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  • Joan Schweighardt

Five Directions Press Authors Dish: Pets I (Cats & More)

Oh, we love our pets at Five Directions Press. We love them so much that we wrote our hearts out describing them, and now have to share the resulting “dish” in two parts!

Courtney J. Hall

John [June 16, 2:14 pm]: There’s a gray cat in our yard.

Me [June 16, 2:19 pm]: Go pet it!

John [June 16, 2:20 pm]: But it might bite me.

It was an inauspicious beginning to what would turn out to be a lasting love affair between a man and a cat (and me, when the cat lets me), but six years later, if I walk into the living room and don’t find them spooning on the couch, I know something is up.

Courtney J. Hall's Marley

Marley was our neighbor’s cat. Beginning in the summer of 2013, we started seeing him wandering through our yard, hopping fences and striding into one garage like the owner of the one next door hadn’t just slipped him some tuna.

He was the neighborhood mascot, and until he showed up one day wearing a collar with the name Marley on it, we each had a different name for him. One little girl called him Ralph, while I christened him Smokey.

I’ve always been a cat person, and it doesn’t take much more than a rub against my ankle or a long, slow blink to earn my affection if you’re of the feline persuasion. But there was something special about this cat. From the first time he hopped onto our front porch and meowed hello, I was in love.

My husband John needed a bit more prodding. Having grown up with dogs, he was, predictably, distrustful of our green-eyed visitor. He eventually got comfortable enough to start petting the cat, and then to accept some friendly head-butts, but he still considered himself “not a cat person.”

Meanwhile, it was getting colder. Summer melted into fall, and fall barged head-first into one of the coldest winters on record. Living in an apartment with a no-pets policy, we couldn’t let Marley in, but on an eight-degree night in January we were watching TV in the living room when we heard a pitiful meow on our front step. We opened the door and there he was, shivering.

I’d never seen an animal shiver. No-pets policy be damned! That cat came inside, promptly curled up on the couch against John’s leg, and staked out a spot in our apartment and our hearts that I had a pretty good feeling would be permanent.

I wasn’t wrong, but it's not like we didn’t try. We figured out who owned him, told her that her cat had been spending the winter nights in our apartment, and her response was that the cat was her son’s, he didn’t get along with her dogs, and she really didn’t care. Meanwhile, Marley had settled into our lives as if he’d always been there. He slept on our bed, greeted our visitors, and brought us small—and sometimes bloody—gifts. When we started house-shopping, it was a given that once we found one, he would come with us. And four years ago, when we moved into our first house, I packed him into a borrowed cat carrier and put him into our car without even a glance at his former home. He still cries about not being an outdoor cat anymore, our furniture is shredded, and he’s regrettably lost his ability to catch mice, but he’s ours. (Actually, this is a cat, so it’s more accurate to say that we’re his.)

And my husband? He won’t admit it, but he’s definitely a cat person now. Or at least a Marley person.

C. P. Lesley

Except during my years as an undergraduate, I’ve rarely lived in a house without a pet. As a child, they were always dogs: the Border Collie who couldn’t adjust to suburban life—or the arrival of my baby sister—and had to be sent away; the Jack Russell terrier with a bite so strong we kids could pick up a hula hoop and swing him around in a circle and he wouldn’t let go; the Scottish terrier named Tuppence (because she was the size of tuppence ha’-penny but had the cheek of half a crown, as my mother put it), who believed my mom, at five foot three, could protect the house better than the dog but knew that my brother, even when he topped six feet, required a guard against leaves blowing in the wind.

C. P. Lesley's Jahan

I loved the dogs, for sure, but when I started work I got a cat, a ginger tom, and never looked back. In the years since, I’ve lived with a dozen cats, some mine and others visitors. I’ve cared for them all, but some have been special. And one of the most special was my sweet Jahan.

I wrote a tribute to Jahan the weekend after he died, so I won’t repeat that here. What I will say is that every day when I sit down to work or to write, when I look at my cat-free printer or fold the laundry without “assistance,” when 4:00 PM rolls around and no large furry beast parks himself in front of my screen in case I forget that dinner lies a mere hour in the future, I feel a stab of grief that my treasured companion is gone. Even though I have another cat still with me, whom I love as well, she lives according to her own rules within our walls and interacts with us only a few times throughout the day—whereas Jahan was always present, part of everything that went on.

I miss that presence. I have lost a trusted friend, but in memory he will always be part of my life.

Claudia H. Long

Bosco, Maga, Sherpa (aka Bankamericat), Tadisch, Bamba, Mollie, Akbar and Jeff I, Akbar and Jeff II, Taffy, Funny, Skull, Shasta, Cleo, Zorro, Lucy, Jezebel, Brutus (part-time), Sammy DJ Jr, Pumpkin, and Kona. Nine dogs, five cats, five rabbits, two guinea pigs, and one leopard gecko. These are the annals of pets that my husband and I have had since we met in 1977.

Claudia H. Long's puppies

The most we ever had at one time was three dogs, two cats, and a rabbit, for a total of six animals. That’s unless we count when Taffy the guinea pig, bought for our son when he was five, arrived “with pig” unbeknownst to us. Taffy had a litter of “three little pigs,” but we gave two away (Pavarotti and Happy) and kept Funny. The fewest we had was two, a cat and a dog, when we first met. He had the dog. I acquired the cat. More on the cat in a moment.

They all have their virtues, their funny stories, their pathos. You haven’t lived until you’ve expressed the gonads of an impacted leopard gecko. The then-four pigs sounded an alarm—they’re spectacularly loud—when the dishwasher caught fire, earning themselves a mention in the Contra Costa pet column of the time. Zorro flew through a plate-glass window unharmed in the pursuit of his true love: tennis balls. Bosco climbed many a tree after elusive squirrels. Sherpa went to work with me at Bank of America for a day (she was adopted from the street purveyors on Montgomery Street in downtown San Francisco during my husband’s lunch hour, and we needed to keep her somewhere), then she went home with my secretary while I went to an evening event, where she went down the air vent shaft of his apartment. Akbar and Jeff I, named for the comic strip, were two rabbits we kept in an elaborate, home-built hutch (the rabbit condo I) until they died. Our daughter was three, and we didn’t want to traumatize her, so we told her they ran away, got a replacement set two days later, and announced their return. Hence, Akbar and Jeff II. But…

Maga. My cat Maga. Maga was the first pet I ever got on my own. I was in the first year of law school, a notoriously unpleasant time, and I lived in a little apartment on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, pre-gentrification. I figured that the landlord got to have his pets (the mice and the cockroaches), so why couldn’t I have a pet? I got Maga from the DC pound, and never was there a worse cat.

This cat was bad. She was nasty to the bone. She would purr in my arms, then scratch them bloody. She had to be sedated for the vet to take her temperature. She would hide under the furniture, hissing, and leap out to claw a passerby’s legs. One day when I was out at class she turned on the faucet of the tub, ran the water until it overflowed and dripped into the apartment below (so much for hiding the cat from the landlord), and caused hundreds of dollars of damage. (The downstairs neighbors were not angry. They were delighted. They got a new ceiling, walls, fresh paint, a new floor for the bathroom. I moved out.)

Maga moved with us to California, and one day, many years later, she lay down and died in the street in Richmond, where we lived. It was sad, and our daughter walked around repeating in a lugubrious voice, “Maga died. Maga died.” She wasn’t sad, she just loved repeating what we said.

Shortly afterwards, Akbar and Jeff I died. As I mentioned, we got their twins immediately after that, so she wouldn’t be overwhelmed with death. The next day, when I dropped her off at the sitter on my way to work, she intoned in her funereal voice, “Maga died.” The babysitter, in on the ruse, said, “Oh! But what about your rabbits?” My daughter looked up with her big gray-green eyes and said happily, “They died too!”

Photographs © Courtney J. Hall, C. P. Lesley, Claudia H. Long.

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