Cat lovers, maybe more so than dog lovers, enjoy having more than one cat at any given time. I am one of those cat lovers. One is just not enough.
Sometimes the Other cat presents him or herself with no effort on your part at all.
Years ago in New York, the first cat I had as an adult was delivered to me at my first apartment. My friend Carol thought a first apartment should have a cat, so she answered an ad for kittens in The Village Voice and “Archie” (gray tabby) arrived at my door. That was in 1968. I had Archie until 1982, when I was a new bride.
Archie needed a friend when I moved to a larger apartment in 1969, so I went to a cattery (I know, a bad thing to do) and got my first Maine coon cat. Her name was Motley (brown tabby) and she had pushed her way toward me on a table full of cats. (Reader, she wanted me.) She became the Other cat.
During the ’70s in Manhattan, living in a rent-controlled apartment on upper Central Park West, I rode the AA and CC trains to get to work. For three consecutive years I found teenage kittens on the subway platform at 103rd Street. So I (and my then boyfriend) acquired Rita (dark tortoiseshell) and Theo (mostly brown tabby with white belly) and happily found a home for the third foundling.
In four years Archie had been joined by three other cats. Even I had never bargained on four cats. That boyfriend made me promise, please, not to find or let myself be found by any more. I did not and they did not. We stayed happily for many years until the boyfriend, rather than the cat, strayed and I moved farther downtown.
Rita and Motley kept my mother company in Orient when I moved from that rent-controlled apartment to a half-floor in a tiny brownstone in the Village (not large enough for four cats and one person). Archie and Theo, who were willing to travel by car, stayed with me in the city and both got married to my husband, John, two years later.
When Archie went to cat heaven, Theo needed a pal and once again I went the breeder route for another Maine coon cat, Grace. Again, she picked me from a pile of pale calico teenagers. Theo stopped being Other and Grace got that title.
Grace lived a happy life with Theo and traveled back and forth from our midtown apartment to East Hampton every weekend.
After Theo went to the great cat hunting ground we just didn’t get another cat to keep Grace company. And no stray or foundling presented itself either. In matters of cat, sometimes you have to leave things to kismet.
Grace retired to East Hampton when my husband retired and did not miss the weekly commute. She joined her pals in kitty heaven after 15 years of Coon catness.
We were catless for about six months. But my retired husband (I was still working in New York and going back and forth on weekends) needed a kitty. All the cats that had shared my world to this point had been kind of brown and murky in coloration. In 1999 we got yet another Maine coon, a kitten we called Jack. Readers of this newspaper may have seen pictures of Jack: a bright orange tabby. He was a solo cat for about a year while I organized retiring from my job of 32 years, selling our apartment, and joining my husband and Jack in East Hampton full time.
Our 624-square-foot house was just not big enough for two adults and a very big kitten. We set about renovating our small house. During the renovations we (three) lived first in a rental and then in a grace-and-favor set of rooms in the house of our generous friend Marjorie. Jack grew to be a very big cat.
Our house was finished after eight months and we figured that Jack needed a friend. While photographing a pet fair held by Elsa’s Ark, I met Dilly (torti-calico, semi-longhair). She picked me by reaching through the grid of the cage and taking a swat at the lens cap hanging from my camera. She was not a kitten, which was a good thing since Jack was so big. So Dilly became the Other to Jack. And they lived happily together until just recently.
Sadly Jack went to kitty heaven at age 12 (not really old enough, but he wanted to go).
Losing a pet is very, very difficult for any family and also for the family pets.
Dilly seemed glum.
When we were comfortable I set off to interview another Other. First I looked on the shelter Web sites, read the ages, and looked at the photos of the cats and kittens. I guess this is like online dating. I looked at Elsa’s Ark and on the North Fork, just to be fair. The old let-the-cat-pick-you thing kicked in. We did not want to burden the 10-year-old Dilly with an insane kitten. A young adult would do just fine, thank you. We figured any cat from the cat rooms at a shelter would know how to cope with another cat. But face-to-face is where love matches happen.
I went off to ARF with a list in hand of possible kitty candidates. Sitting in a room of milling cats is actually my idea of heaven — all that purring, all those tails. After swooning with joy, I had to focus, identify the possibles, and see if they were interested in me. So many, and so cute. I did a little culling from my list. Some were asleep and I never really got to interview them, Some ignored me. One didn’t like being picked up. The folks at ARF know their cats and steered me away from some alpha males who would not work with my Dilly’s personality. This was not as easy as it had been with Dilly, to be sure! I went home catless but determined.
The next visit my husband would be with me to see if any kitty fell in love with both of us or got a crush on him. Seriously, this is like blind dates. You sit on the floor or chair and hope that the one you liked in the photo will pay some attention to you. Isn’t it typical that the one you thought you would have a crush on ignores you. But then, over there, that’s the one who looked me in the eye the first visit (and I really wasn’t looking for yet another calico) . . . but then she rolled over, and rolled over again. And then we heard her name, “Lois.”
So that was that. It actually took a few more visits just to be sure, but each time there was Lois, looking us in the face, rolling over and letting her tummy be scratched.
Lois and Dilly are still working it out, but we are sure they will. We are wondering if Dilly will learn Lois’s hilarious trick of paddling her water in the water dish and drinking from her foot. It is really nice to have another Other.
Durell Godfrey is The Star’s contributing photographer.