Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 9:46 PM on Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More than just balls of fur, cats add character to home

off the beat news

By McKibben Jackinsky


McKibben Jackinsky

Mikey came into Sandy's and my life through Sandy's sister, Connie. Connie was living at Friendship Terrace at the time, not in the best of health, but well enough to insist on having a cat for company.

Connie had had several cats throughout her life. One feline companion she had been especially close to was named Molly. As a result, every cat after that, male or female, was given the same name. The day Sandy took Connie to the Homer Animal Shelter, the gray, male Manx she took home automatically was named Molly. Then someone began calling him Mikey, which, must have been close enough to "Molly" because it stuck.

Manx cats originated on the Isle of Man. Through a naturally occurring mutation, they have a short, if any, tail. One explanation for the abbreviated appendage is that when Noah closed the door on the ark, it accidentally separated the Manx from its tail. Another is that the Manx is what you get when you cross a cat with a rabbit, which also explains why these cats' hind legs are longer than their front legs. Manx also have an unusual voice; their single syllable grunt sounds little like a meow.

Mikey had another peculiar characteristic: The inside toes on his front paws looked like thumbs. They weren't, of course. At least I never saw him use a fork, write a letter or hitchhike, but they always drew comments from people who saw them.

When Connie died, friends offered to take Mikey. Sandy was insistent, however: Mikey would live with him. When my female cat, Radar, and I moved in a few months later, our combined foursome set about figuring out who went where.

Top 10 Checklist for Adopting a Cat

The American Human Association, www.americanhumane.org, offers the following "Top 10 Checklist For Adopting a Cat"

1. If you're thinking about adopting a cat, consider taking home two.

2. Find a cat whose personality meshes with yours.

3. Pick out a veterinarian ahead of time and schedule a visit within the next few days following the adoption.

4. Make sure everyone in the house is prepared to have a cat before it comes home.

5. Budget for the short- and long-term costs of a cat.

6. Stock up on supplies before the cat arrives.

7. Cat-proof your home.

8. Go slowly when introducing your cat to new friends and family.

9. Be sure to include your new pet in your family's emergency plan.

10. If you're considering giving a cat as a gift, make sure the recipient is an active participant in the adoption process.

Mikey, a shelter cat who had experienced frequent company at Connie's apartment, was welcoming of Radar. He didn't exactly wrap his paws around her, but he didn't chase her off, either.

Radar was a bit less friendly. She had spent her whole life with me in a cabin in the woods. Other cats and dogs had shared our space, but as each one aged and passed on, Radar adjusted to a shrinking household that eventually became just the two of us. Moving into a new house that included a cat took some adjusting.

Side-by-side, Mikey and Radar's personalities were strikingly different. In the mornings, Radar would stand by my side of the bed and meow until I finally opened my eyes, got up and stumbled into the kitchen to fill their dishes. Mikey was bolder and much more direct. He slammed the bedroom door repeatedly against the wall until we couldn't take it anymore. If we shut the bedroom door, he'd simply pound on it until he got the desired response.

Radar loved to climb into our laps to be petted if we were reading or watching TV. Mikey would stand or sit near us, but refused to sit in our laps. His nearness, however, brought out a jealous streak in Radar she expressed by flattening her ears, growling and glaring.

Several months ago, Mikey's health began failing. He became less energetic. His appetite went downhill. After multiple trips to the vet to figure out what was happening, a tumor was found under his tongue.

Showering Mikey with love, keeping him comfortable and finding a suitable diet became the focus, an effort that drew him and Sandy together. One day as I was leaving the house and turned to say good-bye, the sight of them standing side-by-side touched my heart.

"You two make quite a pair," I said.

"We're a foursome," Sandy reminded me. Sandy, Mikey, Radar and me.

Near the end of May, after an extremely rough night, Sandy once again took Mikey to the vet, desperate to ease Mikey's increasing discomfort. The vet confirmed what we knew to be true: our options were limited.

We sat near a window where Mikey could see the birds flying by. We held him, stroked him, thanked him for the joy he'd brought into our lives and told him how much we loved him as the vet released him from his pain. From our lives. But not from our hearts.

June is the American Humane Association's Adopt-A-Cat Month. The Homer Animal Shelter is filled with cats desperately needing homes; cats who, like Mikey, are waiting to be loved. When Sandy, Radar and I add to our household, that's where we'll go. Carrying Mikey's memory with us.