Don’t Do Cat. Adopt Cat.
The cat’s out the bag. That’s my mother’s favourite joke. She found a bag of what she thought was salt in my room, many, many years ago. It was when I still lived with her. She came into my room when I wasn’t there to make sure the heater was off. Neurotic, neurotic mom. She saw the bag, pondered the question of salt, then realised – shocked – that it must have been narcotics. It explained my weird, hostile behaviour over the past year. Being as naïve as she was, however, my mom initially thought this little plastic bag of white powder was ‘dagga’. But she was right about the heater.
These days, I still have quite a cat addiction.
I walk into my house, every day, and see a little grey furred face staring at me, curiously. Mason the Russian Blue tabby, stands on my wooden dining room table, lifting his little nose up to sniff the air while looking at me docilely and sweetly.
It takes every ounce of my will power not to rush him into my arms, and borderline crush him in a hug, as I rapid-fire little kisses on his face. He tends to squirm a lot when I do this.
Maxine, on the other hand, will look around the corner, her head jutting out the study doorway, just to make absolutely 100% sure I’m alone. A little black head, with a slightly pushed maw of a face, and golden yellow eyes, will tentatively watch me.
Maxine is pathologically shy of people. If she hears me talking to someone outside the house, I won’t see her at all for five full minutes when I get in. My guests never get a glimpse of her, except one time, when my neighbour popped by. She was talking to me when she suddenly said, “No! Shame, man!”. Maxine, with her eyes darted on us, was swiftly leopard-crawling through the living room to the safety of the back. Ziiip and she was gone.
But normally, once she’s assured it’s only me, she’ll come brushing against my legs. Then I’m to follow the little miss, as she trots along to the study. Maxine happens to like the carpet there, and as I enter the room, she’ll meow demandingly at me. I get down onto the floor, cross-legged, and start singing her songs. She loves My Little Maxi, My Little Waxi. In our home, it is the platinum award-winning single from the studio album I’m Never Going to Get Laid Again.
Maxine shows the most affection of the two, very much a little J.D’s girl, rolling on the carpet, purring loudly, getting up and practically bashing her body into me.
I think her fur is the best feeling in the world – soft and luxurious, like velvet. Meanwhile, Mason will pounce onto her twirling tail. This may or may not start a fight between the two of them. But best believe, they are the best of friends, and any fight is, at worst, a simple disagreement resulting in a wrestling match. Like two judo combatants, they will try toss one another from a feline grapple. Normally, Maxine is the victor, being bulkier than the lithe little Mason. It will end, and with a bruised ego, he will look at her, sadly, as if to say, “Well, I was just playing, you didn’t have to embarrass me like that.”
Trust me, if you know cats, you know this is far from an actual fight – that’s hideous and scary to see and worse to hear: a howling, hissing confrontation that stops the heart just with the raw fear and anger evoked through sound.
I was terrified that would be the relationship Mason and Maxine had when I adopted the little boy. Maxine, already a year old by this time, was not a friendly cat – very asocial, taking forever to warm up to anyone. And she is very devoted to me – I could just imagine the jealousy she’d feel.
But I had met Mason, and fell in love. I had recently relapsed, after a couple of months clean – these things happen, and I agreed to go into Houghton House’s two-week relapse prevention programme as a consequence. The great thing about Houghton is they never give up on you. We are humans, and frail as any other, and make mistakes. Early recovery does see a high number of relapses – the important thing to do, in a relapse, is never give up the fight. To get help as soon as possible, so relapsing doesn’t result in undoing all the hard work invested already.
I was heart-broken when I had to take Maxine back into a cattery before I went into Houghton again. She was very confused, and upset – and so was I. My family tried to convince me to give up Mason, let the specialised breeder find another home for him – and I could have from the next litter. But these pedigree breeders breed ethically, meaning who knew when a queen would have another litter.
Of course, what mattered was my recovery. However, when I met Mason, the little, sweet, buddle of grey fur with white stripes won my heart in a single squeak. I was determined to get this right, so I’d make a good cat daddy, for him. For both my cats.
Six weeks later, I brought him home. I was so nervous of the two meeting too soon, I put Maxine in a room, then fetched Mason in his carry case. He went into my bedroom, and I let her out. Then, I went into my room, and let him run free. Normally, from what I’ve seen, most kittens are incredibly shy and fearful when they enter a new home, and hide for many hours. I expected him to, so I even made a little hidey spot with cushions and a blanket.
But nope, this little thing was immediately sniffing around the room, investigating every inch of the place. Then he did something terrifying: he bit out the tongue of a plastic snake and swallowed it! I spent hours in fear watching him play with the toys laid out, expecting him to experience stomach gnarls caused by his misadventure. Nothing happened. For many months that followed, he would somehow swallow other little bits and pieces of plastic he managed to find in the house, causing me lots of consternation. I still don’t know why he did that. Nothing bad ever happened, though.
In any case, I slowly introduced him to Maxine. The first night, I held the door slightly ajar as they spied each other. I didn’t like how Maxine slowly stalked towards him as he enquired curiously through the door, but I had control of the situation.
Then, at a moment I also felt too close for comfort, they both simultaneously leapt a meter back, in the air, landing frozen like statues, spines arched and hair bristling. Maxine let out a loud growl. You must understand, such a deep-throated ominous sound coming from my little black baby was highly disconcerting. I closed the door swiftly.
Over the next few days, I took Mason out the room in his carry bag, and placed it in the study, where Maxine would normally be. She’d hiss if I brought the bag too close. Then, low menacing growl. But other than that, she would just sit on her chair.
Eventually, I decided she was familiar enough with him not to attack. Being a small kitten, he wouldn’t be able to defend himself. But he is a bold boy. He would sniffle close to her, as she protested with a snake’s hiss. He was never bothered, never got aggressive, nor scared. A Russian Blue Tabby male tends to be a relaxed, not easily stressed out, cat.
And so, he won her over. It didn’t take long before they were chasing each other around the house and swatting paws in a funny feline game of fencing. I arrived home soon after that, not sure where they were.
I finally looked in their room (yes, they have their own room!), and, in a large cat carry bag, they were nestling. He was lying contentedly on the faux-fur floor while she groomed him, as if he were her own kitten.
I’ve never seen such sweet friends. And, yes, while they will sometimes unleash wrestling moves that would impress even Hulk Hogan, they – just as frequently – will be spotted cuddling. It melts the heart, and lifts the soul. It certainly alleviates the cravings for drugs and alcohol.
In fact, despite my years of intense cardiovascular assaults via powder inhalation, my risk of heart disease is lower than many people, especially a person who doesn’t like animals. Research shows this, specifically with cat owners, and I think the reason is: cats destress us greatly – and not only when they’re playing with us, but even when they’re simply around us. Just their presence is calming. (Even without realising it, I’m feeling calm – and I look around and see why – Maxine is lying on her cat-tree contentedly.)
There is nothing more comforting than going to sleep at night with two cats on the bed, perhaps resting against your legs. There’s nothing more serene than sitting in the study working and there are two sleepy cats in the chair next to you. And there’s nothing more heart-warming than walking into your house, no matter how heavy your day was, to find such loving creatures awaiting you.
If you’re a cat (or a dog) person, you know exactly what I mean. If you’re an incredibly sensitive person, you’ll know how they seem to hone in on you when you need it most. If you’re a giving person, you’ll know how much love they give back.
I don’t think I’d still be clean if I didn’t have Mason and Maxine. The first year is tough, fresh into recovery.
My sister, my mom, my dad, they’ve been a massive support in my fight against drugs and alcohol. They’re family.
That feeling of familial bond is strong, the world’s strongest form of love.
Mason and Maxine are my family too.
And family makes all the difference.