I grew up with dogs and I’ve run the gamut of turtles, gerbils, budgies and short-lived tropical fish. When I was in high school, my boyfriend’s mother had a Cockatoo named Joe that would shriek and shout obscenities from under the cover of his cage when he heard us tiptoeing through the kitchen in the wee hours.
I had a beloved SPCA cat who saw me through my Single Years, attended my wedding, lived until he was 19, and whose ashes are buried under a bush in our yard.
A few years ago our goldfish had a baby (!) and promptly ate it, which my kids and I found particularly appalling. Apparently, this is just something fish “Do.”
Most recently, we had an exceptionally affectionate lop ear rabbit who died last summer.
This is the longest stretch I have gone without having a little animal heartbeat to call my own and I’m feeling it.
“I want a dog!” I exclaimed to my husband the other night.
My family are not dog people. My daughter worries that when dogs are panting they are actually smiling at her, and my son, a consummate good sport, is often mistaken for one of the pack, knocked down by his friends’ dogs and given pokes in the eye and good face washings.
“No, you don’t,” my husband said.
What? We have a yard. We have a fence. There’s a veterinarian in the family. We can deal, I thought. Two of us have allergies and we can’t live with cats, but nothing was said about dogs!
“Think of Norbert and O’Malley,” he said. “It wouldn’t be fair.”
Norbert and O’Malley are ginger tabby cats. They don’t live with us, but it sure seems like it some days. One belongs to the neighbours next door and the other lives across the street. If you’ve got allergies this is the closest you can come to having cats of your own.
Norbert showed up in our yard when he was a kitten about three years ago. Our bunny was outside at the time and maybe Norbert thought we were good people. Perhaps he heard the children’s voices. Cynics might say that he was just hungry and fancied the rabbit. Whatever his reasons, he sprang out of the ivy bush one day and charmed us with his best kitten routine: jumpy razor back, bottle brush tail. It was love at first sight for all of us.
Our neighbours, whose cat had recently died, canvassed the neighbourhood; posted Found signs and eventually adopted him. They named him, got him fixed, vaccinated and tattooed. We swear he was pleased by the rigmarole (well… maybe pleased isn’t the word) and understood that he had found a good home.
When Norbert’s family goes away we get to take care of him, and he’s allowed to come over and snooze in our sunroom when it’s raining, or when it’s late and no one’s home next door. Occasionally he slips upstairs and tries to get on our beds.
We’ve discovered that Norbert likes to drink out of the toilet and, probably because he’s a stray, he is not well acquainted with the finer points of litter boxes. He prefers the great outdoors or the rolled up the edge of a carpet instead, which can be dicey at best. The kids have taken to using their soccer pylons to delineate particularly suspicious sections of grass.
When we’re outside Norbert ricochets between both yards, zips up our cherry tree and back down again. He chases squirrels. He caught a woodpecker once, and for this indiscretion, was made to wear a bell. That didn’t last long.
He’s a mouser, too, and can be seen standing motionless on the fence post above the compost heap, with the concentration of an Olympic high diver. I have to confess that I “borrowed” him one day, let him loose in the basement to hunt for rats while I sat at my desk and wrote. Just about jumped out of my skin when I forgot he was there and he brushed up against my bare leg.
O’Malley isn’t a stray. He has his own home. He’s younger than Norbert, and has only just started showing up at our house. He busted into the sunroom one day, jumped onto the table and paraded around the window ledges, as if to say Ah Ha! I’m in!
Norbert doesn’t do window ledges, or tables, for that matter. And what’s more, he’s not at all jealous of O’Malley. We suspect that Norbert and O’Malley have been communicating because recently, when it was raining, O’Malley came right in as though he owned the place. He sat on the cushion that Norbert normally uses, had a good wash and fell asleep with his front paws across his nose. They also take turns snoozing on the same spot in the yard where our old cat’s ashes are buried.
One evening, shortly after my husband and I had The Dog Talk, both cats showed up at the sunroom together.
“Close the bedroom doors, put down the toilet seat, Norbert and O‘Malley are in the house!” I hollered upstairs.
“I’ll alert the media,” my husband replied.
In what seemed like a role reversal, O’Malley, all business, headed straight for the basement to look for rats. Norbert stretched out on the cushion and started licking his paws.
Then my son saw a shape outside in the dark.
“There’s another one,” he said, with delight.
Sure enough, there was another cat asking to be let in. This one was a tortoise shell kitten.
“Oh, It’s Violet,” he said.
“The other neighbour’s cat,” he answered, matter of factly, as if I should know.
“You’re right,” I said to my husband, in one of my more dyslexic moments. “What would we do with a dog?”
O’Malley and Norbert: by Lexie Harrison
Norbert and O’Malley in the Sunroom: by Lexie Harrison