You know the cliché that working with pagans is like herding cats? Don’t you believe it. Cats are smart. They learn things fast. Herding them merely requires patience and rewards (usually food). Well…yes, this is true of pagans, too. Lots of patience. And the free food.
Main Coon Cats
It’s said that the sultans of the Ottoman Empire bred angora cats (the earlier name of Ankara was Angora) and gave them to the kings of Europe. The royal court of France thus received several valuable cats. It’s further said that Marie Antoinette planned to escape the Revolution with her angora cats. Whereas the cats got on the ship, however, the queen did not. The ship reached Maine, the story goes on, and the cats went ashore and mated with raccoons. This is highly unlikely. Maine coons share physical characteristics with angoras (long coats, furry ears), but I’ve never heard of one with the famous ringed eyes and tail of the raccoon. It’s more likely that the angoras mated with other long-haired cats. A variant of the origin myth is that one Captain Coon brought the long-haired cats to the state of Maine.
Whatever their origin, Maine coon cats are large, furry, intelligent, and amiable. According to a program I saw a few years ago on Animal Planet, they’re the second most popular breed (after Persians) in the U.S. The breed was developed in Maine in the 19th century, and Maine coons started winning ribbons in cat shows as early as the 1890s. Maine coons often advertise themselves by wearing an M on their foreheads.
I live with two rescued Maine coon cats. Notice that I say “live with.” We may pet our them, but we do not own the furry, feathered, or finned beings that live with us. They’re not our property. Nor, I might add, can we own chunks of Mother Earth. We can use the land and build our houses on it, but Mother Earth will outlast any long-term lease we can have.
A Cat Named Fred
I’ve lived with cats since I was in college. My first cat was an Abyssinian-tabby mix named Fred who came to live with my husband and me during my senior year. A year later, when I was teaching high school English, speech, and French in a small town in southeast Missouri, I’d come home every day to find Fred sitting on the front porch. He’d greet me with a purr I’m sure they could hear down the street. I also remember how he used to lie on the living room rug and flap his tail up and down to give the kittens attacking practice. Fred moved with me several times and helped me earn my M.A. (Cats are always helpful.) Here is a very old photo of Fred with me and my son, who was about nine months old.
Two seconds after my father-in-law took the photo, Charles was nibbling on Fred’s ear. The cat did not move. But he had to be euthanized, alas, about a year later when he developed a massive infection. For months afterward, I saw him walking down the hall or sitting in his favorite window, and to this day I sometimes feel a cat walking around on my bed when I know for sure that there’s no one but me in the room.
My first Schroedinger (not a Maine coon but a calico) came to me in 1984 after I’d had to euthanize a rescued cat named Puff. Some Marines had found Puff up in a tree and given her to the woman I was buying yarn from. The yarn woman gave Puff to me, and we lived happily together for a couple years until she became ill. When I took her to the vet that final time, I told my son to clean away all the cat supplies.
A couple weeks later, my friend Rebecca phoned and said, “If you got a new cat, what would you name it?” Since I was reading books about quantum physics by Fritjof Capra and Itzhak Bentov at the time, I had a ready answer. A few days later, Rebecca knocked on my door. She had a tiny calico kitten in her hands. “I just went to the kitten cage at the animal shelter,” she said, “and I called ‘Schroedinger! Come here.’ This is the kitten that looked up and came to me.” Schroedinger lived with me for 21 years. She’s the cat that Madame Blavatsky in Secret Lives looks like. But my first Schroedinger did not talk like the fictitious cat, nor did she do magic or read kidlit. She was a sweet, beautiful cat, and she died in my arms.
My first Heisenberg, whom I adopted in 1987 when the people next door abandoned him, was an intelligent and curious silver cream Maine coon. No matter what I was doing—bleaching my hair, making the bed, watering plants, or typing—he’d soon stroll into the room, his tail as flamboyant as Cyrano’s white plume. He’d observe, comment, and help me do it better. Everyone who ever met him admired him. He even helped me teach the Practicing the Presence of the Goddess classes that met in my living room.
But in 2001, Heisenberg was attacked by a tumor so invasive that euthanasia was at last my only choice. It is enormously hard to make that choice, but cats can’t live when their quality of life is totally gone. On Heisenberg’s last night on the planet, I crawled under my bed with him and read Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince to him. Born on Asteroid B-612, the Little Prince comes to earth and learns that we see best with our hearts and that “the essential is invisible to our eyes.” I put Heisenberg’s ashes, which are (cross my heart) golden, in a little wooden box that one of my uncles brought back from World War II. It’s on my “home altar,” between a golden Bast and a heart-shaped rock.
I’ve always said that I wanted to come back in my next life as Heisenberg with me as his mommy.
Toward the end of her life, Schroedinger was fat and cranky and something of a solitary. (Did I just hear someone suggesting that cats and their people come to be alike?) She was Queen of the World and I was her lady-in-waiting. By the summer of 2004, however, after she’d passed her twentieth birthday, she was becoming very feeble. It broke my heart to do so, but I couldn’t let her live a life of such discomfort, dehydrated, unable to walk well, and eating so little. On her last night on the planet, I held her on my lap and read a fairy tale about a brave princess to her. My friend Darcelle drove me to the Long Beach Animal Hospital, as she had with my first Heisenberg, and again cast a sacred circle for my cats to die in. They both died in my arms. I put her ashes (and a little cat jingle toy) in that little box on my altar.
Cats come back!
Do you know the sixties folksong, “The Cat Came Back”? It’s true. I knew I couldn’t live without cat vibes in my house, so I went to Petfinder.com and found Maine Coon Rescue. A couple of weeks later, I adopted my current Heisenberg, who is part tabby. (But notice the M on his forehead.) When I took him to our veterinarian, Dr. Ridgeway, and said, “This is the same Heisenberg, but he’s in a different body now,” Dr. Ridgeway looked him in the eye and said, “You’re right. It’s Heisenberg all over again.”
He looks kind of like the Kliban Cat. Like his predecessor, this Heisenberg is Mr. Puppy Cat, a clown in cat’s clothing. No matter what I’m doing, he comes to help. This includes sitting on my lap while I’m working. Have you ever tried to type when you have reach across a purring eighteen-pound cat? I can’t stay on the home row. “Heisenberg,” I say, “you need another hobby.” Or he goes into rug mode right under my chair and acts surprised when I accidentally roll on his fuzzy tail. But how can you be angry at someone who drapes himself across your lap and purrs at you while you’re reading or watching TV?
My second Schroedinger lived with me for only a month. She was exceedingly unhappy, so I had to send her back to the rescue agency.
Schroedinger #3 was found on the streets of Sacramento by a lawyer who is a rescuer. Her photo was posted on Petfinder.com. After I made the arrangements to adopt her, they put her in a cat carrier and sent her to me. (The rescue agencies have volunteers who drive all over the state.) Schroedinger visited San Francisco and Paso Robles, then arrived in Pasadena, where I was attending a ritual. I brought her home. That’s two days and 500 miles in a box, and when I opened the box, she just strolled out. Of course she was also curious about where she’d landed. A friend who had never successfully petted a cat was with me that night; after half an hour, she was talking baby-talk to the new cat and tickling her under her chin.
Schroedinger looked like a very large chinchilla with a tail bigger around than my arm. She was Miss Glamour Cat. Because of her coloring (fog and honey) and the fact that, unlike her brother, she seldom spoke, she made me think of Sandburg’s fog that “comes on little cat feet.” She used to pussyfoot across the room, and I didn’t know she was here to be petted unless I happened to look down and saw her staring up at me.
I once read in a novel that because cats have nine lives, they can (with permission, I suspect) jump into the bodies of other cats. Or maybe when a cat comes into a home where earlier cats were adored, it absorbs the vibes of the earlier cats. Whatever happens, it happened in my home. These two cats were like their predecessors in nearly every way but coloring. And we all know that there’s nothing as good as a purring cat.
Update, May, 2016
I wrote the foregoing in 2009. Schroedinger #3, who lived with me for eleven years, experienced severe, untreatable kidney failure in the spring of 2016. Here are abridged versions of the notes I posted on my Facebook page about her. I am enormously grateful to everyone who commented and sent energy to us.
May 10. I’m feeling very sad. My sweet kitty, Schroedinger, is suffering through renal failure in addition to the arthritis in her left “arm.” She’s on medication, and until last week, she always followed me into the kitchen first thing in the morning and sit by the cats’ placemat while I dished up their food. Now she’s very lethargic and is not eating much. Or drinking much. I took her to the Long Beach Animal Hospital yesterday. They did bloodwork and will phone me with the results today or tomorrow. I’m fairly sure I’ll have to have her euthanized before the quality of her life gets worse. I’ve been through this before. In 50 years of living with cats, I’ve had to have seven of them euthanized.
Afternoon update. I’ve just had phone conversation two vets at Long Beach Animal Hospital. Schroedinger’s kidney numbers are so high that there’s no hope of a cure. Dr. Ridgeway put Heisenberg I and Schroedinger I to sleep for me. He agrees that this cat cannot live like this. We have an appointment for euthanasia at 9:00 Friday morning.
May 12. Twenty-four hours remaining. If you’ve seen Rent live on stage, you remember the scene in which Angel, the kind and generous drag queen, dies of AIDS. There’s a lot of quarreling and writhing under sheets by other characters, and then Tom Collins, Angel’s partner, says, “It’s over!” Everything stops and the other characters leave the stage. Angel sits up, wraps himself in the sheet, and gets off the table. He walks upstage and crosses left, where a bright light comes on. Trailing his white sheet, he walks toward the light. At the last minute, he turns his head and smiles at the audience. Then he walks offstage into the light. Yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s also enormously effective. I’ve seen Rent half a dozen times, and Angel’s death always brings tears to the eyes of nearly everyone in the audience. Please hold the image of a sweet fog-colored kitty rising into the light tomorrow morning.
May 13. It’s over. At 9:20 this morning, on Freya’s day (and remember that her chariot is drawn by cats) and on Friday the 13th, a Goddess day (remember the lunar calendar) my sweet kitty died in my arms.
I was going to read The Little Prince to her last night, but I was suddenly inspired to play my DVD of Cats. I brought Schroedinger up on the couch with me and held her against my heart. She slept through a lot of it, but she woke up during “Memory” (both times) and “The Jellicle Ball.” She also peed on the couch, just a little bit. That was her first pee in several days. A good sign. (And I’m doing some laundry this afternoon.) After Cats, we watched half of Rent and I brushed her. She always loved to be brushed. All I ever had to do was show her the brush, and she was on my lap. Last night—at twelve hours remaining on the planet—she was too weak to jump up. She lay still against me and I brushed her.
So she’s going to Summerland or to the Heaviside Layer or to one of those multiple universes Erwin Schroedinger was hypothesizing with a smooth, shiny coat. And it came to me during Cats that she may have just ended her fourth life. While we were watching Rent, I held her and brushed her and told her she’d been well beloved in this life and that I will miss her.
This morning, because she was too weak to be pushed into her carrier, I carried her to the animal hospital wrapped up in my Bast T-shirt and tucked into Heisenberg’s cloth basket. I also got to explain to Dr. Ridgeway the significance of Friday the 13th and who Bast and Freya are. I had a very brief vision of my friend Darcelle casting a circle (as she did twice before in the same circumstance) and I felt the winged arms of Isis around us. And now her ashes are also in the little wooden box on my altar.
So Heisenberg was the chief and only cat in the house for about six weeks as I processed my grief and began my search for a new sister for him. I searchedPetfinder.com and had phone conversations about cats, but none of those worked out. Then I found the same rescuer (Mary Dee, now the owner of Spunky’s Rescue Ranch in Malibu) who had sent Schroedinger #3 to me. (She’s moved to SoCal.) Photos. Email conversations. Phone conversations. A search for a chauffeur to deliver the new kitty to me. She’s a mix—domestic longhair, Maine coon, and possibly Turkish Van (which explains her coloring).
Schroedinger was brought to me on June 25, 2016. (She’d had two other names; now she answers to her True Name.) She’s eight years old and is a regular take-charge kitty who loves to be petted. She’s got Heisenberg slightly intimidated, but they generally get along. Well, cats are territorial, right? They still mostly rush past each other, but I know they’ll both adjust. Like her predecessor, the new Schroedinger races into the kitchen each morning and sits right next to the kitty placemat. She loves to be petted. And I think it’s wonderful to have two cats on my bed—one on each side—at night.
Except…I keep seeing this little fog-colored face peeking around corners.