The conversation wasn’t going well. He averted his eyes, sighed, yawned and finally just tuned me out altogether. I could tell because he started snoring, softly.
I jostled him and he opened one green eye.
“Listen Milo,” I said. “Just because we have a new baby, it doesn’t mean we love you less. You will always be our first cat, no matter how many kittens we adopt.”
Milo didn’t want to hear it. He hopped down from my lap and hid under the entertainment center.
You may remember several months ago, my son Sam brought home a stray cat that captivated our hearts. Well. Mine and Sam’s that is. The stray was reunited with his family much to the relief of my husband, Derek, and son Zack. They felt just fine about being an only-cat family.
But then our second-oldest son moved out and everyone knew it was just a matter of time before I replaced him with a cat.
Everyone except Milo.
That’s not to say children are replaceable. But something had seemed out of balance three years ago when our first-born moved out. When we adopted Milo, it helped soothe the strangely empty feeling of a six-person family, suddenly reduced to five.
And then Alex moved out. One less steak to grill on the barbecue, one less gallon of milk to buy. You get the picture. That empty feeling was back.
A few months ago, Derek and our youngest son, Sam and I went out to dinner, while Zack was at youth group. When we finished our meal, Sam asked if we could visit a nearby pet store.
Unbeknownst to us the Humane Society was holding a cat adoption event at the store. When we entered the cat room, a beautifully variegated gray tabby kitten stared at us, while his two brothers romped nearby.
I looked into his golden eyes and just knew. Here was our new baby. Choosing a pet is a lot like falling in love.
An employee unlocked the cage and put the 8-week-old kitten in my arms. “He’s so cute!” squealed Sam.
Derek took a deep breath. “We’re just looking, right?”
I buried my face in the kitten’s fur and didn’t answer. “I’ll go look for a bigger litter box,” Derek said, and sighed.
Sam read the tag hanging on the kitten’s cage and announced, “His name is Alex!”
Well, I’m not crazy enough to name my cats after my sons. “We’ll find a name that suits him,” I said.
“How about Thor?” asked Sam. We’d just seen the movie “Thor” and my mom loved to read books by the Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl. I looked at the tiny puff of gray-striped fur. “Thor Heyerdahl Hval?” I said.
He sighed, and purred so deeply and so loudly, it sounded like the rumble of distant thunder. The adoption paperwork noted that Thor had been found abandoned with his brothers. After reading that, there was no way I could put him back in that cage.
When we adopted Milo, Derek had sternly informed me, “That cat is your responsibility. I’m not emptying any litter boxes or going on any vet visits.”
But something had changed in the past two years. Maybe it’s the fact that Milo is often the first one to greet Derek when he comes home from work. And he’s the only one who engages in conversation with him first thing in the morning.
When I caught up with Derek at the store, he was eyeing an expensive automated litter box. “Less work,” he said. And then he pointed to a double-decker cat tree. “The guys will need something to climb on, besides you.”
We got home and placed the cat tree in the living room. Milo loved it! He vaulted to the top, then hopped down and batted at the toy, suspended between the two levels. He was so engrossed; he didn’t even see the new addition who’d jumped from my lap to watch him play.
Finally, Milo noticed Thor. He noticed because Thor launched himself at Milo’s head. My poor only-cat didn’t know what to do. He backed away, shook his head, and jumped up to the top of the cat tree. Thor promptly clawed his way up to join him.
Milo didn’t speak to us for three days. He moped. He hid. He slept. He steadfastly ignored everyone. But Thor proved difficult to ignore.
He quickly revealed his adventurous personality. He raced through the house like a whirlwind, usually missing the bottom two steps to our lower level entirely and skidding across the tile into the wall. And this kitten doesn’t meow – he squeaks!
Thor also demonstrated his utter fascination with running water. One morning as I showered, I felt something touch my leg. I screamed and almost slipped. There sat Thor on the edge of the tub. Privacy is not a word in his vocabulary.
He’s a very hygienic cat and enthusiastically participates in hand washing, as long as he can drink some water from the faucet.
We worried about Milo’s depression, but Thor remained undaunted. He wrestled with Milo, tried to cuddle with him, ate his food, and slowly Milo warmed up. He began chasing Thor around the house every morning. It sounds more like a cattle stampede than the pitter patter of little feet.
As I write, Milo has emerged from under the cabinet and joined Thor on the back of the couch. Together they keep an eye on the birds in the front yard. Thor yawns and lays his head on Milo’s back – and Milo lets him.
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