“You ought to have a cat, Uncle Stan,” my adopted niece Penelope insisted. She’s the daughter of my deceased friend and mentor, Art, and has inherited his natural gifts as a writer and an editor. With Art not around anymore, I think of Penelope as my sole remaining guardian angel.
“I met this cute little kitten, Miguel; he’s black and white,” she said. “I saw him at Pets, Naturally, in the Valley, where I buy pet food for my princely dog Jorge and my queenly cat Ella. You and Miguel will get along famously together.”
Besides kids and women, little dogs and cats are the creatures I have always loved most (and it had been years since I had a dog or cat of my own)-or a woman or little kid either for that matter.
“Cats are always fun to write about,” according to my friend the writer Al Martinez, who prompted me to write about Miguel.
Miguel is feral-a street cat-who is supposed to have met with some horrific encounters before being rescued by a woman who calls herself Summertime, a Good Samaritan who was responsible for introducing him to Pets, Naturally, and inevitably to Penelope, who had given him his name. As a result of his feral origins, Miguel was wary of people, which had caused the pet store’s cat psychologists to predict he would never bond with anyone.
Penelope is psychic, however. There’s no way I would take the chance of missing out on a promising relationship that her intuition could foretell. So the next day, after finishing work, I drove to the San Fernando Valley to check out Miguel. I must admit to fantasizing. However, if Penelope had only said, “I met this woman at a pet store in the Valley, and I could tell that you’ll get along together famously with her. …”
I located Miguel in a small cottage in a wooded area on the Valley side of Topanga Canyon, where he lived with Summertime. I was immediately smitten-with Miguel, that is; he was flat-out adorable, although Summertime was no bad looker either, come to think of it.
“He’s smart, too,” she bragged.
“I like smart,” I had to admit.
That remark closed the deal.
“I have to tell you, though: He bites. I just haven’t been able to get him to stop.”
I have a reputation, with myself, for impetuous decisions that have caused me much unnecessary grief. Would this be another example of world-class impetuosity, to be regretted later? But I hesitated for less than a nanosecond. Undeterred, I decided I would deal with Miguel’s biting problem later.
Driving home from the San Fernando Valley, Miguel was terrified. I used one hand to steer, securely gripping him with the other. And when we arrived at my house, he whimpered for a good half hour before nestling his head in my outstretched hand for comforting.
That was a moment of mutual discovery: Miguel and I were getting along famously already. (Score one for my psychic guardian angel.)
I have tried to keep Miguel inside the house both day and night, believing that way he’d be safer. Once when I wasn’t paying close enough attention, though, he slipped outside. I figured I would never get him back despite circulating dozens of “Missing Cat” leaflets up and down my block. (“Once a street cat, always a street cat,” certain mean friends took pleasure in pontificating.)
But two nights later, an unholy racket woke me up at 4 a.m. It was Miguel rapping loudly at my front door. (“Let me in; let me in!”) Miguel was smart enough to figure out that he had a better deal living with me than on the street. So I was less worried when he slipped out again months later and was not at all surprised when there was loud rapping at my front door that again woke me up at 4 a.m. After completing his rounds, Miguel had not stayed out for even an entire night: My prodigal attack cat had learned his lesson well (best cat food in town at my place!).
One time, Miguel had to have emergency surgery for an infection that came close to bursting his bladder, which had brought me perilously close to losing him. That experience seemed to have a profound effect on Miguel, at least temporarily.
Miguel mostly likes to sit on my chest and lick my face while purring like a jackhammer. I still haven’t gotten him to stop biting, though. (Actually, I’ve had to pretty much give that up.) Usually he starts out biting my hand and ends up licking it. But there are times when he just bites. Mind you, he doesn’t bite hard enough to break the skin, and he would never bite me on the face. I tell myself that biting me is just his way of playing.
For a while, he became a much mellower cat, even stopped biting-if only for a few days. And now that Miguel has gotten to be 9 years old, he definitely has become a more mellowed out animal. (I have taken to calling him “buddy.”)
Then there was the infamous evening when I took Miguel to Penelope’s mom’s house for a visit, and he ran roughshod over every other animal in sight.
“Street cats don’t take crap from anybody,” as my friend the writer Al Martinez likes to say.
Stanley Stern is a practicing attorney with offices in Santa Monica.
Stanly Stern. “Miguel: The Attack Cat”
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