Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Quiet House

When I was a kid, we had cats and dogs in our house. The order of things was that the dogs were noisy and the cats were comparatively quiet. The dogs alerted at the slightest provocation - wind, cars, bird shadows... you get the idea. On the other hand, my cats were fairly quiet: the first on only mewed when you were getting his breakfast ready or hissed when the clumsy dog stepped on him too hard; the pair I had as a teenager were a bit chattier - doing the usual mewing for food and could sometimes be coaxed to "talk back" if you mewed at them first (the one would also "click" when stalking bugs or spying birds and squirrels outside).

In my 20s, I'd had a couple rabbits. In general, they are very quiet animals. My second rabbit, Bambam, earned his name, however, as he had a tendency to stamp his back foot when he wanted attention. In his indoor hutch, this created a very noisy rattling. When he was roaming the house, it sounded like a shotgun going off.

After cancer took my second rabbit, towards the end of my 20s, I opted to get a cat. I found a local woman who had a litter of pet-quality Bengals she was selling off. I'd really only intended to buy one - the female named Bella - especially given the (then) astounding price of $550 (for one cat!). But, I realized that I actually wanted two of them. There were only four kittens in the litter, and two of them were spoken for. The only one remaining was the litter's runt - a male who quickly earned the name Grumbles (I can't even remember what name he came with: perhaps it's in his veterinary packet, somewhere?). Because he was the runt, she cut me a deal on him and only asked for $350.

As seems to often be the case, the runt grew to be the biggest of the litter. In his prime, Grumbles was a shade under 16lbs. Bella only clocked in at a shade over 10lbs. Neither cat was fat as both pretty much ate only enough to sate their hunger. I could have opted to simply free-feed them and they wouldn't have gotten overweight. So, those weights were very lean-weights. Being relatively short-haired, their muscle-definition and abdominal tucks were very evident.

At any rate, as Bengals, they lived up to many of the breed's peculiarities. They were very people-focussed: Grumbles followed me around the house in a way that you might normally expect of a dog. They also loved playing in water: this meant water bowls always had to have big mats around them and that I had to be very careful to latch the bathroom door while showering if I didn't want to have to towel off two cats (though,mostly Grumbles) after my shower. They were also very talkative. They didn't need to be prompted to converse. Wake up in the morning and you'd be greeted with meowing. Come home from work, be greeted with meowing. Leave the room not allow them to come with you and there'd be chastisement when you came back. And, if you just wanted to converse, you could go back and forth with them for a half hour or more - they never seemed to tire of conversing.

What's more, when the two of them did their twice-per-day exercise sessions (fighting), it would be a half hour of mad scrambling about the house, chasing each other. The thundering noise of these chases were punctuated by hissing, spitting and yowling by Bella (and the occasional "THUNK" as she'd run headlong into an obstacle that she'd misjudged in her flight-path). Grumbles, on the other hand, fought in eerie silence with an devilish look on his face that was a combination of anger and joy (and a whole lot of "fuck you").

In 2003, a few months before we married, Donna wanted a dog. So, after much searching, we got one (Lana: a Boxer/American Bulldog mix). The following summer, I discovered that I wanted a dog, too. PetFinder was quick to find me a good match (Puckett: an American Bulldog/Bull Terrier mix). Both were rather much quieter than any of my childhood dogs.Both really only alerted if they were certain you hadn't seen the potential danger. Lana could be convinced to "sing". Puckett would bark a bit when we rough-housed. But, other than that, they were quiet. The cats were as noisy as ever.

We lost Lana in December of 2010 and Puckett the spring immediately following. Both were lost to cancer.

A few weeks after Lana's death, we found a little, brown staffie (Cira) to fill the hole that Lana's passing had left in our home. When Puckett passed, it took several months to find a dog that: a) wasn't prone to chasing cats; b) was compatible with Cira; and, C) that said "take me home" to me. That dog was Lady - a blue-eyed, Pitbull/Boxer mix (apparently, I have a thing for blue-eyed bulldogs). Compared to the prior pair of bullies, these two are noisy. Not nearly so noisy as my childhood dogs, just in comparison to their immediate predecessors. Cira will quietly "moof" or whine when she wants you to invite her up on the couch or throw a blanket over her. Lady will talk - if you prompt her - and will bark madly if there's someone at the door.

Still, the cats were, on average, far more vocal than the dogs - especially when you measure it in interactive vocalizations.

Even knowing how vocal - how much company - my cats were, the house seems sooo quiet without them. No longer do I come down to a cacophony of "good morning" mews as I rush to get ready and out the door for work. No longer does Grumbles follow me into the bathroom to chat at me while I take my biology-break. No longer do I have anyone glaring and mewing at me to clear the laptop out of their way so they can lay in my lap.

How much of an impact was this vocalization? For the past several years, my wife had been lobbying to get a third dog. With two dogs and two cats in a small house, I'd demured. I'd told her, "maybe after the cats have passed, we can think about fostering". Donna also made frequent mention of how much she disliked having to clean up after the cats - litter box, water splashed out of their bowl, the drifts of fur, etc. Suddenly absent the cats, Donna is finding that she misses them. She misses their talking. She misses their company. And, today, she brings up the topic of adopting a homeless bengal or two (after the day before reminding me that, with our small cars, three, fifty-pound dogs might make holiday travels problematic).

Umm... "I thought you didn't like living with cats".

To be honest, if every cat were like Bella and Grumbles, I think you'd probably have a lot less people wondering "why do people have cats as pets". And I think that less because of my own feelings about them, than the fact that my wife is having to fight the urge to try to fill the hole they've left and seriously thinking about cat(s) rather than a dog.