“Owning a pet reduces stress,” the magazine article I was reading began. I agreed completely. Over the years my cats and dogs had been wonderful sources of comfort. All of my pets were easy to live with and train, easy to love. Having my contentment tested by a critter wasn’t in the plan ten years ago.
It started with my neighbor. When her daughter moved to a “No Pets” apartment, she agreed to take in the daughter’s cat. And the cat came with baggage. Six fuzzy, squeaking kittens arrived two weeks later. At first the four coal black, one tan and one calico snuggled close to Mama in the cardboard box, but it wasn’t long before the cuties were darting all over the house. Homes were needed. I offered to adopt the gentle, tan male. On the day I planned to pick up my new kitten, my son Chris, a close friend of my neighbor and her family, stopped by. He came into the kitchen. His broad hands were cupped around a squirming wad concealed under his plaid shirt. He kissed the top of my head and said, “Hey, Mom, I’ve got something great to show you.” Being the mother of three boys, I should have recognized trouble. “What have you got, Chris?” Multi-colored ears poked out from the top of his shirt. Enormous gold eyes followed. Soon I was looking at one cheek of silky brown and white fur and one of velvety black. A colorful nose, black on one side, brown and white on the other completed the beautiful face. She was the calico of the litter of kittens, the prettiest of the six and the most ornery.
“She’s a beauty, isn’t she Mom!”
“She sure is, Chris. And what is she doing here?” I queried, biting down on the hook and reeling myself in.
Chris explained that someone else wanted the calm tan kitten, the sweet black cuties were spoken for and the calico, although a beautiful critter, remained a homeless handful. “I know she’ll come around in your care,” he said, as the kitten leapt from his shirt onto the table and lapped every drop of milk from my cereal bowl. Chris planted another kiss on top of my head.
I named her Kiva and set about introducing her to the routine of the house. My first order of business was the new litter box filled with fresh-smelling cedar chips that all other cats over the years had accepted. Kiva’s first order of business was to sidle up to the box, poke her head in for a sniff and relieve her innards neatly on the floor. She had been litter trained, so I thought this was a case of nerves in a new environment. When she approached the box again I picked her up, gently placed her in and made digging motions with a paw to refresh her memory. She sniffed, hopped out and - you guessed it! Desperate, I shared the dilemma with my neighbor who said she had been using a different litter. I reluctantly switched products and the problem was solved. I breathed a sigh of relief, Kiva was nonchalant as we moved on to meals in the kitchen.
The dog’s food bowl was on the floor to the side of the refrigerator. I was pleased to see Kiva showed no interest. I placed her food dish on a shelf in the nearby laundry room, out of reach of the dog. Kiva jumped right up and ate heartily. Another hurdle successfully completed, we headed to the community water bowl by the back door. For years many dogs and cats have shared my home and all of them always drank from the same large water bowl. Cold, clean water was plentiful and nobody griped. Kiva stuck her nose in, hissed and proceeded on to the bathroom to lap from the toilet. Despite my urging, a week went by with no change. I bought a small water bowl, put it on her shelf in the laundry room and watched her drink.
Kiva’s fur grew long and luxurious. Brushing her brought hisses and bites. She preferred her own system of grooming. Face and paw washing came first and then she’d go straight to my lovely couch where she would slide back and forth on the nubby upholstery to remove the collection of leaves and twigs from her coat. The furniture throws I bought were buffeted aside, safe sprays to deter animals went unnoticed. I followed behind her with the vacuum.
The out-of-doors presented another story. There was a thick wooded area behind my house. I stood on the deck one brisk fall morning enjoying the green pines and savoring the rich aroma of beech logs burning in wood stoves. But my peaceful commune with nature was short-lived. I heard her high-pitched yowl from the middle of one of the tall pines. Frantic, sure she had taken her battered body high up away from a hungry coyote or angry raccoon, I stood under the tree coaxing her to come down. She was immovable, shrieking loudly. I got the ladder from the garage, leaned it against the tree and began my assent. By the time I reached her my face and arms were scratched and bleeding from the barbs and shoots on the tree trunk. Kiva, unscathed, purred sweetly as she stepped on my head and proceeded safely down to the ground. Back in the house I washed my wounds and sipped a cup of jasmine tea. Kiva drank from her water bowl and deposited leaves and twigs on the couch. Peering up at me with her magnificent gold eyes, my mischievous calico plopped in my lap and curled into sleep.
“You stay down from that pine, little girl.” I said, stroking her soft head. I left the ladder against the tree and the vacuum in the living room.