By Molly K. Lichtner, 2/12/17
When I was growing up, I always found it a little strange when I would visit a friend’s house and their family did not have any pets. I could never exactly pinpoint it, but their homes were too empty, quiet, and orderly; there was no fur embedded in the carpet, no sloshing water bowls to trip over, and no one to clean up spilled snacks and crumbs. Even now, as an adult, I still feel uncomfortable if there are no pets around. There is nothing to distract from an awkward silence or uncomfortable party. I have declined dates with men that say they don’t like pets. I am more excited to see the dogs when I go home than I am to see my parents. Why wouldn’t someone want a pet? Why would someone leave that out of their life?
I didn’t want a cat until I met Queequeg.
I used to work at a pet store, and I was good at it. I knew the store from tip to toe; I was familiar with the products and on a first-name basis with some of the customers. Most of my downtime was spent with the rescue cats up for adoption in the window. There was a company rule that stated we weren’t allowed to take the cats out of their cages for customers to see—some sort of liability concern—but the rule said nothing about taking cats out when the store was empty.
He was on the bottom of three wire cages and hunched over his food bowl. The rescue called him “Monty.” What I gathered from his info sheet was that he was an outdoor cat that had been living in South Philadelphia. He had been neutered before the rescue picked him up—his clipped ear delineated this fact—and despite his FIV positive status he was up for adoption, which is usually a death sentence for strays. The woman that runs the rescue, Careen, had a soft spot for his sleepy eyes and laidback demeanor, which is probably what saved him. Who can blame her? His missing teeth make his tongue stick out and the coat pattern on his back is laughably phallic. He’s charming. He’s a seven year old white and black curmudgeon.
The moment I saw him, I knew he was a Queequeg. I named him after Scully’s dog from The X-Files, and Scully named her dog after a character from Moby Dick. I have since stopped explaining the origin of his name in great detail. Instead I say, “Why yes, his name is from Moby Dick.” This makes whoever I’m talking to feel proud of their literary prowess and saves me from explaining why I like a show from the 1990s so much.
Two weeks later I brought Queequeg home to my apartment.
“Why don’t you get another cat?”
As soon as the idea popped into my head, it wouldn’t leave. At that point in time Queequeg had been with me for about six months. Living with Queequeg is like living with an old man that has a tail. He’s surprisingly low maintenance: a can of wet food in the morning, a full bowl of kibble, and a clean litter box are the only things he needs from me. Cats are surprisingly self-sufficient and independent; what would one more be? Four days later Careen texted me:
“We have a gray and white FIV + friendly 8 month old female, would you want her? She just tested positive and we need to make a decision, she is at the vet now”
Ah, crap. That’s code for “If you don’t take her, we’ll have to put her down today.” I agreed to foster her on a trial basis because I wasn’t sure how Queequeg would react to a new friend.
“Ok, I just get worried if it doesn’t work out we wouldn’t be able to adopt her out”
This meant that if she couldn’t stay with me she would definitely be put down and it would be my fault. Who can say no to a special needs kitten? Her story was heartbreaking. She had been dumped on a major roadway with a collar on. It wasn’t a coincidence; kittens don’t end up on the street by accident. All of her vet paperwork has her name listed as where she was found: “Highway.” The rescue doesn’t name their cats until they are sure they can make it to being adopted. I think it’s because if something has a name a person can get too attached to it. They can’t let it go.
I named her Scout.
I was more worried about how Queequeg would react to Scout than vice versa. Kittens are malleable; they have fluid personalities and can adjust to whatever situation they are put in. Older cats are set in their ways, and Queequeg and I had gotten into a nice routine. I wasn’t even sure if he liked other cats or could even just tolerate them. I put Scout’s carrier on the floor and called over to Queequeg. He stood near his food bowl and meowed. I opened Scout’s carrier and he still didn’t come over to investigate. He was more concerned with his empty bowl than a new creature in his territory. I knew then that they would get along just fine.
Scout and Queequeg are mismatched in every way possible. She weighs five pounds; he weighs fifteen. His purr can rock the bed while hers doesn’t even register on the Richter scale. She looks like she could be a model in a litterbox commercial; he looks like he’s lost a few fights. Their favorite pastimes are tag, hide-and-seek, and WrestleMania.
Now I can’t imagine life without the both of them.