Gabby–Lessons from a Cat
We have been adopted by a big black cat. I named her “Gabby” because she talks a lot and is always ready to express her opinion on anything. As to breed, she is what I learned to call a “Persian” although she does not have the flat face of the current crop of over-bred Persian cats. She is a beautiful animal and very affectionate. I don’t really know where Gabby came from. She began hanging around our house, but she was very wary of us and would seldom come up to us. We began to put a bowl of water on the porch because she seemed to be hanging out around our front porch a lot. One night in the fall of 2013 I invited her to come into the house because the weather was really foul. She came in for a while, but it was obvious that she was nervous in our house. I guessed that she could smell traces of our dogs who used to live here. Months went by and she began to come around more. One evening I let her in and she stayed the night. The next day Marian bought her a cat box and some cans of food.
For a couple of months Gabby would come and stay a couple of days with us and then disappear for a couple of days. I didn’t really like that, but I didn’t really want a full time pet either. I had done fifteen years with the dogs and I was tired of being responsible for animals. If she wanted to visit, I would feed her, but if she wanted to leave, that was OK too. I didn’t want to be tied down to a pet. Eventually, it became clear that Gabby wanted to stay with us. I don’t know if her original human moved away or what, but our home had become her home. At the same time, I began to think of her more as being “my cat” even though my attitude about a full time pet hadn’t changed. She’s a prowler. No matter how much I feed her, she still wants to go out and prowl the alley. When the weather gets stormy, I worry about her being out and getting cold and wet. I worry about her being hit by a car crossing the street or prowling the alley. I worry about her catching a mouse that’s already been poisoned. I lost a couple of cats that way a long time ago. I wish she would just stay in the house where I could take care of her and keep her safe from all of the perils of the alley. That’s not who she is. She will stay in for hours but the time comes when she needs to go out to hunt birds and mice. Trying to keep her inside just doesn’t work. She’s miserable. I have to accept that about her. She came to us as a free agent and that’s the deal; I can’t change the rules.
We had a dog that shared a lot of Gabby’s karma, Thor. He appeared on our front porch one frigid January night, injured and dirty. Boss Dog, Lucky, accepted him and he became a part of our family. Thor was a beautiful German Shepherd who grew to 120 lbs. He was wonderful around people, but around other dogs, except Boss Dog, he was Murder, Inc. I paid some vet bills before it sunk into me that Thor could never be off a leash, ever. We tried to train him to behave better, but it didn’t work and he spent his life tightly controlled because he just couldn’t be trusted around other dogs. He would fight and he always won. We adjusted because we loved him, and Lucky, also a GSD, loved him as if he were Lucky’s own puppy.
Experience has taught me that acceptance is one of life’s great lessons. Whether it is cats, dogs or people, we have to learn to accept people as they are. This was a hard one for me. When I was young, I knew how everybody ought to be living their lives and who they needed to be. I still spend a portion of each Sunday morning telling people how they ought to act. I guess old habits die hard. The difference for me is that I have learned to accept people, dogs, and cats as they are. If I can help them live their lives, that’s great, but I don’t waste time trying to make them live up to my expectations. With our buddy, Thor, we loved him so we accepted the way he was and made adjustments. We didn’t approve of everything he did, but we loved him and figured out ways to make it work.
Love is the secret sauce. We never really live up to each other’s expectations, but when we love, we can accept and receive acceptance. That brings a lot of peace to our lives. And who knows? If this acceptance thing really catches on, one of these days I might even get around to accepting myself.