviours. He acts differently in the summer, when the humidity and the heat mean he tends to want to be alone, maximising his body’s contact with the tiled floor, and the winter, when he barely leaves our side for a moment, I guess mostly due to our body heat, but I like to think there are other reasons as well.
Cats of my life #
- Gypsy (1981-2002)
- Woody (1990-2003)
- Grey Cat (1990-2004)
- Bugs (1990-2004)
- Possum (1991-2005)
- Louie (1985-2001)
- Snowy (1997-2009)
- Smudge (1998-2012)
- Petal (2008-2020)
- Fistook (2015-)
- Maple (2015-)