Longtime readers know that each summer I occasionally drop the cranky persona to ramble on about my cats. This is one of those days.
My sister-in-law bravely manages a feral cat colony at the house next door to hers here in the Bay Area. She’s followed the basic trap-neuter-release (TNR) efforts for most of the cats, but there’s a particularly stubborn mama cat (known in feral cat circles as a “fertile Myrtle”) who not only keeps getting pregnant, but refuses to enter traps. She may be a slut, but she’s a smart one.
Recently, she delivered a litter of three gray kitties. Although I had often thought about adopting more kitties, this involved some serious consideration. How would our current cats – Gus and Bandit, former ferals themselves – handle new fur in the house? What would happen to our post-retirement plans of tramping through Great Britain for weeks at a time? Who the heck would be willing to babysit five cats?
If Gus and Bandit put up a big fuss, we could always say we were only acting as foster parents. We conveniently forgot what happened when we tried to foster Gus and Bandit (not to mention several pairs of feral kittens before them). Once you take a good look at a kitten, with their imploring eyes, their innocent faces, and hear their sweet little mews, the idea of giving them away is like giving away your kids.
So our library is a socialization sanctuary for these three shades of gray. The largest one is a smoky gray – coincidentally, just like the first cat I had as a child. The two smaller ones have gray tabby underbodies, one with dark gray on top, the other with light gray on top.
The kittens have figured out how to burrow behind the books to hide. They have figured out how to jump from the floor to the piano seat to the window sill and look out at the backyard, just like Bandit used to. They have figured out that the small kitty condo is for climbing. The smoky gray already likes to be petted and has a wonderful purr. The lighter gray tabby will occasionally withstand a pet or two. They have also figured out how to escape their sanctuary, which makes for some harrowing moments with scratching and scruffing and yowling. But bless them, they fully understand the concept of a litter box.
To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, “I’ve known ferals. I’ve worked with ferals. And these are no ferals.”
Then the question became what to name them. It’s amazing how many pop culture options you have available when faced with naming a trio of cats. Here are some of the ones we came up with prior to the trip to the vet last week that revealed their genders:
• Three Stooges: Moe, Larry, and Curly
• Pep Boys: Manny, Moe, and Jack
• Andrews Sisters: Laverne, Patty, and Maxine
• The Great Gatsby: Jay, Nick, and Daisy
• The Godfather: Sonny, Michael, and Fredo (or Sonia, Michaela, and Frederica)
• Marx Brothers: Groucho, Harpo, and Chico
• The Marx Brothers’ real names: Julius, Arthur, and Leonard
• Star Wars: Han, Leia, and Luke
• Casablanca: Ilsa, Rick, and Laszlo
• Gone With the Wind: Scarlett, Rhett, and Ashley
• The Three Musketeers: Athos, Aramis, and Porthos
For reasons I do not fathom, my spouse suggested Zoey, Ruby, and Rose, which got me thinking about rhyming triads, like Zoey, Chloe, and Joey, or The West Wing: Zoey, Jed, and Abby. The latter would have taken too long to explain to everyone who wasn’t an Aaron Sorkin fan.
As it happened, though, when we went to the vet, we learned that the charcoal gray one we had tentatively dubbed Zoey was actually a boy; he became Zack (which was, not coincidentally, the vet’s son’s name). The darker tabby was a girl, and she became Rose (because she’s the one who still tends to bite and swat, and her teeth and claws remind me of thorns). The lighter tabby was also a boy, and he became Max (see picture). Zack and Max, after all, are good masculine names. And it always helps when you’re calling a wayward cat to be able to bark out a single syllable.
Looking ahead, I’m wondering about the days when I have five cats jumping on the bed insisting I serve them breakfast, or the spectacle of herding them off to the vet for shots. But I also know, having taught Gus and Bandit the joy of having a warm home and loving parents, that we’re in for a wonderful time.