Wednesday, July 24, 2013

An allergic former cat lady

As a child, I was a cat lover. Lover. I had pet cats from the time I was 6 until I was in college. I don't remember a moment when I was all, "I loooooooovvvvvvvvvvvveeeeeeeee cats!"

Cat Friends by Karen Arnold

It started with cats that were gifted to my sister and I. Tweedledee and Tweedledum. (They came with their names.) We lived right off a local highway and my cat met her end with a semi-truck, or at least that's what the neighbor kids told me. I'm guessing they embellished that story for the drama.

She'd had kittens though, so we kept a couple of those. We moved into town. I don't recall now what happened to those kittens or the other cats we had in the interim. A few years later, I'd get my last cat. Sassafras, or Frassy, as we called her. I remember the first time I met her. She was indoor trained. But my cats were always and forever outdoor cats. 

The older I got, I realized that when I would sit and brush out Frassy's long fur, or pet and snuggle her, I'd end up with itchy eyes and a runny nose. It was clear to me then that I was allergic to the poor girl. I just learned to be careful. To not spend too much time with my face in her mane. And Frassy was it for me.

Until she disappeared when I was away at college. I looked up and down the neighborhood for her. My closest guess is that I'd had Frassy for 13 years and 3 moves. She was a smart cat. Too smart to be hit by a car. She used to lay out on the manhole cover in the middle of the road and when a car came, she'd slowly saunter over to the sidewalk until the car passed. Too smart.

She had a few litters of kittens in her younger years. Usually in a cardboard box we set her up with in a nice warm spot, sometimes inside, sometimes just on the enclosed back porch. One time, she went into labor in the middle of the night. We were all asleep, so she birthed her kittens under the wraparound porch. I had to crawl under the porch the next morning to go get her and her babies. I was terrified. I couldn't see anything under there, all I could hear was the faint sound of crying kittens, and my sister's footsteps right behind me. Mama asked me later how I knew I was picking up newborn kittens and not rats. I hadn't thought of that. I think I cried in response. The thought still creeps me out. 

Frassy would disappear for a few days before. Maybe even a week. Coming home with evidence of having been in a scramble. But she always came home. Until she didn't. At 13, I guess she knew she was getting up in years. I imagine she went out into the open fields behind the house, where the birds she used to catch flew and sang songs, and laid down and never woke up. I found peace in that. And never wanted another cat to replace her.

In fact, I avoid all cats at all costs. I actually became a dog person. It started in the hollers of Tennessee with a dog named Butterbean, but that story is too long for this already long post.

This summer, I am being stretched to reach back into my childhood roots and find that affection for cats I once had. This summer of gypsy living has found me taking care of cats more often than not. I always, always warn people of my allergy, so they know that I'm not going to spend time loving on their pets.  I can't say that I've succeeded in finding that soft spot for cats.

I've come to find that they are fickle and moody creatures that I do not understand. I am afraid I've gotten off on the wrong foot with one of my current charges. Today I am trying a new approach. I'm not sure yet if it's working. But he didn't run from me this morning, and I heard him purr when I pet his head. We'll see how it goes when I have to give him his anti-depressant later today (that's no joke). He is pretty good about locking his jaw and refusing to cooperate.

My new approach is to kill 'em with kindness. Win his trust and affection, and then shove the pill down his throat.  


  1. I've had cats my entire life and it's a great fear of mine that I will either develop an allergy or one of my children will. I love their staunch independence.

    In all the years I've had cats, this spring was the first time I ever had to give one a pill. It was traumatic for all. I wrapped Claire in a blanket, pried open her jaw, stuck the pill in, pointed her nose up and stroked her throat until it went down. That only took an hour. =P (The wrangling and successfully get the pill down, that is.)

    1. If I still loved cats, which clearly I don't, I'm sure my cat allergy would bother me more. But now I get to use it as more of an excuse as to why I can't be around other people's cats. I know. It's sort of evil. But to be fair, I did get a welt the other day after trying unsuccessfully to get that cat its pill. That was a new reaction I haven't had before. Thankfully a few hours out of the house and the swelling and itching went down. It's not like I'm making up the allergy or anything. Yesterday was a much more positive experience in getting the cat to cooperate. So I guess my ploy to win him over kinda worked.