Family is what you make of it

The first time Mom laid eyes on Shere Khan, she was answering an ad for a kitten who needed a new home. “He doesn’t like people,” the man said. Mom sat down, and Shere Khan promptly jumped up on her lap to say hello. She brought him home. He was to be a companion cat to Tiger, a lovely ragamuffin kitten my brother-in-law had found in a parking lot in Virginia, and brought him on a family trip to see my parents. Tiger ended up staying, but he was about to claw my Dad to death. The vet said he needed a playmate.

Enter Shere Khan.

upside down
Shere Khan’s motto: The more attention, the better.

The first time I laid eyes on the gray tabby, he was full of the usual kitten antics, but he had a new trick to share, one I found hilarious. He would sit back on his hind legs and rise up, front feet dangling, like a meerkat. He was warmly affectionate, and highly entertaining. I called him my Little Buddy.

Tiger was always more aloof. My sister and mother call him snooty. But I think he’s just a little shy.

lookin lovely
Tiger, bird-watching on the deck.

That was until last fall, when I started traveling to check on Mom, on a more-or-less regular basis. I tried each trip to make friends, and he eventually became less standoffish. He even stood still for some petting, now and then.

tiger playing
Tiger’s pretty fond of sleeping, but he and Shere Khan both like to play.

A few months ago, when Mom got sick, I essentially moved in to help her out. Both kitties got used to me pretty quick, and I’ve discovered most of Tiger’s hiding spots for sleeping. Shere Khan likes to curl up beside me and take a nap. He lets me know, either by staring, winding around my legs or by talking, that it’s time for me to stop what I’m doing and dole out some attention.

Watching them play is fun, but I’ve come to enjoy seeing them groom each other. While one is licking, the other usually has a blissful look on his face.

wash dah face
Shere Khan thinks Tiger does a purr-fect job washing his face.

I caught them at bath-time this afternoon, and they ignored me for a while.

aaah
Mmmmm. You got the right spot.

That is, until I turned on the flash.

tiger licking
Hey! I’m takin’ a bath, here.

Luckily, Shere Khan is quick to forgive. Like Tiger, I’ve been the recipient of several of his loving head-bumps.

headbump
Shere Khan gives Tiger an affectionate head-bump.

 

All cats go to Heaven

Natasha 2010
Natasha 2010

If ever God created a perfect animal, it would be a feline. I know some would disagree, but I think nothing compares to the sleekness, the agility, the pure beauty of a cat – whether out in the wild on a hunt, or purring contentedly on a lap.

I’ve had many cats. Growing up, they never seemed to make it for more than a couple of years. Some met with accidents; others disappeared. But when the kids and I moved into our current house in 2001, I promised them cats. Cats, even though one insisted she wanted a dog. I was a busy single working mom, though, and I wasn’t falling for the, “But I’ll feed it, and walk it, and . . . ” So cats it was. My youngest got her and her sister’s kitten from a friend at church, a pretty, friendly – if a bit skittish – tuxedo named Oreo.

Oreo, doing what comes naturally.
Oreo, doing what comes naturally.

We went to the pound for my son’s cat, and came home with a kitten, already spayed and named Smokey. He renamed her Natasha, and the name fit. Independent, distrustful of too much petting, and only friendly when she wanted something, Natasha took forever to take to Oreo.

A year passed, and Natasha and Oreo had settled into young adulthood and, for the most part, got along. It always tickled me when Natasha pinned Oreo down and gave his head a good washing.

Tom had Natasha, and Josie had decided almost immediately that she wasn’t sharing Oreo, so Cassie was left out of the whole bonding-with-a-pet experience. She wanted a dog, but then the kids brought home a beautiful – I don’t even know how to describe his fur pattern – but he was as friendly as he was handsome. He was half-grown, but needed a home. The girls insisted, but I wasn’t giving in.

Until, a few months later, they brought him back. He had been passed around the neighborhood, they said, and the dogs were chasing him, and the other cats didn’t like him, and nobody wanted to keep him. I was sitting on my bed, and they handed him over, and he put his paws on my chest, and his nuzzled my neck, and began purring, and licking, and kneading . . . that was that, and T was our third cat.

T enjoying Christmas in 2010
T enjoying Christmas in 2010

He was big, but he liked to climb. That first Christmas, he ended up inside the top of our Christmas tree. I wish I still had that picture. Natasha developed a new cat attitude, deciding she liked T, not Oreo, and although they all started out as house cats, for one reason or another, they all ended up inside-outside cats.

Oreo left first – to live with his “Mommy,” who had turned 18 and moved out. He came back to live with me for a year, and I got to enjoy his sweet personality again, until Josie found a place where she could keep him.

T passed a year or so ago. He had a bad case of diabetes, then met with a fatal accident. Natasha passed over this morning. She had lost weight, and hadn’t been eating much. She really went downhill in the last few weeks, and I knew it was time to say goodbye.

When I was a child, I subscribed to that sanitized version of Heaven, which included, of course, the streets of gold, and the mansions, and the angels, and not much else.

After I grew up, though, I figured if God included animals for us to enjoy here, why wouldn’t he create some for Heaven, too? I’ve heard people wonder if they’ll be reunited with their pets in Heaven, and yes, I know animals probably don’t have souls. But, that’s not really the point. If God can make animals here, He can certainly make some for the afterlife. And he can bring our pets back to us, also, if He wants to. After all, He is God.

After I decided there surely must be animals in Heaven, I asked God for a tiger. Tigers are gorgeous, and majestic, and they wouldn’t dare eat anyone Up There. But then I discovered snow leopards. And, I had to ask for one of those.

This may sound frivolous, especially if you’re not into animals. But I think my argument for animals in Heaven is totally plausible. If you don’t believe me, just look me up when you get to the Other Side. I’ll be the one in the mansion on Cat Lady Lane.