1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day One: Cats

Over the course of 20 years, I’ve had seven cats, roughly grouped into three generations.

The first generation of cats was a single cat: Rex, who I acquired in 1991 from my sister Heather. Heather and her children came to live with me for about a year when she was getting a divorce from her then-husband and needed a place to live; Rex, a kitten, came along as part of that package. Rex was not stupid and apparently realized that I was the one paying for his kibble, and also, my room in the apartment was entirely toddler-free, so he glommed onto me. When Heather and her children departed, he stayed.

By 1998, when for the purposes of this exercise our story begins, Rex had gotten quite comfortable living with me and Krissy, and had also gotten rather chunky — something like 30 pounds. When he got a urinary tract infection our vet ordered him on a low-fat, low-ash diet with no more than half a cup of kibble a day. That lasted until Rex tried to kill me in the night by climbing up on my bed and suffocating me with his furry bulk as a protest for the diet cat food. I took the hint, fed him what he liked, and expected him to expire in a year or two. Possibly out of spite, he stuck around through 2005.

By that time, two members of the second generation of cats, Lopsided Cat and Ghlaghghee, had joined the menagerie at the Scalzi Compound in Ohio. Lopsided Cat we acquired when he walked into the yard while Krissy and three-year-old Athena were tending the garden; he walked over to Athena and when she knelt down to pet him he hopped on her back, and that was pretty much that. He had been someone else’s cat (he had been neutered) but I suppose either he had been abandoned or he had decided to trade up. Ghlaghghee (whose name was pronounced “fluffy”) came to us when a neighbor knocked on the door, said “here’s that kitten your wife wanted,” presented me with a small handful of fluff, and then walked away. In fact Krissy had not said she’d wanted a kitten, but inasmuch as I had taken receipt of the thing, it was too late for takebacks.

The second generation of cats got its final member when Zeus showed up at our garage door on the coldest night of 2008, mewling piteously for food and warmth. We’re suckers and we took him in. Zeus, Lopsided Cat and Ghlaghghee formed a fairly stable trio for the better part of the decade, with well-defined roles: Lopsided Cat was the Cat’s Cat, sort of the platonic ideal of a cat, who kept the house largely vermin free (we’re surrounded on three sides by agricultural fields, and without cats the field critters eventually head indoors). Ghlaghghee was a pretty princess who ruled the house with an iron paw. Zeus was the adolescent comedy relief. Ghlaghghee became world-famous when I taped bacon to her; she was written up in the New York Times and the Washington Post among other places. The other two cats did not seem to mind her fame.

Of the second generation of cats, Ghlaghghee was the first to leave us and did not meet any of the third and current generation, and Lopsided Cat passed away within the same week of us acquiring the first two members of that new generation, Sugar and Spice, sister kittens who we famously dubbed The Scamperbeasts. Zeus, now the sole surviving member of the second generation, rather grumpily took on the role of the elder cat, first schooling the Scamperbeasts and now lately acting like an exasperated grandfather to Smudge, the (we think!) final member of the third generation of Scalzi cats, a kitten who very like Zeus came to us out of a nearby field looking to be rescued, accurately figuring we were too soft-hearted not to take him in.

It means we currently have four cats at the Scalzi Compound, which to my mind is one more than we absolutely need. Three seems to me to be the ideal number. But then I look at Zeus, now the elder cat, and I realize that all-too-sooner than later that “problem” will take care of itself. Maybe in the meantime I should enjoy these furry folks while we have them.

Which is of course the problem with cats, and pets in general: They don’t last. If you’re lucky you get a decade and a half with them, give or take a couple of years. Then they pass along and you have a cat-shaped hole in your heart for a little while. New kittens and cats can help that heal, but you still miss the ones who are gone.

As it happens, Rex and Ghlaghghee and Lopsided Cat are still here with us, in their way. Rex’s cremated remains are in a lovely urn that a Whatever reader made for him, and the other two are buried beneath the oak tree in the back yard, which is appropriate inasmuch as the spent nearly their whole lives in sight of that tree. They’re home. I find that I miss these cats of mine as much as (and in some cases more than) humans I’ve known in my life. They’re all people. And these people lived with me and were part of my family.

Here in 2018, it’s interesting watching the four cats we have configure themselves into their own sort of family unit. Zeus is the cranky elder, Sugar is the standoffish queen, Spice has taken up the mantle of the great hunter, and Smudge… well, he’s still figuring out what he wants to be when he grows up, and in the meantime he runs about with fearless and some would suggest heedless kitten energy, running head first into the other cats whether they want that or not. It’s fun to watch them tolerate him, until they don’t. He doesn’t seem to mind.

The configurations of the cats at the Scalzi Compound over the years, and the dynamic of the generations, have helped to give shape to their time with us, and ours with them. Over the course of these 20 years, we’ve never not had cats, but the cats are not interchangeable. They’re all their own people and have their own personalities. I would never confuse Rex with Zeus, or Ghlaghghee for Spice. I miss the ones that are gone, and am glad for the ones that are here now. Even when one of them is, as Smudge is literally doing right now, attempting to dismantle the chair I’m sitting in with his teeth. It’s not going to work. But it’s fun to watch him try.


28 Comments on “1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day One: Cats”

  1. These furry people do build a home in your heart, don’t they. The last of my third generation passed away a few days, T.C. is here to start the next.

  2. Over the course of 40 years my wife and I have had two dogs and six cats. Currently two cats share our home. I think we’re over dogs at this point in our lives, but I honestly can’t imagine being cat free.

  3. I can relate to much of this. My son started feeding a local stray tuna in 1991, and she adopted us for the rest of her life. I think she was one or two when she joined our family, and she died (probably of cancer) in 2002. She was a gorgeous calico and my son named her “Meowy”. Later we acquired “Velcro” by adoption. He was a medium hair brown tabby. I don’t remember the exact year he died (of kidney failure); probably about 2008 or 2009.
    Yep, there was a cat-shaped hole. I had noticed a breed called Egyptian Mau and thought they sounded pretty cool, so I looked for a breeder of Maus close by. We lived in San Jose at the time, and found a breeder in Belmont up the San Francisco Peninsula. We paid deposits for two Egyptian Mau kittens, who were born in March of 2010. We were able to adopt them at about 4 months old and they have wormed their way into our hearts. The female is called Siren for her voice timbre; the male is called Scamper. So, John, you see that you have the Scamperbeasts, and I have a beast named Scamper!
    That wasn’t the end. We found a mama cat and her litter of 3 in our backyard in Summer of 2012. We were never able to capture the mama. We used a humane trap to get one of the kittens and took it into animal control to be processed. The people there evidently judged her to be too old to tame, so they fixed her and returned her to our neighborhood. We saw her exactly once and then never again. Another kitten got scared away when the trap sprung and we never saw him again either. But the runt of the litter kept hanging around and my wife patiently tamed her by sitting out on the patio with a dish of cat food by her feet, so if the cat wanted to eat, she had to come close enough to be petted. Over time, she became used to human contact and was allowed into our home. Her name is Tailbone, or Tails for short. This is because she has a tail that is kinked in a couple of places. It seems to be a congenital defect and doesn’t seem to bother her at all.
    The two females hate each other. Siren detests Tails, and Tails fears Siren, who is obviously the alpha female. Scamper is friends with both females and is a happy clown.
    Sorry for the length of this.

  4. Damn. That reminds me how much I miss our furry family members, Shadow and Kalua, now sadly departed. I still sometimes call out their names when I arrive home.
    No replacements, as we now live in a “no pets” condo. Sigh.

  5. Dammit, I didn’t know that getting all choked up was in the plans for these 20/20 posts! Your cats are beautiful, and your love for them shines through each picture and each word. And you articulate exactly how I feel about my own cats: little furry people who will leave me long before I’m ready for that….

    I adore cats!

  6. God, you had to do this now. I lost two kitties in two months, my oldest and my youngest, and they both were the sort to have huge outsize personalities. One was a teensy orange empress of eighteen, who still jumped on top of doors and wriggled with delight when she saw scritches were coming, and the other—ten years her junior—–was a puppy of a cat, sort of like Pepe Le Pew crossed with Fred Rogers, with an addiction to tummy rubs. Both of them were other peoples’ discards, dumped in my yard, terrified and wounded. And now just mentioning them has me sniveling, the little bastards. How can animals that force you to clean their litter box make you love them so much?

  7. Our first pair, Daisy and Thistle, were the babies of the household until we had actual babies. Then, deeply resentful, they took to peeing indoors, and became outdoor-only cats until they dwindled and passed into the west.

    Shadow, now arthritic, is 16 and not as quick to bite as he was when a young ex-feral kitten. He had a seizure two weeks ago, and I don’t know how much longer he’ll stay with us. Jareth, whom we got a few years later, has always been Shadow’s enemy and vice versa. They both tuck up into the bed now and again, but only if they can ignore one another. Shadow now has to meow to be picked up, because he’s too stiff to jump up to the chair or the bed.

    We’re too suburban to just get adopted. I don’t know what we’ll do when — avert! — “next’ becomes a question.

  8. “Zeus, now the sole surviving member of the second generation, rather grumpily took on the role of the elder cat.”

    The cat we took in when we bought our first house in 1977 (who I write about here) lived to be nearly 20, and was still alpha cat even when he was a frail old fellow. When he passed away, that mantle passed to the next senior cat, Sir Kay, an easy-going ruddy tiger-stripe. Yet Sir Kay never seemed fully comfortable with the role, and I don’t think ever fully understood why his predecessor had vanished. He was always more comfortable as a castellan, rather than a king.

    The place I work has a loose community of feral cats, and features a feeding station and a TNR program to minimize the number of kittens. Several of the cats have become semi-domesticated enough to accept petting from particular employees and/or be given nicknames. (There’s a tuxedo tom with a mangled right ear I call Vincent.) One of them, Spice, a lovely tri-color tabby, vanished about a month ago and doesn’t look likely to show back up again. That’s the problem with feral or outdoor cats; sometimes they just vanish and you never find out how or why. (Spice was a half-grown kitten when I started working there six years ago, and unfortunately six years is about average for a feral.)

  9. In the 42 years my wife and I have been together we’ve had 6 dogs and 5 cats and during that time there have been only the briefest moments when we didn’t have at leat one of each (oh yeah, I almost forgot, during that time we also had two sons!) and although I do adore cats, at heart am a dog guy. Still, and perhaps this will sound insensitive, the passing of of our pets has caused more grief than the loss of any human I have known, but then I’ve never lost anyone who spent a decade or more living exclusively in my house with large parts of that time spent laying on my lap. When our beloved golden retriever, Woody, passed away, I cried harder than I had ever cried in my life.

  10. I’ve lived a similar experience but over a decade, not two. Two cats arrived at my home Thanksgiving 2007 (a gray tabby and a long hair) along with my oldest daughter when she came back home from college. From that point the cats stayed with us. During the very hot summer of 2008 a third cat walked in my front door and looked up at me as if to say “I belong to you now.” I named her Lucy and she became my First Real Cat.

    It was that third cat, Lucy, that I became so attached to, and she also became buds with Max the Lab in our household (we had two Labs at that time). When I put her and Max to sleep on the same day in 2015 I pretty much lost it and didn’t get back on anything approaching an even keel for some number of weeks. The next year I lost the gray tabby and this year I lost the long hair. So my first generation is all gone. I now have a second generation composed of two male gingers (The Gingersnaps) who will be three in October. Two cats for my household are the right number.

    When they all leave we mourn for a while, probably more than we would mourn for a human. I still can feel the sharp loss for Lucy, going three years on. But she taught me a vital lesson about dying.

    I’d never lost a cat before I lost Lucy. It was that experience that helped shape a healthier attitude towards how to usher an animal on. Lucy had contracted an aggressive feline small cell lymphoma. I attempted rather irrationally to reverse it through veterinary medicine. During that period Lucy’s weight plummeted from 12lbs to 4lbs over the course of treatment. It took the vet assistant to gently point out it wasn’t going to work, at which point I gave Lucy her release. From that point in time, when it came time for the others, I did what I could that would help them live longer and/or more comfortably, then released them as well when their time finally came. It’s the only fair thing to do.

    I’ve learned to love and appreciate them all while they’re here, and to know that I have all those wonderful experiences to fall back on when they’re gone. You really can’t ask for more than that.

  11. I always appreciate opportunities to vicariously experience the feline members of the Scalzi clan here, and I think it is entirely right and fitting that you chose to start your 20/20 month by celebrating the cats who have been a part of your life, even though loving animals means that we mourn their loss.

    My spouse and I have had nine cats over the past 42 years, with lifespans ranging from four to eighteen years. Most came to us by random happenstance, and very quickly wormed their way into our hearts and household. Despite the grief each time we lose one, I can’t imagine life without the furry little maniacs. We wake up in the morning pinned to the bed under the weight of three purring balls of fur, and I can’t imagine a better way to start a day.

    Give Zeus, Spice, Sugar and Smudge a chin-scritch for me, sir, and please accept my sympathies on your loss of Rex, Ghlaghghee and LC. Thanks for being a cat person.

  12. Oh my god! That picture of Smudge! Priceless.

    I am allergic to cats. We tried moving the barn cats inside in the winter, but the asthma attacks made it pretty clear that it was them or me. They seemed perfectly happy in the barn killing things, but I worried and we didn’t replace them when they went to live with a neighbor.

    Midnight, the black lab, is buried near the flower garden. She’s the first of my children’s dogs, vs my dogs as a child. I still miss her. She would ride around in the car with me, sitting in the front passenger seat like a prim old spinster. She love, love, loved the water and would dive into the river to try to rescue strangers who didn’t know they needed rescuing.

    I now have four dogs, one more than is ideal, I think. But the two big dogs are old and every summer for the past couple of years I’ve thought this is the last year. They keep hanging on though. It’s a healthy lifestyle for dogs here in the boonies. Lots of running in the great outdoors.

    Except for the newest and smallest dog, Oreo. She just sleeps on the couch all day. And in my bed all night. I’ve never seen an animal sleep so much! Then occasionally she’ll race around like crazy with the other smallish dog, Pippin.

    I’m stopping now, because if I don’t this comment could be longer than your post!

  13. Hard to imagine ourbeing catless. Marcia and I have always typically had pairs of cats, except in the intergenerational intervals. We currently have only one (Bill the Cat), because he won’t tolerate a rival. In principal, the retirement home we live in won’t allow residents to replace a pet that dies; in practice, nobody cares if you do. We figure that Bill has some good treadwear left in him, so it may be a non-issue as we’re not so very young ourselves. But you never know.

  14. Twenty years ago my cat, Milky, went missing. He was 24 and still ferocious (to anyone but me). I know he’s gone but I still expect him to miraculously turn up. Pets leave their mark on your soul.

  15. My 1st generation of cats was a single little girl, Belle, who came with us to Atlanta. She wandered into my life when I was living in Texas and decided she wasn’t going to leave. After we moved to Atlanta she used to hunt in the field behind our apartment and bring us “gifts” – usually shrews or field mice, but once a live bird which then had to be trapped and removed from the apartment. She sadly died on Thanksgiving day, 1999, I think after consuming antifreeze that had dripped from someone’s car. She was 6. But she had a good life until then.
    2nd generation was Domino – a rescue from the Cobb County humane society. She stole my heart when she reached a paw out of her cage and squeaked at me. She was a strictly indoor cat due to our experience with Belle. She loved pizza and carrots. She died at 13 from heart failure due to a thyroid issue.
    6 weeks later we adopted the 3rd generation. Maggie & Phoebe are sisters and collectively known as The Hooligans. They’re currently 8, fat, happy, and healthy. We’re thinking about getting a 3rd … both because they need something to get them up and moving (see: fat) and because I think it would be good to have an intermediate generation for when something happens to one or the other of them. I hope we have 4 or 6 or 8 more years with both of them, but realistically, one will go before the other and a younger member of the family might help with that.
    At any rate, yes, multiple generations of cats, none of them interchangeable, all of them loved, and all of them well remembered.

  16. @ Kate George – Your Oreo sounds like a cat in a dog suit. Does she purr when she thinks you’re not paying attention?

  17. Two weeks ago, I lost my sweet Nadia, a 17 year old tortie we have had since she was 4 weeks old. Reading this made me look back and realize that the loneliness I’ve been feeling was not just for the loss of Nadia, but the fact that this is the first time in over 30 years I do not have a kitty waiting for me when I come home. And all the cats I’ve had; Tootsie, B.D., Psyche, Niobe, Jack, Orange Julius, Daphne, Cletus, Nanny, Morpheus, Lucy, and Nadia all were so different and specific to times in my life. All but Tootsie, my childhood cat, were rescued or fostered. I think cats find us when we need them.

  18. This resonated with me – we’ve had seven cats through the 21 years we’ve been together, and currently have three. The elder statesman, Norman, we adopted because he was nice to the dog we had at the time (he adored cats and the two we had at the time hated him with a fiery passion), and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer cat. He’s friendly to just about every living thing, and we’re thankful that he’s made it to 19 and is still healthy, although old. Isabelle is middle-aged and cat-like – she loves us but she’s aloof and does her own thing, but loves us in her kitty way. Julius is the kitten we never planned to get – our vet caught us at a weak moment. He’s two now, and still has all of his kitten exuberance.


  19. Dear Athena,
    Eventually one of your parents will pass before the other. Very far into the future, we all hope.
    How many cats will your parent be allowed to have before you stage ‘An Intervention’?

  20. Thanks for this. I started with a pair of tabby sisters who lived to be 17 and 19. Am now on my second pair, who are 8. When I took them for their first kitten check, I said to the vet in panic, “If they live to be 20, I’ll be 75! What will I do?”
    She said, “Easy, adopt seniors.”
    “Oh, OK.”

  21. The fact that Zeus and Smudge both came up to your house to be adopted leads me to believe in the fantastical notion that there is a feral colony of tuxedo cats living in the wilderness near your house that occasionally sends a troublemaker off to your abode to stir things up a little.

  22. We’ve done the same rotation, but with dogs. We had three when we started living together, five when we married, and now, 33 years later, we have four. The ranks swelled at times, but 4 seems like a manageable number. After the first three, they’ve all been rescues – not “picked up at a shelter” rescues, but “Oh my god someone just dumped that dog by the highway” rescues. Each one was a person, and we’ve loved them all. (Also raised two kids of our own, and helped raise two more we inherited). Sigh. Good times….

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