Cats, Dogs, and Happily-Ever-Now

There are four cats sharing our life at Full Moon Cottage. Finnegan is the eldest and came to me in a basket brought to school nine years ago by one of my students. He was just seven weeks old and beamed up at me from a litter of kitten siblings, clearly the most charming. By choosing him, I knew he would be spared the short precarious life of a farm cat, and I felt sad that I couldn’t bring all of them home with me, for as I later learned, the others were dead within a few months. Predators, exposure, cars and trucks: farm cats, like James Dean, live hard, die young, and usually go out in a youthful blaze of glory. But Finny has thrived and become one of the sweetest four-legged companions I’ve been blessed to know. I’m not certain if a feline philosopher (Pawcrates?) would place greater value upon the outdoor life and its free-wheeling brevity or the easy life of an indoor cat, but Finny has seemed largely content, risking only the few and expected summertime escapes through open windows and doors. He usually heads straight for the Nepeta cataria (catnip) plants, and is fairly docile about coming back inside.

Finnegan’s older sisters left us after 21 and 18 years of love, when he was still fairly young, and he drew closer to Riley and Clancy, the dogs, but seemed to miss Sally and Tess and the fun he’d had running and chasing after balls and toys with them, despite their dignified indifference. We missed them, too, and decided to visit our local Humane Society to see if a female kitten might be available for adoption and companionship. Two dogs and two cats seemed balanced and about right for our home and lifestyle.

It was a clear and bright October 4th when we visited the shelter, which we thought auspicious, as that is the feast day (festival) of St. Francis, known as the “patron saint” of animals. Stories are told of Francis’ gentle ways with wild animals, and his understanding that all life on the planet is interrelated and interdependent, an outlook we share.

Fiona was exactly what I’d imagined: tiny, all-black (ironic, since Fiona means “fair,” but it suits her) and sweet. But who was that odd-looking little fellow sharing her big, bright cage? We learned they’d both been brought in from different places as tiny, unweaned kittens, and that a staff member had generously taken them to her home and nursed them to independence. They’d bonded and remained together…how could we separate them? We’d already managed three cats just fine; this would work. So, Murphy joined the clan as well.

As we walked up and down the aisle of cages large and small, a funny little guy kept poking his front leg out and tapping my head with his paw. He was a goofy and endearing yellow tabby and there was no way I could leave without him. Phillip rolled his eyes, then smiled, and Mulligan was ours.

We say we’re one-cat-shy of officially earning the title Crazy Cat People, but some friends and family have expressed their belief we’ve already crossed that frontier and planted our flag deep in Batty Land. Actually, a lot of visitors don’t even know the cats are here. There are plenty of places, upstairs and down, to rest and explore, and so they scatter and socialize as they like.

The family has merged; the young cats will be four this year, and we can’t remember life without them. Fiona is still very timid and smart; she is eminently lovable, but decides when and where and to what degree she’ll allow us to prove ourselves worthy of her.

Murphy has turned out to be Prince Charming to his siblings and any/all humans. He likes to climb on top of bookcases, cabinets, doors, and the refrigerator, welcome guests, and nestle with Riley, his canine “other mother.”

Mulligan is our “special” cat—neurologically, there are some wires crossed or shorted out—but he is well-loved by all. He doesn’t like to be held, but needs to be near us at all times. We’re never sure what Mully will do each day to remind us how funny and dear he is…and he still likes to poke me when I pass the chair he’s claimed as his.

Finny has thrived with all of these buddies. He plays and pals, and has served as their mentor in the finer pursuits of lying in sinks and choosing desirable nappage locations. They all groom each other, wrestle and run around, sleep together at night, and get along with the dogs. Clancy tolerates them. Finny and Murphy have both, always, loved Riley, and even slept in her kennel.

When I was little I couldn’t wait to have children. I decided 12 would be just right, and I made lists of their names (six boys, six girls) and imagined the wonderful life we’d have together. We’d live in the country, in a home quite like Full Moon Cottage. I would write and my husband would “do something” that made him happy.

When our youthful marriages ended, Phillip and I decided to try again, more consciously focused on creating a meaningful life together, and for both us, that included children. After several years, surgeries, and tests, we accepted this wasn’t possible for us, a great sadness that has uniquely colored our lives. It is a loss that’s forever mourned; yet, like all wounds, it invited us to deepen our capacity to love and extend compassion towards others’ losses. Not that this was a satisfactory recompense; but it is what happened, and together we chose where and how to pursue other ways of creating and sustaining a family.

When we found Full Moon Cottage, it immediately felt like home. Despite the mess it was in, we could see its wonderful potential, which a lot of hard work and creativity on Phillip’s part has helped us realize. Not long after moving here, our sweet dog, Idgi, was diagnosed with cancer and within a week was gone, taken from our life when she was young and thriving, and for a long time our grief made us tentative about adding any new companions to our family. We had two elderly cats and that was fine, but then we met Riley, and her brother Clancy, and Finny… and we never looked back, except to honor the sacred and unique spirits of these companions who bless our lives and move through them too quickly and leave us wide open to their love, grieving deeply when they leave, and changed forever by the gift of them.

The dream of twelve children may not have come true, but it occurs to me that I now have 24 legs prancing around my home, and loving companions whose energy and distinct personalities make every day an adventure. I have my Full Moon Cottage and my husband who does many things that make him happy and make me blessed. It’s never happily-ever-after; there’s just now and those who share it with us. Happily, if we’re lucky.

It’s funny how Love touches our hearts and creates new dreams from the ashes of those that have died and, finally, gives us exactly who and what we needed all along.

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7 thoughts on “Cats, Dogs, and Happily-Ever-Now

  1. Animal lovers are filled to overflowing with wonderful tales and escapades with their four leggeds. It is a wonderful journey to share with them. I cannot imagine life without Elliott and Maymay. Sorry you were unable to experience a child together but it seems you have a houseful of children right now. Enjoy them as I know you are. They are endearing gifts of love and fur…..VK 🙂

  2. Having lived with cats all my life, I can understand the sense of family that you enjoy with your dogs and cats. It was very interesting to read of your personal experiences with them, and to get to know you, as you spoke of your desires in youth, and a bit of how things worked out for you. You tell a good story, and it is a great pleasure to follow you on your path, and to see things through your eyes.

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