I am not a cat person. Nor am I a dog person. I respect and love animals especially wild animals. However, long ago I reached an agreement with with all the wild critters: I won’t intrude on their space if they keep clear of mine. I maintain my side of the bargain most of the time and if I do inadvertently get too close to a snake, a coyote, a skunk or a possum I make a quick retreat. I do spend a lot of time in the outdoors and so I have to be very careful not to overstep my bounds.
This is not a story about wild animals but about a neighbor’s cat. I believe that the cat and I had a special loving relationship despite the widespread belief that cats are too selfish to share affection with anyone. My hypothesis is that our bond was a product of his self-absorbed emotional state which could not exist without his uniquely feline egocentric universe. This attribute is a characteristic that he shares with humans.
“It is for many of us, dogs who embody the folly of utter human devotion. Cats are another kingdom… they answer our affection with irony, with observant detachment. Something in their ancient eye finds our love a touch ridiculous.” George Steiner. And then there is this quote from Michael Montaigne: “When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime for her more than she is to me.”
There are cats and there are cats. Vinni was a cat who belies the idea that the feline personality is too aloof to return the emotion of human affection.
My last and most enduring impression of him was his form slinking along past my house with his tail motionless trailing behind him like a crooked question mark. His head was almost dragging on the sidewalk and he was a very dejected looking cat. I later learned that his owner had temporarily abandoned him to fix up the new apartment that she had purchased. This temporary arrangement was to spare him the noisy confusion of making the new space livable. Because he is an animal and unable to understand human speech he thought that he had been abandoned forever.
The neighborhood is an empty and barren place without Vinni. His owner moved and in the end took him away with her. We are all heartbroken (one significant other excepted). The neighborhood is in mourning, or at least I am.
Have I told you about Vinni? He was the neighborhood cat. We often referred to him as ”not our cat”. When our grandchild was a toddler he was introduced to Vinni by a neighborhood friend. They were both ”kittens” and played childish games together outside in the yard. Eventually Vinni followed him over to our house.
At first I was not too impressed. He was the same grey color as my old and beloved Moto, but did not have the black paws and a black nose. Plus he had a mellow personality whereas Moto was a little schizoid to say the least. But I had loved Moto, bless his soul, and no grey cat like Vinni was going to take Moto’s place.
That attitude slowly changed and Vinni had endeared himself to our hearts. I can’t tell you exactly how he did it, but he was a very unusual cat.
Sunnie, Vinni’s owner, was not his original owner. He adopted her when he was a kitten, so she had to convince his real owner to let her keep him. He agreed and Vinni was happy to move in with Sunnie. The relationship was full of happiness and good will until Sunnie decided to adopt another cat.
In the course of events Vinni became an outdoor cat after Sunnie brought home the strange cat. Upon first setting eyes on it Vinni decided that he did not like his new roommate and refused to share his space with it. He announced that he would be an outdoor cat. His actions seemed to be saying “it is either him or me; you have to make a choice”. Perhaps he thought Sunnie would give in and get rid of the other cat. That didn’t happen. He was very stubborn, and so Sunnie bought him an outside cat house, as if that was what he really wanted.
He is a cat that keeps a grudge and never forgave the other cat for disturbing his exclusive relationship with Sunnie. Vinni kept his word about not sharing space with the other cat, but he wasn’t really an outdoor cat. His love of the creature comforts overwhelmed his desire to live outside. His cat house (think miniature dog house) did not have central heating. When it was raining or particularly cold he would seek refuge in the warm, cozy heath inside the neighbors houses, including, sometimes our own.
He made friends with humans very easily. Very few neighbors were immune to his charms. One night he would sleep in the bed with one neighbor and the next night he would sleep on another neighbor’s couch.
Some people think that cats aren’t capable of real affection. They just go back to the people who feed them. Not Vinni. Although he was always partial for whatever we were eating, we never fed him no-matter how much he cried or how dejected he became. Sunnie had put a medallion on his collar warning that he was not to be fed…Vet’s orders.
Although he begged plaintively to be fed we never gave in, but neither did he. Around meal times he clamored to come in like clock-work. Although we never succumbed to his imploring meows, by some unknown cat logic he always thought that each time it would be different. He was a very persistent cat. As he got older he became less of a nuisance, but always made us aware by way of a hungry meow that he was not happy. Maybe it was just a case of wishful thinking that caused him to stick around.
Since he was a little kitten he was always very busy. He did his daily rounds walking up and down the sidewalk. He inspected every bush and every tuft of grass to make sure it was safe. Somehow a rumor got started that he was on the payroll of Dick Cheney and was looking for terrorists and weapons of mass destruction (This was during George Bush’s presidency after 9-11).
That did not really endear him to us, but possibly due to an excess of caution, we kept the fuses of our weapons carefully hidden from his prying eyes. Overall, I doubt he really suspected us, although he inspected every nook and cranny of our house, inside and out. He was a very diligent cat and never let anything interfere with his duties.
Although he was interested in computers, he was totally clueless when it came to playing with the keyboard or the mouse. He was basically computer illiterate. He created chaos on the screen when he clambered up on the keyboard trying to get petted. He never joined face-book or twitter claiming that cats are not interested in insipid human social networks. He was interested in kiddy porn because he thought that it meant kitty porn, but never let on. That is just the kind of cat he was.
He was a very expressive cat and sometimes left no doubt that he was asking for sympathy. One time his owners had taken him to the vet. He had to stay overnight for a couple of days while they did tests to find out what was wrong with his insides. After arriving back from the vet he came over and sat on my lap. When I commiserated with him and asked him how he liked the vet, he jumped off my lap and sat down on the floor facing me and let out the most anguished meow as if to say you won’t believe what they did to me.
One good thing about his absence is that the birds, mice and snakes are safe. That has some animal lovers very satisfied. He did not eat the mice or snakes, but he would eat birds, feathers and all. One day he meowed outside our door like he does when he wants to be let in. When we opened the door, he came bounding in with a live mouse between his jaws. He was very proud of his hunting skills and wanted to show off his prey. My cries of dismay disconcerted him so much that he opened his jaws and the mouse got away inside our house. It promptly scurried off underneath the furniture. Don’t ask what happened next.
He was a cat that could adopt an attitude. Usually if I was out on the porch and he was on his rounds without time for a chat, he would meow a greeting and go on his way. Other times when he wasn’t otherwise occupied he would jump the four feet or so up onto our porch and ask for pets. But if we did something to piss him off, he would ignore us and go on his way as if he didn’t even recognize our existence. This behavior would persist for a day or so and then he would forgive us and act like nothing had ever happened.
I still contend that my husband was jealous of Vinni. If I petted Vinni he would complain that I didn’t pet him enough. It might have been a little awkward rubbing him behind his ears, but I didn’t mention this as I didn’t want him to know that I knew that he was jealous of a mere cat.
Before Sunnie moved she left me her new address and phone number in case I wanted to visit Vinni. I called several times because I was worried that he had been taken to an unfamiliar neighborhood and he would not be happy. I must have copied down the wrong number because Sunnie never returned my calls. One day I had a discussion with another neighbor about Vinni. We were both missing him very much. She told me that he was living in the flatlands of Richmond which is not good. They call parts of it the Iron Triangle. This caused me to worry even more.
I finally decided to take my bicycle and ride out to where he lived in the hope of seeing him and at least reassuring myself that the neighborhood was not awful. When I finally located Sunnie’s new house and I saw his kitty house in the back yard, I realized that it was even worse than I had imagined. The houses were run down and the landscaping was barren. There were no bushes where he could chase mice or trees where his imaginary prey, the songbirds, gathered to mock him.
It was very depressing. There was a major artery with four lanes of traffic in each direction just a block from his new home. That is when I knew that he was going to be an indoor cat and that I would not be able to see him on that occasion or ever. I haven’t been back because it might be considered stalking. I had seen what I had come to see and I was not happy.
I miss Vinni and I think that he probably misses me or at least misses pets and the freedom that living here afforded him. Some people tell me that I should just get another cat. I tell them that I never had a cat. Vinni was not my cat. They don’t understand that it is Vinni I miss. Vinni was not just another cat. He was a character. I never imagined that I would love this cat and now my resolution is to never get close to a neighbor’s cat ever again.
My only consolation is the thought that, with Cheney out of office, Vinnie’s new home is just a front and a temporary safe-house. In all probability he has retired and gone to live in Washington along with other retired undercover agents. I am sure that he has a lot of stories to tell about how he uncovered cachets of weapons of mass destruction and chased terrorists out of the neighborhood.
My point here is that god did not make humans as the apex of the tree of life apart from other animals. Vinni was a lot like like us and shared our feelings and affections. How do I know? If you have to ask you never met Vinni.