My Life in a Cat House: True Tales of Love, Laughter, and Living with Five Felines

My Life in a Cat House: True Tales of Love, Laughter, and Living with Five Felines

by Gwen Cooper

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781946885654
Publisher: BenBella Books, Inc.
Publication date: 10/30/2018
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 22,903
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Gwen Cooper is the New York Times bestselling author of the memoirs Homer's Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat and Homer: The Ninth Life of a Blind Wonder Cat ; the novels Love Saves the Day and Diary of a South Beach Party Girl ; and the crowd-sourced collection of “cat selfies,” Kittenish (a send-up of Kim Kardashian’s Selfish ), 100% of the proceeds from which were donated to support animal rescue in Nepal following the 2015 earthquake. Her work has been published in nearly two-dozen languages and territories around the world. She is a frequent speaker at shelters and fundraisers, and donates 10% of her royalties from Homer's Odyssey to organizations that serve abused, abandoned, and disabled animals. Gwen lives in Manhattan with her husband, Laurence. She also lives with her two perfect cats—Clayton the Tripod and his litter-mate, Fanny—who aren't impressed with any of it.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

I Choo-Choo-Choose You!

Pandora ("Pandy" for short) was a purebred Siamese and could only be described — although this phrase wasn't in common use twenty years ago — as a hot mess.

Some of her problems were obvious even to a casual observer. For one thing, Pandy was morbidly obese. She had all of a Siamese cat's fine-boned delicacy of frame from the shoulders up and the hips down. But her midsection carried an excess seventeen pounds of pure lard. The tiny, porcelain-doll perfection of her head and neck made for a jarring contrast with the enormous belly — ballooning out on each side of her body — that swayed ponderously as she walked. Watching Pandy stroll about the house always made me think of a song popular on Miami dance radio at the time, which admonished, Shake it ... don't break it ...

I loved Pandy dearly, but I was probably the only one who did, aside from Maggie, my boyfriend Jorge's mother. She didn't do a very good job of keeping her hindquarters clean, bless her heart. (Pandy, that is — not Jorge's mother.) Whether this was because her girth hampered her ability to reach around and get in there, or because Pandy had given up in some fundamental way, was unclear. But every upward flick of her tail revealed an incriminating brown ring, as permanently fixed as if it were tattooed to her fur, no matter how often or assiduously Maggie tackled Pandy with the Baby Wipes.

Pandy would unerringly zero in on the visitors and houseguests who were the least interested in cats, and when — after she'd repeatedly pawed at their legs for attention — the hapless visitors would finally relent and try to pet her, she would lash out violently, leaving confusion, claw marks, and little tufts of yellow Siamese fur in her wake as she fled for refuge under Jorge's parents' bed. And woe betide the unsuspecting cat lover who attempted a friendly scritch behind Pandy's ears and ended up pulling back a bloodied hand for their trouble.

At seven years old, Pandy still suckled daily at the long-dry teats of her mother, Persephone (aka "Persy"), from whom she'd never been separated a day in her life. This, according to Maggie, was the true source of what was alternately referred to as "Pandy's quirks," "Pandy's problems," or, perhaps most accurately, "Pandy's neuroses."

"Cats aren't supposed to live with their mothers their whole lives," Maggie would say. And then she'd add, "Nobody is, really."

In human years, Pandy would have been somewhere in her mid-forties. I thought about Grey Gardens and The Glass Menagerie, and the entire literary pantheon of bitter or dotty middle-aged spinsters who'd never left their parents' homes — and then I tried to imagine what I might be like if I were still living with my own mother when I was in my forties.

"Definitely not," I'd agree, with a shudder.

I was twenty-three and had just moved in with Jorge, my first serious relationship post-college. We were living in a small one-bedroom apartment in a two-story low-rise owned by one of Jorge's uncles, nestled deep in the warren-like side streets of Miami's Little Havana. The people living all around us had emigrated from the mountains of Cuba, and they kept chickens in the postage-stamp backyards of their tiny, ranch-style homes. It was an odd (and often irritating) thing to be living in Miami in the 1990s — among bustling traffic and construction and silvery skyscrapers gleaming on the horizon — yet wake up at five thirty every morning to the sound of roosters crowing twenty yards away.

My own family were also "animal people." My father liked to spend time at the stables where Miami's mounted police kept their horses, and the puppies we adopted came from these animal-loving officers, inevitably with some heart-rending back story: Misty, a petite German shepherd/whippet cross, had been thrown from a moving car on I-95; Casey, a yellow pit bull/Lab mutt, had been used as bait in a dog-fighting ring. And so on.

We made much of these dogs, conspicuous even in a neighborhood of pampered, pedigreed pooches as a family who "spoiled their dogs rotten." Often we came home to find that one or another of our neighbors' dogs had escaped from his own yard and was camped out on our front porch. We would joke that the neighborhood dogs must have some kind of communications network, a way of telling each other that while they all might be treated well, at the Coopers' a dog lived like a king! We laughed about it, but I do think we were always trying — with years of love and slavish attention — to make up for those early traumas our dogs had suffered.

I'd always imagined that I would get a dog of my own when I finally moved into my first "grown-up" apartment. But the place Jorge and I shared was very small, without so much as a proper patch of grass for a dog to run and play on — and, as young adults striving to build our careers, the hours Jorge and I worked were long. I was running a youth outreach program that promoted community volunteering among middle- and high-school students. Jorge was a production assistant on commercial video shoots. When we weren't working, we were often at after-hours networking functions, trying to make the connections that would give us the next leg up. Nothing in our lifestyles seemed conducive to canine guardianship.

Still, as far as I was concerned, a home wasn't a home at all if there weren't any animals living in it.

The highlight of my week was always Sunday, when we'd go out to brunch with Jorge's parents and then back to their house to while away the afternoon until Sunday dinner. It was a joy to spend time with Pandy and Persy and Olympia — a slender, auburn-hued Abyssinian — along with the family dog, a coal-black pit bull named Targa. Targa was more utterly gaga over humans than any dog I've known before or since. In fact, Jorge's parents' house had been robbed three times (such was Miami in the '80s and early '90s) while Targa was in it — and, according to the one intruder the police had eventually caught, Targa had done little to foil the burglars beyond licking them ecstatically and bringing over her toys.

Targa may have loved people, but she hated all three cats with a deep and murderous hatred. I never witnessed any of it firsthand, but I heard stories of close calls and surprise attacks that very nearly ended in bloodshed. Jorge's parents never left Targa and the cats together unsupervised when they were out, and even when they were home they always kept Targa's muzzle close at hand.

The feeling was more than mutual. The cats delighted in finding little ways to goad Targa when they thought no one was looking. Pandy, in particular, would take malicious glee in peeing on Targa's dog bed the moment Targa left it unattended to play in the backyard.

As I said, many of Pandy's problems in life were apparent at a first glance. That Pandy was a menace to new people, however — or even to people she already knew; Jorge, his father, and his sisters bore their share of Pandy-inflicted war wounds — was something I didn't know initially. I didn't find out for months, until Maggie confided it to me one afternoon in a kind of shocked undertone, upon finding a blissed-out Pandy, purring and unconscious, draped across my legs. By that point, Pandy and I were already deep into the early stages of our four-year love affair.

Pandy and I fell for each other instantly, from the first day we met.

Jorge's family were a bookish clan, and I was a reader myself. Many a Sunday would find me lounging in one of the comfy chairs in his parents' living room, nose buried in a novel while Pandy sprawled on my lap or my chest, belly fat oozing out and around until her body was an enormous perfect circle atop which perched a teeny-tiny cat's head.

Her weight should have made her an unwieldy lap cat; the body heat generated by her bulk should have made her a sweaty, uncomfortable burden on a humid Miami day. But something about us just meshed, and neither of those things ever bothered me. Pandy's rumbling purr was a deep, intensely happy vibrato that sank into my chest and radiated through my entire body as I absentmindedly stroked her back or rubbed her chin in between turning book pages. If I got too immersed in my novel and neglected to pet her for more than a few minutes, Pandy would bonk her head against my hand or paw gently at my shoulder until petting was resumed. My fingers seemed to know instinctively how to find just the right scratching spots that would make her purr deepen, her half-closed eyes turned to my own in a gaze of such melting adoration that it could break your heart.

As for me, I sometimes felt that I hadn't known true serenity until those Sundays with Jorge's parents, when the late-afternoon sunlight would slant through the windows and transform the fur of Pandy's rising and falling chest, lying across my own, into a gleaming mound of golden flax.

Pandy's instant affection for me — unprecedented in the annals of Jorge's family lore — became something of a tall tale among them, the story about The One Person Pandy Liked. It was heady stuff for a budding, inexperienced ailurophile.

You heard all the time about people who one day discovered some latent talent or ability they'd never known they had. Maybe I was one of those people. Maybe I had this previously untapped, deeply instinctive understanding of cats. Maybe I intuitively "got" cats in a way that other people didn't.

Maybe I was secretly a cat genius.

And so, when one of Jorge's sisters announced one Sunday that her mechanic had found a litter of four-week-old kittens, and did any of us know somebody who might want them, I didn't hesitate before claiming one for myself.

* * *

It was another two days before Jorge's sister could drive out to her mechanic's garage to pick up the kitten, and I was in a fever pitch of excitement the entire time. For two nights, I tossed in bed with the restlessness of a ten-year-old on Christmas Eve. A KITTEN is coming! I'm getting a KITTEN!

I went to the pet store for a litter box and kitten food, and came home with a toy-filled shopping bag so large that I struggled to carry everything up the stairs to our apartment. I'd been an easy mark for the enthusiastic store owner, who'd probably closed up shop and gone home for the day after I left. (I imagined her calling her husband and saying, Good news, Herb! We can go back to imported wine!) I'd bought miniature mice by the dozen: some made from felt, some from plastic or sisal rope, some that rattled or squeaked when shaken, some with hidden compartments you could stuff with catnip. I'd gotten a toy that consisted of a circular sisal-rope base with a large metal spring jutting up from it vertically, at the end of which was attached a belled cluster of feathers. There was another circular toy, this one a plastic wheel with a ball trapped inside and slats through which a cat could shove a paw to push the ball around and around in an endless loop. And I'd bought balls in every color of the rainbow: some made of cloth and plush with stuffing, some that whirred and sparkled when pushed, others made from candy-colored plastic. Last but not least, I'd bought a toy worm made from three puffs of cottony material with a little bell attached to one end.

I spent the hour before the kitten arrived arranging this bounty strategically around the apartment as Jorge looked on, until our home resembled a kitty day-care center through which a dozen or so cats might troop at any moment, demanding entertainment.

"They always end up being more interested in the bag the toys came in than the toys themselves, you know," Jorge told me. I knew that Jorge had far more experience with kittens than I did (I having no experience at all). Still, I silently pooh-poohed him. I knew the kitten would be delighted with this avalanche of playthings — would love the toys not only for their own sakes, but also because of all the love for her and excitement at her arrival that they represented. And we would be so much more than cat and owner, this kitten and I. From the very first look — from the very first moment — she and I would form an instant, unbreakable bond and be the best and closest of friends forever. These toys were merely the first step in that process.

At the very least, they certainly brightened up the place. Jorge and I didn't have much in the way of décor in those early days of living together — just a futon, battered coffee table, and highly weathered entertainment center in the living room; a hand-me-down circular plastic table and three chairs in the kitchen area; and another futon along with an ancient dresser in the bedroom. I didn't want the kitten to look around and wonder if maybe her luckier littermates had gone to better, fancier homes, while she'd drawn the losing ticket in the lottery of life. Cats, I'd been given to understand, could be very judgmental creatures.

I'd barely finished arranging everything just so when the doorbell rang and Jorge's sister entered. She toted a kitten-sized lavender plastic carrier, across the top of which a piece of masking tape with scarlett written in black marker had been affixed.

One of the things I'd been looking forward to most was getting to name the kitten. I'd never been the one to name a pet before — with our dogs, that privilege had always fallen to my parents — and I'd seen naming rights as one of the adult prerogatives I would now assume with a cat of my very own.

"She was so dehydrated when the mechanic found her that she kept fainting," Jorge's sister explained. "So he named her Scarlett."

Any disappointment I may have felt upon learning that someone else had already named my kitten dissolved, along with my heart, upon hearing this. The poor little thing! I knew I could easily rename her. Young as she was, she wouldn't know the difference. But this name was so closely tied to her origins in life — and the hardships she'd endured before being rescued — that it seemed as if changing it would also erase something important and essential about her.

Scarlett, then, she would be.

Jorge's sister had placed the carrier on the floor at my feet, and I knelt before it, fumbling with the clasp until it sprang open. A tiny black nose poked its way out, quickly followed by the head and body of what was probably the smallest living creature I'd ever been close to.

She was a gray-and-black tiger-striped tabby, with a white belly and chest, white chin, and white "socks" on her lower legs and feet. I marveled at her miniature perfection — the little pink pads of her paws; the tiny, nearly imperceptible tufts of fur sprouting from the tips of her ears; the wee, feathery whiskers on each side of her nose, as if an adult cat's features had been rendered into something small enough to fit in a dollhouse. The next time I went to Jorge's parents' house, only a few days later, their cats would seem to me almost monstrous in size.

Fully emerged from the carrier, the kitten looked at me with wide blue eyes (which would turn a yellowish green in only a few weeks' time). "Hey, Scarlett," I said. I knew I must look like a giantess to her, so I made my voice soft. "Come to your new mama."

This was the moment I'd been waiting for. My mind soared off on flights of quasi-poetic fancy that even now, some twenty years later, I'm embarrassed to remember. This would be a moment of epiphany — a moment when the workings of Destiny (with a capital D) would be revealed. That I was about to publicly assume my previously secret identity as "Gwen Cooper, Cat Genius" was a given. Jorge and his sister — and even I, myself — would see that my immediate rapport with Pandy hadn't been a fluke. But it would be more than that, this happening of an instant that was fated to change all our lives. Our eyes would meet, Scarlett's and mine, and that meeting would strike a gong that would resound down through all our remaining years together.

For the merest fraction of a second, Scarlett's blue eyes rested squarely on my own. "Come here, baby," I said encouragingly.

I held my breath, waiting for Scarlett to leap rapturously into my outstretched arms, until my arms began to tire from being extended for so long. But still they remained empty of kitten flesh, rapturous or otherwise.

Scarlett's eyes seemed to glaze over — was I imagining it? — into a look of indifference. She looked at me, and then she looked through me, and then she kitten-waddled around me as if I were no more than an inconveniently placed traffic cone.

"Awwwww ... look at her go!" exclaimed Jorge's sister.

When Scarlett had gotten about five feet away, she flipped suddenly in a kind of half-turn so that she was facing me again. She lifted one of her front paws slightly off the ground as her back arched and her tiny comma of a tail puffed up, and she did a funny little sideways crab walk.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "My Life in a Cat House"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Gwen Cooper.
Excerpted by permission of BenBella Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Author’s Preface

I Choo-Choo-Choose You

Stop Trying to Make Fetch Happen

The Picasso of Pee

Cat Lovers Don’t Read Books

THEM! A Story in Five Parts

Cat Carrier Tango

Fanny Trouble

The Worm Has Turned

Acknowledgments

About the Author

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Whether describing Vashti bringing her a breakfast bug in bed or Scarlett crying out for her not to leave, Cooper’s light and cheerful style makes it obvious that these cats are the loves of her life. Even readers with little inclination towards anthropomorphism will delight in these anecdotes of cats who seemingly have something to say about everything."

—Booklist

“This book perfectly encapsulates the unique and amazing experience of being owned by cats and the joy they bring into our lives. That alone is reason enough to read it.”

—James Bowen, author of A Street Cat Named Bob

“Gwen Cooper is the Queen of Cat Love—and in these fun and frisky stories, she perfectly captures all the reasons felines rule our hearts and our homes. No cat lover should be without this book, but more important, give it to the folks who haven't yet seen the light. At least they'll understand us better!”

Sy Montgomery, author of How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals

“One of the great pleasures of life is watching cat videos on the internet. They are irresistible. Good news: Gwen Cooper’s new book is exactly like a cat video. What a pleasure to read her beautiful stories, brimming with her cat-love and even more important her ability to get you to actually see her cats. Like the videos, you will want to see more and more. She can become your next obsession, as she has become mine!”

—Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, international bestselling author of The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats

“An elegant, incisive account of love, laughter, and the deep meaning and magic cats add to our lives.”

—Britt Collins, author of Strays: A Lost Cat, a Homeless Man, and Their Journey Across America

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My Life in a Cat House: True Tales of Love, Laughter, and Living with Five Felines 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous 14 days ago
Fun, clever, can't-put-it-down, pure comedy and love for more than nine-lives! Some could be wondering how one story about cats can end up being any more interesting or different from another. IT'S THE AUTHOR! Each story is fresh, brings new insight from the crazy to the mundane things her cats do through the author's unique perspective + her exquisite writing. This is THE book for anybody! New friends + Old favorites from other Gwen Cooper books are in there, too! Readers of any genre will appreciate and thoroughly enjoy these stories and feel connected to the kitties, other characters, towns and cities mentioned through a glimpse into the life of a New York Times bestselling author.
Anonymous 23 days ago
If you were a fan of Homer's Odyssey you will love this collection of short stories about Cooper's other cats. If you didn't read Homer's Odyssey, pick it up along with this one and you will not be disappointed. The tales are funny, engaging, and will strike a chord with all animals lovers. This is a perfect stocking stuffer or gift for the animal people in your life!
Anonymous 25 days ago
If you love cats, you will love this book! Will make you laugh and touch your heart. Great Christmas gift for the cat lovers in your Family.