MY CAT, CHARLIE, who died a few months ago at age 15, wasn’t the focus of the story I wrote for the Jan. 15 issue of this magazine. That story was about rats, and how they have found a welcome home in our port city.
I wrote about Charlie in The Backstory, because I can truthfully state that Charlie was the best cat ever, and the best mouser ever. That’s a proven fact.
In that short story, I told how Charlie kept me company at my home office. He made sure to sleep atop paperwork so it didn’t crinkle, and that the computer keyboard was in proper working order as he tested it by walking across it. When things weren’t going right, there was always Charlie. “Hey, dude, it’ll work out. Just rub my tummy.”
The story appeared, and then your responses began arriving.
A number of you also have had the great joy of having the greatest cat ever and the greatest mouser ever. You emailed me your stories, some of which I am sharing here.
Cats, and dogs, have become a daily part of our modern life — perhaps too much, some might say.
It is true what’s said about Seattle and its feline and canine pets. Kids come in third.
Seattle Times research analyst Nadine Selden gathered 2022 data from the market research firm Nielsen Scarborough:
Of adults who live in Seattle, 203,700 (27%) own a cat, 217,000 (29%) a dog, and those who live in a household with children under 18 number 157,500 (21%).
Not surprisingly, households in King County that own their residence are almost twice as likely to own a dog than renters.
But this is about cats, so a little history about them.
By archaeological standards, it didn’t take them long to take over our lives from their wildcat days.
In a June 1, 2009, 15-page paper in Scientific American, researchers pointed out that the house cat is the most popular pet in the world: “A third of American households have feline members, and more than 600 million cats live among humans worldwide.”
They tried to answer this question:
“Whereas other once-wild animals were domesticated for their milk, meat, wool or labor, cats contribute virtually nothing in the way of substance or work. How, then, did they become fixtures in our homes?”
The average domestic cat “largely retains the wild body plan” of its wild ancestors and is still mainly feral, say the authors.
“Some experts speculate that wildcats just so happened to possess features that might have preadapted them to developing a relationship with people. In particular, these cats have ‘cute’ features — large eyes; a snub face; and a high, round forehead, among others — that are known to elicit nurturing from humans,” wrote the researchers.
Oh, yes: that old cuteness deal.
The Scientific American paper recounts how, 10,000 years ago, humans transitioned from hunting to farming in what’s called the Fertile Crescent, a Middle Eastern region that spans from Iraq to Israel. With its rich soils for farming and access to water, this region was a cradle for civilization.
Early grain silos meant the arrival of house mice. That in turn drew in wildcats, and, “Natural selection favored those wildcats that were able to cohabit with humans.”
The more you learn about domestic cats, the more you have to admire them.
The paper has a timeline of the domestic cat takeover: 9,500 years ago, a human and cat double-burial in Cyprus. 3,600 years ago, an ivory cat statue in Israel. 2,900 years ago, cats became an “official deity” of Egypt. 2,000 years ago, increasing references to domestic cats in European arts and literature. From 1,300 to 1,800 years ago, “Cat-Book Poems” composed by Buddhist monks in Thailand.
Let’s fast-forward to the present.
These days it’s not so much about a cradle for civilization, but, for example, right here in Seattle, we have Will Braden, who runs the CatVideoFest, “the world’s #1 cat video festival.” By his count, he’s watched more than 100,000 cat videos in the past 10 years. Back in 2012, he had transitory fame with a series of YouTube “Henri the Existential Cat” videos.
Type “cats” in the Barnes & Noble bookstore search, and 20,082 results pop up. Cat jokes, cat puzzles, cat calendars, cat novels, even a book titled “How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You.”
It’s no secret that cat stories draw readers. Over the years, I confess I have written about cats and dogs, and I also have accumulated what you might call a reference library of cat news stories. Now is my chance to share them.
- There is Tombili, the fat Istanbul cat honored with her own bronze statue after she died in 2016. There has even been a documentary, “Kedi” (“Cat”), about the Turkish city’s love for felines. The Facebook page “Cats of Istanbul” has 81,000 followers. A May 11, 2017, story in The Economist estimates that there are 125,000 cats roaming the Istanbul streets. “Many Istanbulites treat these strays as their grandparents have done before them: Butchers leave out scraps; in winter, locals build small huts for the cats to sleep in,” says the story. Tombili gained fame with a photo of her reclining casually on a sidewalk, a front paw against a concrete riser. A bronze statue in the same pose was put in that location to memorialize her. It’s become a must-stop for tourists.
- Another favorite cat story is actually a cat photo. It’s the astounding image titled “The Mob,” taken in 1961 by Walter Chandoha, who died in 2019 at age 98. Having taken more than 90,000 cat photos that appeared in cat food ads, calendars, books and magazines such as Life and National Geographic, he was referred to as “the Richard Avedon of cat photography.” “The Mob” is his most popular image, drawing an instant response. This is the inner soul of a cat. It was taken outside his studio at his farm in Annandale, New Jersey, the cats walking determinedly as if looking for trouble. It can be found in the Taschen book “Walter Chandoha. Cats. Photographs 1942-2018.” Chandoha told CNN in 2016, “It was about time for dinner, and I called ‘Kitty, kitty, kitty,’ and all the cats came running.’ “ A Jan. 18, 2019, New York Times story says that when the cats slowed down, he dropped to his stomach and captured their “fleeting tough-cats-in-the-countryside moment.”
Thank you for reading today’s cat installment.
I think Charlie would have approved.
Now, here are some of yours:
Mara Pitkethly: I will never be without a cat
I lost my beloved cat after 16 years. I cried and cried for 48 hours. Then I realized that every day I am feeling lonely and sorry for myself, some darling cat is waiting patiently at a shelter to be brought home. Loving a new cat shows your experience with your old cat was so awesome that you want to relive it again … but differently. I will never be without a cat. When I’m really old, I’ll just check out the shelters for a really old cat so we can enjoy our twilight time together.
The best cat is always the cat I have right now!
I love my cat Loofah so much, I even wrote her a poem!!!
Me: I love you Cat, with all my heart
And this is how you know it:
I clean your box and fill your dish
And scratch your chin to show it.
Cat: I love you, Being, with all my heart
And this is how I show it:
I let you clean and fill and scratch
And act like I don’t know it.
John Hartman: What makes a special cat?
Just finished reading your piece about Charlie in Pacific NW magazine. It really resonated with me because we lost our cat, Chester, about two months ago. He was also 15. And he was also a special cat. What makes a special cat? I’ve had a lot of cats in my life, but Chester “got” me, and I “got” him. We just connected. He had a lot of personality and loved to hang out with people.
Like you, it’s still painful to think of him and look at his pictures. Such a special gift to have the Charlies and Chesters in our lives.
Glen Day: Any pet begins with laughter and ends in tears
My sympathies on the loss of Charlie. Somehow, it hurts twice or maybe even three times worse than you think it will when a pet dies. Maybe because they give and only ask that you feed them on time. But every time a dog or cat has died on me, I have wondered why I keep having pets, and then the cat comes by, and reminds me it’s time for bed or breakfast or lap access … and I’m hooked again. Something I read the other day, about dogs, but it’s applicable to any pet, really: Any pet begins with laughter and ends in tears. They just don’t live long enough, and there’s no getting around that fact. No matter how much it hurts.
Judith Leshner: Still missing her cat companion after 40 years
Your tribute to your cat, Charlie, was so touching. You really loved that cat, and I know that you still do. I had a cat like that once and still love him, even though it’s been 40 years since he was my companion. I laughed about Charlie’s lying on your desk and pushing down on the papers that you needed to look at. He knew.
Years ago, I came across a book titled “Concerning Cats: My Own And Some Others” by Helen M. Winslow. In the book she included a poem by Clinton Scollard. I’ve always loved it and I think you will, too. It is a little hard to find on the web, but I found the poem on author Mimi Matthews’ blog and webpage. Here it is:
AN ELEGY ON PETER, AGED 12.
In vain the kindly call: in vain
The plate for which thou once wast fain
At morn and noon and daylight’s wane,
O King of mousers.
No more I hear thee purr and purr
As in the frolic days that were,
When thou didst rub thy velvet fur
Against my trousers.
How empty are the places where
Thou erst wert frankly debonair,
Nor dreamed a dream of feline care,
A capering kitten.
The sunny haunts where, grown a cat,
You pondered this, considered that,
The cushioned chair, the rug, the mat,
By firelight smitten.
Although of few thou stoodst in dread,
How well thou knew a friendly tread,
And what upon thy back and head
The stroking hand meant.
A passing scent could keenly wake
Thy eagerness for chop or steak,
Yet, Puss, how rarely didst thou break
The eighth commandment.
Though brief thy life, a little span
Of days compared with that of man,
The time allotted to thee ran
In smoother metre.
Now with the warm earth o’er thy breast,
O wisest of thy kind and best,
Forever mayst thou softly rest,
In pace, Peter!
Melissa Eyle: What is a home without a cat in it?
Thank you for sharing and revealing to readers the depth of emotions for your beloved Charlie.
When I lived in Portland, I’d rescued two cats. They weren’t blood related, but their hearts made them brothers. The woman who owned them had died, and they weren’t at the top of anybody’s list because they were old guys. Their names were odd. I renamed them Tom and Brady, being a giant NFL viewer.
They were beautiful, and I loved them immediately. It cost money to adopt them, but I wanted two because, at the time, I worked 12-hour shifts in health care. I didn’t want a lonely cat. I picked them up from their foster home in a trendy college neighborhood.
I’d originally only wanted them because my apartment had gotten lost in a mouse rodent invasion with no support. But it didn’t take long for me to realize I wasn’t rescuing them. They saved me.
When I opened their crates, they darted out like crazed Kit Kats and took refuge behind a giant chair: two little blue eyes peering at me from the darkness behind my favorite retro orange chair. I kept watch, chatted a little. It was later that night when I awoke to two cats lying next to me on my bed that I knew they’d let me be a part of the pride.
I decided to move home and interviewed for jobs. When the time came, I could not find a place to rent that’d let me keep my cats. Nobody was interested in a cat lady.
My sister had agreed to take in one until I could find a place. So I took Tom back to the rescue first, crying like a baby. At first, Brady was so lonely, looking around for his brother. He’d gotten super-attached to me. Then, as the days came closer for the move, I didn’t have a place to take him to. I couldn’t keep him, either. I was crying but relieved because they’d be back together again. And the rescue contact told me how they were overjoyed to see each other again. It brought me comfort.
Now at my place in Port Angeles, there are neighborhood stragglers that come around: a beautiful orange tabby, a small adolescent black cat, a gray orange-ish white adolescent. I’ve been wanting to get one of them here if they’re in need of a home. Because what is a home without a cat in it? One day, when I own or live in a home that allows the intelligent choosy feline, I’ll get one.
Or two. Blessings on old Charlie in the sky.