As one who suffered from childhood asthma and is still severely allergic to both fur and feathers, I have had to love animals from afar. So it took my breath away (quite literally) when I met and fell in love with a man who had cats.
There were two of them — an exceedingly sweet brother and sister. Mookie and Malomar (M & M for short) were rare Scottish Folds, a famously affectionate breed. They came with all the accoutrements of a very nice life — gourmet cat food, tons of toys, painted portraits of themselves, and more. These were healing cats. They warmed the feet and heart of Marc’s first wife when she was sick. They kept Marc company after she passed away. They welcomed me wholeheartedly and unreservedly into their lives. They loved to play, but never insisted on it.
Marc had been through a lot, and the cats had seen him through it. But now, much as it pained me to do so, the time for an ultimatum had come. Marc was going have to decide between the cats or me… and quickly!
He did decide. “Quickly,” however, was not to be.
First, let me backtrack a little. What struck me strangest when I first moved to New York — back when Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” was playing everywhere — was how cats in the city seemed to have a relationship veto. That is, these pets had the power to approve or reject their owner’s significant others.
I had a friend whose pair of extra-particular felines caused serious friction between her and her favorite fellow. She eventually had to put the cats on Valium until they learned to love everything—including her future husband. Another couple that seemed otherwise perfect for each other parted ways over an aging cat’s failing bowels and bad temper.
Obviously, asking my man to part with his beloved cats was embarking on a path fraught with hazards. I was cognizant that my request could cause anything from minor, constant squabbles to a total relationship rupture.
At first, Marc tried to convince me that the allergies were “all in my head.” And while it is that my sinuses and eyes are the most severely affected, this was not what he meant. When he was finally persuaded my maladies were more than psychosomatic, Marc generously offered to put his cats up for adoption.
And then he did what almost anyone in his situation would, which was absolutely nothing.
I lovingly encouraged Marc to reach out to his family and friends on behalf of M & M. Encouragement turned to subtle pressure, which turned to not-so-subtle pressure, which turned to outright nagging. I was supposed to move into his (newly catless) home on March 1st, but the date came and went with no progress made. March became April. Marc grew ever more hearing impaired. I read a book on passive-aggressive males. We quarreled. Some unpleasant things were said.
Finally, Marc agreed to place his cats with a distant cousin. The cats were to move out on a Saturday and I would move in the following day.
As NYC sublet law would have it, though, I ended up moving in on Friday. And Saturday never came. Or rather, through some strange twist of timing and family politics, Saturday came and the cats did not go.
I was miserable and it showed — puffy eyes, runny nose, scratchy throat, raspy voice, and claws that would not retract.
Whereas Marc hoped the problem would go away,I snapped into action to make sure it would. Where his hands had trouble, I dialed the phone. When words stuck in his throat, I spoke eloquently on the cats’ behalf. I made full-color flyers and posted them everywhere. I campaigned in pet stores, old-age homes, diners and grocery stores across the country. I wore down both sets of cell phone batteries in my outreach efforts.
It was Saturday afternoon, my second official day in the suburbs, and still no takers for Mookie & Malomar. Every veterinarian in Nassau County was put on alert. At one vet’s suggestion, we went to a shelter said to abound with “true cat people.” There, a manager patiently listened as I told her the unabridged version of Mookie and Malomar, Marc and me. She swooned at my pictures of the pair and almost opted to adopt them herself. Instead, she asked Marc earnestly, “With cats that good, you couldn’t find a woman without asthma?”
Much to his credit, Marc was not amused. Besides, the shelter was about to close, and the manager was now lobbying us to adopt a twelve-year-old toothless, clawless cat named Simon. We still had work to do.
It was time to go online. I became quite the impassioned typist in cat-fancy chat rooms, but logged off demoralized after one too many cat lovers admonished me to, “Take medication and get over it!” One breeder even cast a curse upon me via e-mail. I was not getting the sympathy I had hoped for. But should all else fail, I did meet a woman willing to marry Marc if he decided to keep the cats.
Then, just when I was about to take a heavy dose of Benadryl and drift off into despair, I remembered the unparalleled power of the vested interest. My mother! She wanted this relationship to work!
Mom is almost as allergic to cats as I am. The only animals we had while growing up were fur and feather-free; which meant a goldfish for Scott, a salamander for Gregg, and nothing for me. But Mom has always cared about me deeply… and especially about my relationships. I called her immediately.
Not surprisingly, by close of business Monday, Mom had given away the cats.
As for their new owner, we could not have asked for more…
Amy is a cat lover extraordinaire. Not long before, she had lost a beloved family feline to old age (23 years!). So she was overjoyed to become the new owner of Marc’s nine-year-old pair — eagerly driving ten hours to pick them up, starting a “kitty registry” at her local pet store, and planning a full calendar of get-togethers to introduce M&M to her friends. She continues to send us photos by email, along with updates of the pair — filling us in on M&M’s favorite cat food flavors or which sunbeams they prefer for napping
Truth be told, I loved those cats—albeit from a distance. I learned much from their playful, graceful natures— discovering a kinship of sorts between their instincts and my own. I miss them some, which means Marc must miss them even more.
Deeper truth be told, without the cats to argue over, Marc and I now grapple with more serious issues—the lifelong work of communicating honestly and compassionately; the hard task of integrating two fully formed lives and all the things that go with them.
Frankly, we miss fighting about cats. Suddenly, twelve-year-old toothless, clawless Simon doesn’t sound so bad.
I have been on the look-out for a great vet for M and M, and have been calling around questioning the area vet offices (I’m sure they all love my quizzes). Do you remember if M and M have ever had any vaccines? Heartworm medication? I want to be sure to understand their history and be as consistent as possible.
Thanks so much for your input. I truly appreciate it!