Mehernosh Khan: Felis Domesticus



My cats are in a full protest mode. Honey Bee has stopped using the jumbo-sized litter box which is always freshly turned out and is close to being renamed Honey "Poo’’ Bee. Big Mac, my other cat has decided on a different strategy in the form of 4 a.m. "purr bombs." He jumps with a very tactile thump (he weighs close to 19 pounds) on the bed and purrs loudly a couple of inches from my ear. Although this sounds very cute and all, after about a week of this behavior and a sleep-deprived cat owner, the cuteness factor is definitely gone.

It all started when my cats, who share our evening TV ritual, watched a news segment on NBC about a canine cognition clinic started by Yale. There were several vignettes of dogs doing very smart things and learning to mimic their owners. And of course the owners are all starry-eyed like they always knew their four-legged friends were geniuses and maybe they should pick up an application to Yale for their doggies while they are visiting.

I am sure that this is all very scientific, but as any cat owner will tell you, cats do not need any such studies. They are already ascended Zen masters full of universal knowledge, as I keep reassuring my kitties. But still the protests continue. How dare they imply that dogs are worthy of a clinic and cats are not!

But while we are on the subject of cats, I would like to share a story of very special feline. So get your box of Kleenex out. Her name was Athena.

She came into our life on a fall afternoon. We had seen an ad in a local newspaper about a breeder who had to move to a smaller place and was looking for a home for some of her young kittens. After a thorough vetting by the breeder, she stopped by and handed us a young cat. She advised us that it was a blue point Egyptian Mau. All we saw were outrageous ears, large green eyes and a heart to match. Pretty soon she had our older above-mentioned cats going bonkers with her antics. This cat defied gravity as she systematically explored every cupboard top and other impossible situations.

At night she would generally curl up near my pillow and then make her way on to my outstretched hand. There she would plunk herself down and purr herself to sleep. Contrary to the popular archetype of the aloof and self-centered feline, Athena was almost dog like in her devotion, as she followed us around from room to room.

But the backyard was a different story. Many a mole saw those large green eyes as the last thing they would see. Maus are the fastest cats in the world of domestics. They have an extra skin flap between their hind legs which helps them stretch out at a full run. This made her pretty much impossible to catch, unless she wanted to be caught. And she found creative ways to escape by going under and over our so-called "cat-proof fence." After several of those instances, Karen decided to walk her on a leash in the yard. Amazingly, she still could snag an occasional rodent while attached to the leash!

Athena is now buried in the backyard of our home in Monroeville, Pa. in a small grave next to the raspberry canes. Karen planted a rose bush over her grave. She was only five years old. Later we found out that this breed is prone to cardiac hypertrophy or thickening of the heart muscle. She had a large blood clot travel into her lungs from the heart and despite heroic and urgent efforts from a local veterinarian, she passed on to Cat Valhalla. All this was about seven years ago but her unbounded spirit still haunts me and I miss her.

In conclusion, get out there and adopt a cat. (Or a dog if you must) This is probably the only way my cats will stop protesting if more of their kith and kin find good homes. There are several shelters out there including Soshini, Animal Dreams and the Berkshire Humane Society.

So meow (I mean ciao) for now and have a purrfect summer! And for all you dog owners; please do not take this article personally. Besides I am in the process of adopting a dog, soon as I can get clearance from you know who.

Dr. Mehernosh Khan is a Pittsfield-based physician and occasional Eagle contributor.


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