The Great Cat Conversion

THE RUNNER-UP

There are "cat people" and "non-cat people." Having grown up with cats, I fit into the first category. But I found, after I was married, that I had inadvertently joined up with one from the other camp. (Somehow the subject hadn't been discussed during courtship.) One thing upon which my husband and I agreed was our desire for a dog. We would visit pet stores and admire the puppies, discussing various breeds and names. But then we would again realize that a puppy required time and space we didn't have, so we would leave the store.

Each time, I would mention that we could adopt a kitten instead, since a cat could be left alone during a long workday and didn't require walking or a fenced yard. And each time, my husband's reaction was, "Why on earth would anyone want a cat?" My attempts to explain fell on deaf ears; as I said, there are cat people and non-cat people.

For several years we had no pets. Then at work I overheard conversations among co-workers about a cat whose human family had broken up. She'd been given to another family, but was having a hard time with their two dogs. I had no thought of adopting that cat, but as we drove home one Friday evening, I mentioned her unhappy situation to my husband.

The next morning when he awakened, his first words were, "Get dressed, and get that cat!" I didn't have to be told twice!

As Mai Ling and I drove home, she stood on the car seat with her paws on the dashboard, and howled. When we arrived home, my husband learned that although we now had a cat, we had no food or litter. (She had been eating dog food, and her litter box was beyond salvaging.) He let her into the house, and I went off for supplies.

When I returned 45 minutes later, I found that the cat had been exploring each room, crouched and "crawling" as cats do when they're afraid. And my husband (the non-cat-person) had been following her, trying to reassure her and telling her he loved her.

He didn't, really, when he started, but 45 minutes later he had convinced both himself and the cat. When bedtime came, she jumped on the bed and stood there defiantly, as if to say, "This is where I'm going to sleep. Do you want to make something of it?" We crawled in on either side, careful not to disturb her.

It was a couple of days before she would let us touch her, but a bond had been formed. Within a week, we had all adjusted, with Mai Ling often sleeping draped between my husband's knees. I thought my lap would be more comfortable for her (especially when I wore a skirt), but she preferred my husband.

CATS love to play games, but they must participate in setting up the rules or they won't play. Mai Ling and my husband together developed a favorite run-and-chase game. In the basement family room, they would catch each other's eye, and then, at a signal known only to them, race across the room to the stairs as fast as they could. The steps went up half a flight to a landing, then turned. Whoever made it to the landing first, won.

Mai Ling would scamper up the stairs, dig her claws into the carpet on the landing to reverse direction, and then go on up the second half flight. My husband would run to the bottom of the stairs and leap, throwing himself on the landing. If he made it to the landing before Mai Ling had made her turn, he caught her, and her eyes showed her disgust at having lost. If she made the turn first, she would almost giggle as she bounded on up the stairs, looking back at her vanquished foe who had landed in a heap on the landing. They each won often enough to keep it exciting and fun for both.

So there may actually be three kinds of people: cat people, non-cat people, and those who have become cat people. Those in the last category may even enjoy cats more than those in the first, and they are always the favorites of a cat!

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