If you have a cat, and that cat goes outdoors even occasionally, then you’re going to have to accept this: you’re not the only person in your kitty’s life. As the body attached to the hand that feeds, pets, and takes away the night soil, you are almost certainly the most important person in your cat’s life. But they’ve got others on the side. Those others might even include me and my husband.
We are not cool or queasy or discriminating: we will pet any cat that wants us to. In fact, we’ve developed a sort of standing date with the large and varied feline population that lives just off the main road. Like us, they prefer their walkabouts to happen after dinner, when there’s no hurry about anything–or, if there is a sense of urgency, it’s happening elsewhere. The petting of random cats may be promiscuous but it is never perfunctory; it ends when they say it ends, or when it starts to rain.
We know some of these cats quite well by now, and many will come straight to us when we yell out, “Kitty!” or “Cattie!” or “Sluttycat!” Others introduce themselves by chasing us down the street, their bells jangling a tinny flourish announcing their availability for belly rubs.
I doubt anyone who lets their cat outdoors would deny, if pressed, just how lucky they are ever to get any focused attention from such irresistible little attention whores. But I can see some owners being surprised at the sheer volume of secondary partners some cats have. To wit:
There was a cat on the street where I spent some of my teen years known universally, but incorrectly, as Turkey. Turkey would try to make out with literally everyone, whether they wanted him to or not. There was a church across the street and at around 10 am every Sunday, when the congregants began arriving, Turkey would saunter over and, on the steps of that most holy, 70s-chic concrete edifice, engage in the most shameless display of attention-seeking imaginable; it would have made the Kardashians blush, had they been there instead of in the US inventing reality TV and duck face.
We do not let our cats go outside, because three of them would die immediately on the road while the other one would kill or otherwise completely oppress all the other cats around. This is the only reason we don’t have to worry about them wasting their charm on the riffraff.
However, it recently became clear that while our cats don’t have any other people on the side, at least one of them has a deep and mysterious past that has precisely nothing to do with us. I downloaded a Spanish app onto my phone about 4 months ago, and for at least the first 2 months, Lyra talked back to the Spanish lady on Duolingo, no matter what she said; if she claimed, for example, “Yo no soy un caballo,” Lyra would squeak, mew, meow, or chirrup in response. ¡Muy misteriosa!
This is what we know about Lyra’s life before she moved in with us in 2005: she was a rough, tough, skin-and-bones teenage mom who, along with her flea-bitten newborns, was scooped up off the mean streets of Hamilton, Ontario and taken to Animal Control; and that they, along with 60 other queens and their broods, were all due to be euthanized. All were saved by a softhearted employee who called in a rescue group from Toronto to take them all away for foster; we tried to foster her and her kittens but adopted them all because we are soft as shit.
Where and when was someone speaking Spanish to our Lyra? I began asking her, nay demanding to know, if she was a Latin American gata; I told her that if she was, she was very lucky indeed to have gotten to Canada before Agent Orange built his border wall. She will admit to nothing. But the mask has started to slip; the veneer of contented domesticity is cracking and flaking like expired dollar store nail polish.
As a survivor of the mean streets of the Hammer and/or Mexico City, Lyra’s ability to kill and maim has never been a secret. So, when recently my husband went downstairs one morning and discovered, resting quietly in its final bed of cold cat vomit, an eviscerated mousie, we both assumed she was the murderer.
Perhaps not. About a week later, we were awoken around 3:30 am by our cat Aoki screaming, seemingly in distress, in our bedroom. She was not in distress; she was singing another mouse’s terrible death song. He was not dead, however, and besides being violent, it turns out Aoki is also essentially sadistic. She repeatedly dropped and then recaptured the poor lil’ bastard while we tried first to wake up, then to find and put on our glasses, and then to decide how to get him out of the house alive.
In the end, some kind of divine intervention occurred, for having dropped him directly in front of her own feet, Aoki suddenly became unable to see him though she sniffed around and near him. I saw the mouse realize what had just happened–no, don’t even try to tell me beasties don’t have cognition recognizable as such, for I saw him realize he’d inexplicably become invisible, saw the hope dawn again in his bulging eyes, saw him decide what to do, then carefully and quietly creep past her and go underneath our bed.
She really could not find him; her cognitive and visual abilities seem otherwise unimpaired, so I can’t help but conclude that God is on the side of the littlest ones when not otherwise engaged.
My husband did the brain work and the capturing to get that foolish rodent out into the field across the street. I have no idea if he survived; it was warm that evening, but there are myriad forms of urban wildlife out there with hunting skills better than Aoki boasts.
But what the hell was he doing here in the first place? My first thought was that the mice that have decided to set up in this house must have some Freudian as hell death wishes. Our house is, always has, and please [insert deity here; one that on the side of bigger beasties like us], always will be bursting with cats. Surely the mice can smell them? A friend of mine suggested, after I told her about the latest mouse incident, “Maybe he has an olfactory disorder?”
Maybe. Or, maybe, and I think this is more likely given how much I now know of the secret inner lives of animals, that the mice who’ve tried their luck in this nest of violent but possibly near-sighted middle-aged cats (cats who really should be too sleek and fat in their prosperity to bother with hunting at all) have done so under pressure from their peer group. I think these mice have been dared to come in here and spend the night the same way our shitty little friends dared us to go into haunted houses for an evening (this might be something I remember from a movie or book, not something that actually happened to me).
If so, these mice clearly need to shape up, study more, and hang out with a better class of rodent instead of running wild in the streets with pups/pinkies/kittens (yes, these are names for juvenile mousies!) who clearly don’t have their best interests at heart.
And some other things I’ve noticed recently make it seem most animals know more, much more indeed, than they’re letting on. Our bunny Sophie recently, having finished the first part of her breakfast, aggressively pushed her plate towards me and stared in impatience bordering on rage while waiting for me to provide the victuals comprising part two of her repast (lettuces). And the last time we had to give her antibiotics, she outwitted my husband and I who, thinking we were clever, stuck slices of banana on the ends of the syringe thinking we could get the medicine down her throat as she grabbed the treat.
Displaying the kind of sprezzatura that would make Castiglione wish he could come back to life to learn from such a master, she gracefully turned her face away just as she took the banana, so that the medicine went flying harmlessly past her ear and onto the carpet, while she enjoyed her fruity treat.
At this point, it’s hard not to think of Douglas Adams (?) and his joke about mice actually experimenting on us, rather than vice versa. And how this applies to promiscuous cats–because so many things, not only this essay, begin and end with slutty felines–is that while I think I’m establishing a bunch of great relationships with cats being unfaithful to their real owners, all those cats are also cheating shamelessly on me and wouldn’t look back once as my heart broke as they trotted coolly away from me and towards their next victim.