Man’s Best Friend

essays_catsmeowBy “Roger” as told to Sandra Gurvis

He sits at the top of the stairs, a fat gray-and-cream Buddha, surveying his kingdom. His name is Teddy, and he’s got the world by the tail. But he’s an insult to males everywhere.

Five years ago, my wife Shelia begged me to purchase him. A Himalayan kitten would cheer her up after the birth of our third daughter, Sara. I acquiesced, partly because I was secretly disappointed Sara wasn’t a boy and felt guilty and partly because I figured a purebred cat would have a little more class than your average feline. Shelia also said that, with four women in the house, Teddy would provide me with much needed male companionship.

Now I know better. The only thing that differentiates Teddy from other cats is a certificate of registration from the Cat Fanciers’ Association and an even greater hauteur. And the only thing we have in common is testosterone. When the girls aren’t dressing him up in doll clothes, he’d off in some corner asleep or grooming his unmentionables. Or he’s in Shelia’s office climbing on the bookshelves and meowing because he can’t get down. And he always purrs, even when he’s annoyed. What an idiot!

I want a dog. As the only true man of the house, I need a strapping, hearty canine for friendship and romping through the woods. Dogs are straightforward, honest, direct. They’re always there for you, and you know exactly what they are thinking. None of this pussyfooting around and putting on airs. And they don’t shed, leaving little “pieces of Teddy, ” as Shelia puts it. At least not the Boxer of my dreams.

We’ve discussed getting a Boxer after Teddy uses the last of his nine lives. Although the two older girls, Jennifer and Heather, shudder at the misunderstood canine’s homely and fierce (but so kind and loyal) mug, I’m sure they’d grow to love him, just as I did when I was a kid. Shelia wonders who will walk the dog down our dark and deserted street when I’m out of town or want to go to bed early. She pointed out — and rightfully, I supposed — that she already has three children and doesn’t want a fourth who, in a sense, remains a child all his life, dependent on his master. I replied that a dog is protection personified, and the children can help care for him. “Well, maybe a little dog,” She relented. Sara said she’d love a puppy.

But Teddy is disgustingly healthy and cats live an average of 15 years. So I content myself with visiting my friend, Ed, who raises Boxers. Occasionally he offers me a free puppy and heartbroken, I turn him down. “Maybe someday,” I say, “when the girls are older and Shelia’s not so stressed out…” Like when the kids are off to college and we don’t want the responsibility.

Then Teddy disappeared during Sara’s sixth birthday party. With 15 first graders running in and out of the house, the door was constantly open. Although the cat never attempted to leave before, apparently he picked that day to take a stroll. I thought I glimpsed something gray and white slinking through the woods as I pumped water into the Slip ‘n Slide, but was too busy watching the kids to give it much thought. Besides, I couldn’t possibly be that lucky.

We didn’t realize the cat was missing until after midnight. Shelia was so upset she woke up the girls and quizzed them about Teddy’s whereabouts. No one had seen Teddy since that morning, when he was hanging around his half-empty bowl, demanding fresh refills with icy blue eyes. The search mounted by Shelia and my daughters rivaled “America’s Most Wanted.” They posted signs with the cat’s picture and our contact information on telephone poles and in grocery stores. The entire neighborhood was put on alert. Shelia placed an ad offering a reward in the suburban and city newspapers. Jennifer and Heather took turns calling the Humane Society every hour.

After two days, I began to hope. Teddy wasn’t coming back and although I wished him well, I’d miss him about as much as a toothache. I started to make surreptitious plans for a “surprise” from Ed’s next litter. I’d call the dog Duke — after John Wayne — and he’d meet Shelia’s requirement for something small, at least for a few months. By then she’d be as attached to him as I was.

On the third morning I was getting into my car to go to work. I heard something faintly resembling a meow from behind the freezer in the garage. Oh no, I thought, it couldn’t be. “Teddy?” I inquired, my stomach sinking.

The meow grew louder and more insistent. “Are you back there?”

I pulled the freezer away from the wall and there he was, huddled and dusty, balled in a corner. He looked terrified, his dignity shattered and instinctively I picked up and cuddled him. He licked my face but forgot to purr.

I know what you’re thinking. A real man would have taken the cat away. The wife and kids would have never known the difference. I could have secretly located another home for Teddy, although he’d never receive the level of adulation he gets in my house. A reality check would have built his character. And I could finally get my dog.

“Shelia, look who I found,” I called as I opened the door.

“You didn’t!” she cried, tears streaming down her face. “Oh, Teddy!” But she gave me a big kiss.

Teddy jumped out of my arms and sauntered towards the empty food bowl. Lifting his tail, he glared at me because after all, I was standing between him and his cat chow.

You ungrateful wretch, I thought. A couple more days behind that refrigerator and you’d be indistinguishable from the debris that’s already back there. And you know it, too. “Feed the damn animal,” I ordered Shelia. “I’m already late as it is.”

There’s one person in my house who’s a bigger fool than Teddy. And he’s not female.