Read an Excerpt
Of all the animals who have shared our lives for generations, we know the least about the cat.
That doesn't mean we love them any less; in fact, the air of mystery each cat carries is one of the reasons we love them so much. Cats have never changed to suit our desires. They play by their own rules, and we love and admire them for their independence of spirit.
Cats started hanging around with us because we were useful to them. Our switch from hunter-gatherers to farmers meant that we attracted lots of fat, little rodents to our grain stores. The cat has been welcome in our barns ever since, and by our hearths as well.
Few cats have to earn their living today, and many now have lives that keep them completely indoors, hunting for little beyond a warm place to sleep. More than twenty years have passed since the cat claimed the title of number-one pet over the dog, and the gap just keeps widening.
The closer we get to our cats, the more we find to love about them. Their company offers warm companionship, endless entertainment, and soothing comfort. Even science has documented the benefits: Pets in general, and cats in particular, are good for us in countless ways. They keep us busy, keep us from being lonely, and even help keep us healthier.
Those of us whose hearts are in this book are unabashed animal lovers. Animals are our lives, and it shows in the work we have chosenwhether as veterinarians, writers, or photographers. We cannot imagine living without them. We love cats, from the purr of a new kitten's greeting to the last sad good-bye of an aged friend. We love the snuggles on the couch while watching TV, the silly games with a string toy or laser pointer, the sharing of a joke or a secret or even a little bit of our dinner. Our cats are always with us, in spirit even when they cannot be with us in person.
We know we are not alone in the appreciation of all things feline. Every cat lover knows cats don't care who you are or what you look like. They love us, regardless.
Cats teach us, heal us, make us laugh, and break our hearts with their passing. We understand the benefits of feline companionship because we live with cats, love them, and care for and about them. Our lives are about helping others to find better, fuller lives with their pets. The strength of the human-animal bond and the growing importance of pets in our lives is why we wanted to compile this book.
The very best expertsincluding top veterinarians, trainers, behavioristswere tapped to provide expertise on all manner of feline topics, but we wanted much, much more. We knew cat lovers had stories of feline love, loyalty, laughter, rescue, and courage, and we knew we wanted to share them, along with pictures that captured their varied personalities, magnificent beauty, and irresistable charm.
From thousands of submissions of stories and photographs, we have chosen the very bestthe ones we loved, and the ones we hope you'll love, too. Please join us as we celebrate the cat.
By Mitzi Flyte
It was the call I'd hoped would never come.
At 5:00 am, the phone rang. Rich, the man I was to marry, was at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital waiting for a heart transplant, and I was staying at a nearby hotel. Rich had recently had complications, so this early-morning phone call could mean only one thing. He was gone.
I'd been divorced almost seven years when I met Rich, a burly policeman. He'd had one heart attack years before and was not taking care of himselfhe loved beer and could eat a hoagie while waiting for the pizza to bake. As a nurse I tried to encourage better habits, and for a while it seemed to be working. But the damage had already been done.
One heart attack followed another. The policeman who once weighed 230 pounds was down to 160. But his eyes still lit up whenever he saw me, and I hung on to that love.
When he finally became too weak to be at home, he was admitted to the cardiac care unit and given intravenous medication just to keep his heart working. There was only one option left: Rich would need a heart transplant. I papered his hospital room wall with a poster of a tropical islewhere we would honeymoon. We waited and waited. Then there were complications, and the doctors said that he wouldn't survive surgery. We would just have to wait until the complications cleared, and then he'd have his new heart.
But he didn't get better. There would be no new heart for my Rich.
I don't remember driving home from Philadelphia. I do remember walking into a house that echoed with emptiness. My daughter had left for college just a week earlier. A month before, knowing I would need to be with Rich during his frequent hospitalizations, I'd reluctantly found a good home for my beloved dog. Four months before that, my elderly cat had been put to sleep. Now I was completely alone.
For two weeks I was kept busy with the work and details that come with someone's death. And suddenly that safety net of busyness was all over. I went back to my job as a geriatric nurse, and every evening I came home to an empty house.
I missed Rich dreadfully. I missed sitting on the sofa holding hands. I missed holding him at night. And I especially missed cooking with him. Most evenings, we'd made supper together, each of us leaning against the counters of my old-fashioned kitchen, our hips sometimes bumping while we chopped, diced, simmered, or stirred. Every so often, he would reach down and pat my bottom and tell me that he loved me.
As time passed, instead of feeling better, I found that I was turning inward, happier in my memories than in the real world.
'You need a cat,' my sister said.
'You need a cat,' my daughter said.
'You need a cat,' my friend from work said, 'and there's a new litter of kittens at my daughter's farm.'
I gave in and visited the farm. There were several yellow tiger-striped kittens running around the living room. When I came in and sat on the sofa, they scatteredall but one. That one ran across the room, bounded onto my lap, and started to nuzzle my cheek.
'I guess I've been chosen,' I laughed. I think it was the first time I'd laughed since Rich's death.
My daughter, whose favorite rock band at the time was Mötley Crüe, wanted to name the new family member. That's how I started coming home to a Mötley greeting every night.
Mötley grew into a long, sleek, purring companion who followed me everywhere. He was playful and intelligent, letting me know whenever his food dish was empty and patiently escorting me to the cupboard where the cat food was stored. He curled up at the foot of my bed at night and in my lap while I read. He'd sit on the windows and chitter at the birds nesting under my porch roof. And when Ashley, a long-haired gray puffball, joined our family, Mötley accepted her as though she were his littermate.
One summer evening as I was fixing supperchopping, dicing, simmering, and stirringI felt a familiar pat on my bottom. Startled, I automatically turned, half expecting to see Rich. Instead I looked down and saw Mötley. He was sitting on a chair near the kitchen counter, one paw still suspended in the air. He had given me the pat! That yellow tabby stared at me with such love and devotion . . . and then he jumped up to the windowsill and started chittering at a bird outside.
I went back to fixing supper and wondered if someone had taught my Mötley a tricksomeone who didn't want me to forget.
That was many years ago. Mötley's gone now. So is his companion, Ashley. But today my home includes Murray, Husker, and Miss Kitty. It's Murray who delivers the pats now, to my cheek, my arm, and sometimes to my bottom. It seems that someone still doesn't want me to forget.
As if I ever will.
George and Gracie
By Suzanne Thomas Lawlor
Gracie is known in my home as 'The Best Kitty in the World.' She is one half of a pair of cats that happily ruled my house in tandem for many years. Her brother, George (also known as 'Gorgeous George'), passed on not long ago and now permanently rests in his favorite sunny spot in the garden.
Gracie came into my life first. When my friend's cat had kittens, I asked my husband if we could have a cat. 'You can have a cat or a baby,' he told me.
I was indignant. 'I can have both,' I said.
But his comment turned out to be prophetic. When we broke up ten years later, we were childless; he got to stay in the house, and George and Gracie came with me.
It had taken me very little time to pick out my wonderful kitty. She was a tiny mound of gray-striped fur, nursing at the bottom of the furry heap, part of a contented feline clan. I lifted her up and held her to my cheek. When she nuzzled against me, I was a goner. George, however, joined the family a different way. It happened that a couple of weeks after I brought Gracie home, my husband and I went on a long-planned two-week vacation to the Grand Tetons. I was worried about leaving her alone, but she was just getting used to being in our house, and I didn't want to disrupt her new routine. So I asked two of my friends who had cats of their own if they would take turns feeding Gracie and also spend time playing with her. But even with some company every day, Gracie was lonely. Whenever anyone came to the house to feed her, Gracie wailed and made it clear that she was not happy.
Being adept problem solvers, my cat sitters hatched a plan. They decided they would get one of Gracie's siblings from the litter as a 'loaner kitten.' They visited my friend who had the kittens and picked out a little orange and white tabby, the one they thought was the cutest of the litter, and brought him home to Gracie. If he was going to be Gracie's companion, they decided this kitten must be called George (after comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen). When we got back from our trip and saw them curled up in the chair together, there was no turning back.
George let Gracie be the brains of their twenty-year collaboration. But he made up for what he lacked in intelligence with a loving nature. His responsibility was to occupy laps, purr, blink, and be so handsome and endearing that humans would dispense cat treats far beyond the daily ration. Gracie's job was to make all the decisions, do the greetings, remind humans of food and door-opening needs, keep both their coats immaculately clean, and curl up so tightly with George that they became a yin/yang of warm fur that could endure even the coldest Iowa winters. That is, until I moved them to sunny California.
When I left Iowa to return to my hometown in the Bay Area, George and Gracie adapted easily. This was when Gracie took on her most important job around the house: keeping tabs on the emotional needs of all the human occupants and guests. Since then, she's been on call to give comfort, endure tears and periodic bouts of neediness and fervent hugging, and dispense kisses on fingers and faces. Gracie's role as nurturer has been especially appreciated by my parents as they have aged. She is the one that I find lying on my elderly father's shoulder, both of them asleep in the overstuffed chair. And once, when my stepmother, Joan, was so weak at our Christmas dinner that she had to lie down in the bedroom, Gracie got up on the bed with her, to keep her company while the rest of us were finishing our meal. Gracie is a cat you can count on, and she carries out her duties with great diligence.
This was most clear when our beloved George started declining. George was always a heat-seeking cat who loved nothing more than sunbathing. It was his addiction. The only problem was that he had a pure pink nose, and, unfortunately, I wasn't aware that it needed to be protected from the sun. Once he reached fourteen, he developed a spot on his nose that didn't go away. It was skin cancer. For the next four years, I took him periodically to the vet, who would burn off the malignant spot to keep the cancer in check.
When I'd arrive home from the animal hospital and let the half-drugged George out of his kitty carrier, Gracie never failed to greet him. Together they would curl up on the bed while she soothed him with her tender grooming. Seeing the love that Gracie ministered to her Georgie, how they never fought and always stuck close togethereither sitting side by side or curled up in a heap of furwas enough to melt any heart.
Then, George's kidneys started failing, and we knew that his time with us was coming to a close. Each day I thanked him for all he had given me. At night he would crawl under the covers, a new behavior for him, and purr through the night as if to let me know he understood. George ate little now, and, reluctant to leave his side, Gracie adjusted her eating habits, too. We moved the food bowl to the bedroom, but I still worried that neither one was eating enough.
One morning, George, who I knew hadn't eaten for days, emerged from under the bedcovers and his legs gave out. He couldn't move and seemed to be in pain.
This is it, flashed in my brain. I called my vet. After I made the arrangements for her to come to the house to put him to sleep, I carried George out into the garden. I was amazedhe managed to walk, if a bit shakily, to his favorite spot, where the sun shone brightest and longest through the day.
Soon it was time to bring him back inside. I placed him on the bed, and Gracie, who had been escorting him, leapt up to join him. They sat facing the bedroom door on their heating pad, Gracie tightly against him, George with his eyes closed, breathing shallowly. I put my face in his fur, saying my good-byes.
The vet arrived, and I escorted her to the bedroom. The moment she walked into the room, it was as if both cats knew. They immediately turned around with their backs to her. They settled in, with Gracie lying across George. The vet waited until our farewells were over.
I was surprised he went so quickly. As I sensed him leaving, I fell apart. Tossed up by a wave of grief, I exploded into the kind of dry sobs that leave one gasping for breath and coming up empty. I couldn't stop.
Normally Gracie would have come to me. Not now. George was her priority. She continued licking him over and over, and would continue to for the next hour or so. When I picked George up, his body was warm from the heating pad and wet from her ministrations. I wrapped him in a piece of white silk and took his body out into the garden, where I dug a hole in his special sunning spot. I performed a ceremony and placed a large, white, heart-shaped stone, found on other travels, to mark the spot of my beloved companion's resting place.
For months after George's passing, Gracie would often wail for no apparent reason. Even when I went to her, she kept up her crying. Sometimes during the day, but most often at night, this normally quiet cat would walk the hallways of the house, calling out in a strident voice, as though trying to summon George back to her side.
It's been a year now since George left us. Gracie turns twenty-one on June 2. My vet tells me she looks like she is still a kitten. She certainly has a beauty secret I don't have. At night, my little gray-striped cat snuggles near my headsomething that only George had done. And so we've settled into our routine without our handsome man about the house.
Some days Gracie's breathing gets wheezy. Always delicate, she now seems fragile. I know the time will come when the vet's medicines, my sister's homeopathy, and all my prayers won't be enough to keep my beloved Gracie with me. I know 'The Best Kitty in the World' is destined to join George on the Rainbow Bridge, to greet him with all those tender kisses. In the meantime, I remind Gracie that her work here isn't done. Heaven knows, with all of our trouble getting along with each other, we humans haven't got it right yet. This sweet cat is my reminder to try a little tenderness.
©2008. Mitzi Flyte. Suzanne Thomas Lawlor. All rights reserved. Reprinted from The Ultimate Cat Lover by Marty Becker, D.V.M., Gina Spadafori, Carol Kline, and Mikkel Becker. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.