I got a new cat today.

Our cat, Starbuck, seems lonely. Sometimes on the weekends we all spend the night elsewhere, and when I come back, she seems displeased at having spent the night alone. So I decided to get another cat, a kitten, maybe, so she wouldn’t be alone. And so she wouldn’t spend the rest of her life without seeing another feline, since she’s an indoor-only cat and the only living thing she sees besides us is the bastard squirrel who keeps eating the buds off my gerber daisies.

So we went back to the Harris County Animal Shelter, which I like going to because it’s like the zoo, but stinkier and free. With the help of awesome volunteers Linda and Nela, after two days of hemming and hawing, we picked out a little orange boy kitten with gold eyes. They told us he wouldn’t be ready for release until yesterday. So we went home and thought up a name for him: OJ Smarfson. (Tad picked that. OJ because he’s orange, and Smarfson because Tad originally wanted to name him Smarf but I said no.)

Yesterday we went to pick up OJ Smarfson and discovered that, overnight, he had turned evil. Suddenly, his mellow personality was replaced with bloodlust, and he tried to scratch us when we touched his cage. We didn’t want a(nother) violent orange boy cat, because we already have scars from the last one. So we left OJ Smarfson there.

In the lobby, we stopped off in the Cat Display Room to play with the grown-up cats there. There were five or six of them playing in cat cubes or on these really fancy wooden cat condos that someone evidently crafted and donated to the shelter. Three of the cats were especially friendly, and swarmed around my son Rory’s legs like pigeons on Jack in the Box tacos. One of those friendly cats was very, very big. He dwarfed the others, but was very friendly, like a dog. “I wish we could get this giant cat,” said Rory, as the giant cat tried and failed to cuddle on Rory’s lap. He was too big and had to climb Rory’s chest like a tree, instead.

“Yeah, I like that one, but we’re supposed to get a kitten, remember?” I said.

As we drove home, we talked about the awesomeness of the giant dog-like cat, and the way he was gentle with Rory and all the other cats, including the bitchy longhair who didn’t want anyone else on her condo. I said that, if we owned the giant cat, we would name him Toby. “He does look like a Toby,” Tad said.

We talked seriously about getting him, then, and wondered if Starbuck would get along with a bigger cat any worse than she’d get along with a kitten. The day before, the shelter volunteers had given me tips on introducing cats to one another. They’d talked about sectioning off the house for weeks at a time, about rubbing washcloths on the cats and then letting them get used to each other’s smells, and etc.

And those sounded like good ideas, but I already knew I wasn’t going to do all that. I’ve had a lot of cats in my life and I know how they are. They just deal with each other. They take a while to warm up to each other, and then they get over it. Sometimes, even cats who’ve lived together for years will bicker or fight or ignore each other. They’re kind of like people, or kids. I figured, if I’ve managed to introduce three babies to my family over the years and no one’s killed anyone else yet, the cats will probably be okay.

We decided Starbuck would be okay, and that her personality and Toby’s would be compatible, and that they might eventually fall into platonic love.

I went back today to get Toby. The lobby of the shelter stinks really, really bad like stale urine. It hits you hard when you first walk in, and then you get used to it. The security guy at the door joked with the visitors ahead of me, saying that they sold that smell in incense form. As I signed in, Nela, the most expert cat volunteer, walked in behind me. I told her I wanted to adopt Toby. She was like, “Let me go get a carrier.”

I feel bad for the volunteers because they love all the animals, and they know how little chance each one — especially the older ones — has of getting adopted. Toby is only 2, which is, like, college age for cats, but he can’t compete with scads of kittens as far as cuteness is concerned. I notice that when I’m considering kittens, Nela encourages me to take my time and decide. When I say I want a grown-up cat, though, she says, “Let me get a carrier.”

I stood at the cashier’s window and watched Nela box Toby up. She brought him out to me and said that he seemed to know what was happening, because he got into the box and sat right down. I wondered, like I did the time before, if the cats really do know what’s happening — that they’re going someplace better. It would be kind of cool if they did, but also kind of sad, because then the ones not chosen would be jealous. I imagine that’s how it is for the dogs — the dogs not chosen get sad. You can tell that the smarter, more experienced dogs try to act especially good when visitors come to see them. Because they want to be chosen. I always look at the dogs, too, even though it breaks my heart. But they have way more volunteers working with them than the cats do, and they get to go outside every day, so I guess it evens out.

Toby was very good throughout the long drive home to my suburb. When we brought him into the house, Starbuck sniffed his carrier until I thought her nose would bleed. Then she and Toby looked at each other like reflections in a mirror (you know how cats don’t seem to recognize their reflections as cats), and then Toby went and got under my bed.

And then we noticed that he stank really, really bad, just like the lobby of the shelter. I didn’t know if he’d tolerate a bath, like Starbuck periodically does, but I had to try because, seriously, he reeked.

He didn’t mind the water, but hated the tub, itself, so I shampooed him on the bath mat and mopped up with towels afterwards. He let us dry him and then walked around happily damp, unlike Starbuck who will spend hours trying to lick herself dry.

And then they saw each other again, and this time Starbuck hissed at him. Toby made this face like, “Note to self: That chick doesn’t like me,” and walked away. Starbuck kept her tail bushed up after he’d gone, but let me pet her. She was like, “I’m your cat, remember?” even though she normally can only fit us in for pettings when we make reservations.

That was earlier today. Since then, Toby’s been hiding under Josh’s bed. If I go in that room, he comes out enthusiastically to be petted. But he hasn’t eaten or gone to the bathroom yet. I brought him out and tried to get him to eat from the separate bowls we’d set up for him, a room over from where Starbuck eats. Wouldn’t you know that Starbuck was at his bowl, sniffing his food? I set him down and she acted like a complete bitch, hissing at him until I had to shoo her away with my foot. Poor Toby sniffed his food but couldn’t eat it. Then he went back to the bedroom.

I’m disappointed in Starbuck, but I’m sure she’ll get over it, soon. Then, next thing you know, we’ll be making a Match.com-commercial-style video about her love for Toby.

Or else, if not, she can be my cat, and Toby can be the kids’ dog.

Pictures of Toby and Starbuck on Flickr, for those who have read this far and still want more info. :)

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Posted in cats, domestic, Houston on 01/29/2008 12:00 am

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