David Knopf: Cats offer companionship in a distinctly feline flavor

06/08/2014 6:16 PM

06/10/2014 3:36 PM

It started a few years ago with a Hyundai filled with cats.

There were a baker’s dozen yowling nonstop from the animal shelter to the cozy environs of our basement, and freedom.

You’d have thought it was the forced march at Bataan.

I was less understanding of cats than I am now. I didn’t want them to be euphemized — I mean euthanized — but I didn’t really understand them or like them as much as dogs.

Now I carry dog and cat treats in my car, just in case. Let’s just say I’ve broadened my horizons.

Going even further back in the hazy annals of time, there was Kitty, the unimaginatively named cat we had when I was a kid. Then there were the aviation/Jefferson Airplane-themed cats we had in college — Kitty Hawk, Jefferson, Wilbur and Orville.

But the current tale started with Bert and Bunzy, the two rescuees who stuck with us.

The thing about cats — and you could say this about dogs, conservative Republicans, liberal Democrats and seashells — is no two are identical. Bert, for example, is the only one of our four cats without a scar left by a hard-scrabble, live-by-your-wits past.

Bunzy, for example, has come a long way from slinking along the basement walls to reach the food bowl without tempting human contact.

I’d be sitting on one end of the couch, usually scratching some other feline from our extensive catalog, and he’d get on the other end then scootch over gradually, one Maine coonish width at a time, and sidle up next to me.

It was very sweet, but any sudden move, or thought of moving, and he’d split, just like that, chased by some demon past.

Thanks to my son’s loving antics — for example, holding the cats upside-down while smothering them with baby talk — Bunzy and the others know they’re safe here, and loved.

But each remains, and will always be, his own cat. There’s Bert, named for a sound he makes when he says “hi” in cat talk, whose name appropriately rhymes with “alert.” Ever-vigilant and all-seeing, he’ll always be watching me when I look outside and look at him. He must hear eyeballs move.

Then there’s Sneaky Pete, the timeshare cat we co-adopted with the neighbors. He’s the youngest and most mischievous of our kitty-cat collection. Now that he’s fed regularly, he’s calmed down a bit from his tendency to wolf down his food while looking nervously over his shoulder for predators, food competitors and enemy aircraft.

More relaxed now, he gets his kicks jumping on the others, wanting to cat-rassle.

The fourth is Garth, our foreign-exchange cat. Actually, he’s more of a summer cat-boarder, an indoor cat whose overwhelming cuteness stems from his crossed eyes and limp.

In Garth’s case —I call him Garf or The World According to Garth — some of his cuteness comes from being scarred. When he was rescued, his owner learned he’d had a broken leg that wasn’t fixed, another in a litany of tough-luck animal tales.

Sad story aside, I love it when Garth stops and stares with his once-injured paw in the air. Forgive me, dog person that I am, but he reminds me of a pointer.

What I’ve learned from these cats is that they’re not dogs. They don’t run up, lick your face and wag their entire bodies in excitement. They’re more subtle and precise, not better or worse, just different.

Expect them to be dogs and you’re bound to be disappointed; keep an open mind and appreciate them for what they are, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I know I have been.

Have a cat story? A dog story? A favorite cat-dog episode? Write to freelance columnist David Knopf at davidknopf48@gmail.com.

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