Saturday, September 10, 2016

How to Name a Cat

Yeah.  We got a kitten.

This was never in the plans.  Despite being a cat lover as a child, I came home from college with, inexplicably, a wild allergy to cats.  If I touched a cat, I would spend the rest of the day clawing and scratching at my eyes and face, tears streaming from ducts I didn’t know I had, and red, blotchy streaks across my cheeks. 

So.  No more cats for me.

When I started dating my now-husband, he had two great cats.  Gary and Newman.  He loved those cats, too, but if I were within ten feet of either one, I’d transform into a blowfish.  When we decided to get married, my poor fiancé said goodbye to his beloved cats; we found homes for the two and proceeded with our cat-free life.

And then.

About six weeks ago, my Dad stumbled across an abandoned baby kitten in his barn.   She was alone, and so very young:  Her skin was still translucent.  She looked more like a mouse than a cat.  Her siblings—almost certainly, there had been siblings—had been eaten up by a raccoon or dog or something, and her mama had fled the scene.  All that was left was this tiny thing, nestled in some straw way back in the dark corners of the barn.  Half dead, she was, with little hope of making it to cat hood.

But my father wanted to try.  You have to, really.  Because everything deserves a fighting chance.

So.  Assisted by my nieces and nephews, he made her a safe little home out of a cardboard box and checked in on her hourly.  He fed her with a medicine dropper.  He fed her a serum of water and Karo syrup, hoping it would be enough to keep her alive.

And she grew.  She found a personality and some spunk.  She found her purr.  And she used it, a lot, and more and more each day.

My reserved, gruff father turned into this unrecognizable softie around the kitten.  “I’ve grown exceedingly fond of her,” he admitted.  He carved out a couple hours of each too-busy day to pet her.  He transitioned her to milk and, then, soft food.  He trained her how to use a litter box.

I couldn’t help thinking about it. 

I did a bunch of research, trying to figure out how, 25-some years earlier, I could have gone from very not allergic to cats (as a kid, I slept with my cat on my neck, for cryin’ out loud) to very allergic.  I read about the likelihood of building immunity to cat dander.  I learned that sometimes allergies come and go and change.  I learned that cat dander might be managed with hyper-vigilant cleaning and lots of hand washing. 

I studied.  I asked questions.  I started to figure I could do this.  That we should.  Our family should adopt the cat.

I announced my thinking to my husband. 

“You’re crazy,” he said.

“We can just try,” I told him.  “Let’s see if I can build an immunity.  If not, we’ll find a good home for her, and she’ll live a very fat, happy suburban life.”

He thought about it.  A lot.  That’s what he does.

“It just seemed like a bad idea,” he told me, shaking his head.

“The kids need this,” I said.  “They need to see a young animal grow into our family.”

He sighed.

“So… “  I decided to drop the mic.  “It’s either this, or a puppy.”  

“I don’t like dogs.”

“I know.  Which is why we should try a cat.”

So last Sunday, the kitten arrived.  It was a trial basis, we said:  We’d see how things went, with me.  We wouldn’t name the kitten until and unless we were certain she could continue to live with us. 

The kids fell immediately into a deep, adoring love.  So did my husband.  I began catching him, late at night, snuggling and smooching with the kitten. 

I approached it very laboratory-like:  careful and with baby steps.  I spent a few minutes with the kitten every morning.  I first pet her gingerly, then more assertively, and then plunged in, sticking my nose right down to match her nose.  I breathed. 

Then I waited, fending off the dread, to see if I’d start to itch.

I haven’t, yet.  It seems like it’s going to be okay.  I had a flare-up once when she scratched me, but otherwise it’s been just fine.

So now we name her. 

I titled this piece, “How to Name a Cat,” but I have no idea how to name a cat.  We can’t agree, the husband and kids and I.  We’ve considered every name from Softie to Farcus (that from the husband).  We can’t agree, yet.  But what we are agreeing on is that this cat had a helluva start, in life, and a whole bunch of people who were at the right place in the right time to make sure she has a good life.  We love her already.

Maybe we’ll call her Lucky. 

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