My mother was a cat grabber. She thought this was a secret from me but I had known about it for a long time. In reality she was afraid of animals. Not afraid in the usual way, that they would bite her, scratch her, or injure her in some way, she was afraid that any animal she brought into the house might take ill and die. When I was a small child my parents surprised me with a tiny puppy, a small mixed breed mutt, with big feet and a pinched up face. As soon as I saw him I fell in love. We played for a few wonderful hours with his rubber bone until the puppy, out of excitement, threw up on the rug. The puppy was gone the next morning. “Your Dad found him a nice home with
the best kind of people,” she told me, “Lots of room to run around.”
We had two cats during my childhood. Jingles was a striped cat who I remember dressing up in doll clothes and driving around in a baby buggy. Mother thought Jingles was always sick. “Doesn’t he look a little down in the mouth? I’m sure he’s swallowed something,” she’d say before we’d get in the car for the fifth trip to the vet that month. Jingles had just downed a full can of baby food that I had hand fed to him. I couldn’t imagine a cat with that kind of appetite could be anything but healthy. But I would always go along with it, thinking everyone’s mother spent 60 percent of her time driving to and from the local animal clinic. Jingles later became so neurotic that robins would dive at him from our apple tree and actually pick up his tail. He would sit there bewildered wondering when he’d be grabbed and rescued by my mother.
After Jingles we had Joey. He was a pure white cat and deaf in both ears. I can’t remember where we got him but besides his hearing problem he had an unpredictable bladder. “It’s very common in male kittens,” stated my mom as if she’d graduated first in her class at vet school. He got the full treatment from my mother. I don’t remember a day going by when she wasn’t giving poor Joey something to treat his “urinary tract problem”. She was happiest as she tried diet, pills, injections prayers and incantations. I think she also hoped for the miracle of hearing for Joey. She’d run up behind him and clap really loud always walking away disappointed when he didn’t respond. I tried to not get too attached to Joey because of the past puppy incident. I learned that animals around my mother could suddenly turn up missing if they got too ill or too messy. I had nightmares that even I would wake up with a fever and mom and dad would find me a new home with a very “nice” family of course.
Until I got out of the house, I stuck to parakeets as my only pets. I could keep them in my room, play with them and become attached to them with little interference from my mother. Out of sight out of mind was truly her motto. I kept the birds to myself and trained them for hours with no close medical calls or worrisome sniffles. I could sometimes get a little rough with them. Treating the tiny things like cats or dogs was hard on them. I remember a sad loss when I tried to play peek-a-boo with one of my favorites. I popped up and he fell off his perch dead on the paper of his cage. I thought of hiding him and doing a private burial in the backyard but mother found the both of us. She picked up the bird with a dishrag and threw him in the trash. That was the last of my pets until I was grown and out of my parent’s house.
As my mother got older and I was out on my own I noticed an odd change in her. She seemed lonesome and always talked about how nice it would be to have a pet since she was “so” alone. My mom talked a lot. My dad had fled the scene a few years before and she was probably talking at him as he went out the door. So what could I do? I got her a bird.
I bought her a beautiful little finch that was welcomed only by her look of horror when his cage was uncovered in her living room. “I can’t keep him, he’ll cost me a fortune in vet bills,” she complained. Finally she warmed up to the tiny bird. She filled the bottom of his cage with rolls of toilet paper and shredded tissue. She encouraged him to talk. She named him “Charles Peeper” and wouldn’t leave him alone. When I would visit the bird would actually look like he hadn’t slept in days. If he napped she had to wake him up to make sure he was still alive. Charles Peeper lasted about a year until he died of sleep deprivation.
I was grown now and had children of my own. Mother was on occasion asked to care for my daughter’s cat while my daughter was out of town. Mother would ooh and ah and say how wonderful it would be to see the “little sweetie”. Then she would complain that as long as she was caring for the cat, she couldn’t leave home. She kept a constant vigil from her living room couch, following the cat up and down the stairs of her big house, even tracking her into the basement where no person or animal was usually allowed. She had towel beds in every room and any sharp object would be removed and put as far away from the kitty as she could manage. Mother would worry that pieces of furniture might tip and accidentally flatten the cat. She would reinforce or remove the “dangerous” items. When my daughter would pick up her cat, Mother would complain about how neglected the cat must be at my daughter’s home. “She is so nervous and runs away from me all the time.”
With no warning, the grabbing started. My mother started taking an unhealthy interest in her neighbor’s pets. She knew every pet in every house on her block and could tell me all of their habits and the habits of their owners. “The girls are neglecting their kitty,” she’d tell me in a whisper, “doesn’t he look thin. I think he needs a trip to the vet for those fleas!” “The Girls” were two ancient ladies who lived directly across the street from her. Each day I’d get a report on the health and welfare of their cat. My mom was obsessed. She would lecture them on how to improve the care of their cat each day. They began to keep the cat in the house. My mother had to find a new victim.
I thought after the girls’ cat vanished, Mother would find new interests. I tried to encourage her to get her own cat. “If I got a cat it would just die and I couldn’t take it,” she’d whine. I argued the value of love and companionship, two ideals sadly lacking in my family. “No, no I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t live through that again.”
I gave up. Soon, on my infrequent visits to her house I noticed subtle changes. I’d notice a towel on a chair, a small dish on the porch, catnip in the kitchen were items I hadn’t seen around her house for years. I knew something was up when she started asking me about the qualities of the major brands of cat food. I’d ask what her interest was and she’s just smile quietly to herself and walk away.
She began complaining that her next door neighbor had a new kitten and they were going to let it stay OUTDOORS. “There’s no way I’d let a cat so near traffic. I just went right over there and told them that. They refused to listen to me.” She went on and on. I’d watch her stare out the kitchen window. She would hide behind the curtains and peep outside. She knew the schedule of the entire family next door.
She was a private eye. She was a detective, a gumshoe. She began to wait until the family was gone and she’d lure the cat to her porch. She fed the cat on the driveway. She fed the cat on the porch. She fed the cat inside of the house. From the time the family next door went to work until they came home the cat was at the will of my obsessed mother. She had, without telling the neighbors, kidnapped their cat. She had only bad things to say about the family and guarded the cat from them as much as she could.
If the cat tried to get off of the porch in the daytime, mother would grab it. If the cat tried to hunt, mother would grab it. She took a picture of the cat and put it in a frame next to her bed. (Something she never did for me or my children). The cat had effectively been napped! My mother was a catnapper who wanted no ransom.
Cat grabbing is not a crime by the way. Napping a cat is only a small offense in the great scheme of things. Sadly the day came when my mother called me in a panic. “The neighbors are selling their house, they’re moving,” she said. There was a long pause. “I never liked them anyway.” She sounded angry and a little confused. “I bet that cat gets hit by a car before you know it!”
I didn’t hear from my mother for a while. About a week later I visited her and noticed that all of the cat toys, towels, beds and treats were gone.
The picture had disappeared from beside her bed. She seemed anxious and forgetful. When I asked her what was wrong she turned to me angrily and said, “My new neighbors let their animals just run wild. Don’t they have any feelings for them? I guess they just don’t care.” She went into the kitchen and slammed the coffee pot down hard on the stove. As I followed her into the kitchen she quickly turned away from me but not before I saw the tears welling up in her eyes.