Nicky:  Another Good Cat

ONE OF THE BEST things about my job is that it's so close to our house that I can go home for lunch every day. It's always good to come home to Pat.

We don't necessarily have much to talk about when we've been apart for just a few hours, but when I came home Friday, December 1, 2000, Pat had a list of things that had happened during the morning. After telling me a few of them, she concluded, "And here's the biggest news -- possibly. Connie called me and said that Mow-Mow has an all-black kitten. Do you want to adopt it?"

El Gato Perfecto.

MANY YEARS AGO, when I was in college, a hungry black tomcat with a deformed ear lived near the town's student apartments. I began feeding him, allowing him in the apartment despite my roommate's concerns that the cat might have fleas. My roommate spoke Spanish, so after he talked about the "gato," I began to call the cat "Gato" as well. Maybe I felt that if I didn't give him a real name, just called him Cat, I wouldn't become too attached.

Gato would often stretch out on my bed while I studied next to him and stroked his fur. He was affectionate in a hard-boiled Humphrey Bogart way, a tough guy who wasn't asking for any favors, but if you were offering a little help, he'd gladly accept it. He loved cottage cheese, and when I poured the water from a can of tuna over his dry cat food, he gobbled it up.

Since he had never been neutered, Gato wanted to roam at night. I didn't know better, so when he went to the door and meowed insistently, I dutifully let him out. Once someone at the apartments ignored Gato's collar and well-fed tummy and called the town's Animal Control, which caught him and took him away while I was at class. I went downtown and bailed him out.

In late spring, the end of the semester and the end of the lease on the apartment were approaching, and I had just begun to wonder what to do next. I didn't want to move and leave Gato behind.

One afternoon, I returned to the apartment and found him waiting outside the front door. He stumbled while trying to trot over to me, and he wouldn't eat or drink. He didn't respond to the vet's treatment, and on Good Friday 1983 I had Gato euthanized.

Gato had been a good friend at a time when I needed one. He died humanely, and he was loved at the end. But although I cared very much for him, there was a lot I didn't know then about taking care of cats.

I should not have let him out unsupervised in that neighborhood, and I should have had him neutered. I kept remembering how ill he was when he came home that last time, and felt that if I'd kept him indoors he would have lived longer.

I wanted another cat just like Gato, but resolved that if I got that chance, I wouldn't make those mistakes again.

YEARS PASSED, and I met Pat and finished school. We weren't in a position at first to give a cat a home, so we remained catless until a handsome ginger tom trotted into our yard and adopted us. I accepted his offer and called him Kelly. Then, to keep Kelly company, Pat chose a young adult calico-tabby from a shelter, naming her Lizzie. A year and a half later, we went out looking for one more cat, but the shelter we trusted most had no black cats. We did see a little year-old calico with perfect markings and beautiful green eyes, and we adopted her, giving her the name Caitie-Belle.

During that period I first heard about the World Wide Web. I found that many people had pages devoted to their cats, and decided I would like to do one for ours, too. After some thought, I realized that we had three cats, and they were all good cats.

So, I reasoned, why not call them 3 Good Cats?

Our townhouse was pretty small for two adults and three cats, so in 1998 we moved to a larger house. With more room, I believed that it was possible to add one more cat, but it wouldn't be easy. In the beginning, it was much simpler -- we had one tomcat, neutered but still territorial, so we added a gentle female. Then with the third cat, we needed to make sure that she could get along with both the tough tom and the gentle female.

If we were to adopt a fourth cat, we figured it would have to be a kitten since the other 3 were all adults. I still had hopes of adding a black tom, but realized that a female would probably get along better with Kelly. When Pat and I talked it over, we agreed that if we were meant to get one more cat, we'd know it when the right one came along.

Nicky's mother Mow-Mow and her 3 kittens.

IN AUTUMN 2000, two and a half years after Caitie-Belle became our third cat, a small calico-tabby appeared at the New Jersey home of Pat's brother Ed. He and his wife Connie were already owned by two cats, Casey and Shiloh, and wanted to help the little stray. They started giving her food and water, and the stray grew to trust Connie, allowing her to get close enough to pet her and eventually to hold her briefly. Connie called her Meow-Meow, which got shortened to Mow-Mow.

They decided they could not adopt this stray, but they also cared about getting her a home soon, before the weather worsened. An animal shelter advised them to bring in Mow-Mow to be spayed. Trouble was, the cat, hardly out of kittenhood herself, was now visibly pregnant.

The shelter recommended that they let nature take its course and once Mow-Mow had her kittens, hope that she trusted them enough to bring them to their house. Mow-Mow's three kittens.

On October 23 and 24, Mow-Mow did not show up at the house, and when she returned, she was much thinner. She continued to take food alone, then on November 30, Mow-Mow brought her kittens from their hiding place to Connie and Ed's home.

At first, it appeared that there were only two kittens, but the next day Connie called Pat and said they had found another kitten. They had missed it the first time because it was a dark night, and this kitten was completely black from toes to tail.

Connie's oldest daughter Denise reported that the kitten was female, but Pat and I knew that it can be hard to tell the sexes apart when they are so young. Besides, I had a feeling that whatever powers were providing us an all-black kitten would also make it a male.

AFTER WE brought him home, Pat and I set up a little nursery in the bathroom next to the master bedroom, to keep him quarantined from the other 3 cats until a vet could examine him.

We spent time with him to help him get accustomed to his new home, and in the nursery we began trying to decide on his name. Even though it was near the presidential election, we decided not to name him George W. or Al, and right away we ruled out calling him Chad.

Since it was also near Christmas, one of the names I suggested was Nicholas, and Pat liked it immediately. Then we watched him stalk his toys and pounce fiercely on them like a tiny panther, and I decided to add the middle name Hunter.

Even though we just call him Nicky, it's handy for a cat to have more than one name, just looking ahead to a time when he once more proves himself a Good Cat.

For example you may begin, "Nicky, get down."

Then, a few seconds later, "Nicky!"

And at last, "Nicholas Hunter Cat! You get off that counter this instant!"

NICKY'S MOTHER and two sisters still needed a home, so Denise arranged to have them taken to a no-kill shelter, from which the two sisters were quickly adopted. They're very lucky; thanks to their mother's determination, and Connie and Ed's care, three kittens were born healthy and now have a home. Many more homeless cats and kittens aren't so fortunate.