When my son, JJ, left for his first year of college, he gave me one order: “Don’t become a cat lady!” He knew I was bereft, losing both him and his sister (who decided to go to boarding school at the same moment), but I was insulted that he thought I was that desperate to be loved. “We already have two cats,” I retorted. “I have no intention of getting more.”
“Just don’t start talking to them. My friend’s mom does that.”
“Wouldn’t think of it!” I said.
And I meant it. Until the day Miu-Miu disappeared.
I’d met Miu four years earlier when I’d reached into a box that held kittens a friend had found behind her garage. I watched in surprise as she reared up on her tiny hind legs and hissed like a T. rex. Still smarting from an unexpected job loss, I loved that this six-week-old kitten’s outsize ferocity could make me laugh. Maybe we could learn something from each other, I thought. And we did. First, Miu was Mensa-level smart: If I didn’t get up early enough to pour the morning kibble, she’d claw open the pantry door, flip the lid on the bin, stick her head inside and eat. To communicate that she wanted to go outside, she’d gently knead my back with her claws until I played doorman. More amazingly, she taught our aloof older cat, Oreo, to copy her tricks.
Then the kids left and Mensa-Miu became my faithful companion, up at dawn, following me around as I did my chores. At night she curled up on the back of our bedroom chair, closing her eyes exactly when we did. So the day Miu disappeared, I was devastated. Our daughter, Lake, and I taped up flyers around the neighborhood, but there was no response; we assume Miu was hit by a car and we just never knew. When Oreo freaked out over her absence—first standing sentry by the kitchen door, then demanding 24/7 cuddling in my husband’s lap—Lake and I knew we had to move fast. Descending on local shelters, we petted and kissed candidates until we fell in love with Zeus and Rain, sibling tabbies who roll over to suggest we scratch their tummies; they tuck into our knees in bed at night.
Who knows what primal part of the limbic system animals stimulate, but at our house, those two rolling, wrestling balls of fur have raised the level of joy the way a new baby would. And not just for us humans: Oreo watches over them like a contented uncle. Even JJ has forgiven me for plunging into cat lady–ness. For more thoughts on our animal connections (get out your hankies!), see “The Blessing of the Animals” on page 100 in the December/January issue, on newsstands now.
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