THE BLOG
03/04/2014 03:07 pm ET Updated May 03, 2014

What About a Cat?

My cat's name is Amy. The vet says I like short names: Kid, Sis, Honey (two syllables, max). Sis and Honey were sisters, transferred from the woman who couldn't care for them anymore. It slipped her mind to tell me that Sis had the world's sweetest temperament and her sibling the worst. By those traits' emergence, I had given Honey her new name -- unintentional joke. Eventually Honey got put on an antidepressant after which life became more peaceful if less interesting. Honey died first and I missed her.

Amy came from a New York City shelter two years ago with a name I thought was no name for a cat, and she thought so too. She replaced a male, also from a shelter, whose stay here was brief because he scratched people, me included, without provocation. I tried behavior modification techniques for four months, but they didn't work, and finally, in tears thinking of his possible future, I returned him to the shelter. I could have found out what happened to him afterward, but I didn't want to know.

Aside from simply liking them, my partiality to cats stems from being too lazy to undertake the care required for a dog. Also, I get attached in a flash, and if I stop to pet a dog on the street and hate to leave, I foresee that were I to have one at home, I'd have no life left.

I waited a couple of months after returning the scratching cat and then spoke to a lady named Bernie, well recommended from a different shelter. She listened to who I was and said she knew of a good candidate (a cat old enough not to climb the walls). "But," Bernie said, "this cat has to be the only one in the house -- she doesn't get along with others." Bernie had been boarding the cat with, yikes, ten more in a small apartment. She kept the one for me in a cage.

I said that one cat was enough, and Bernie offered to bring the cat over for a visit, something I'd never known anyone else to do. She arrived with a pretty white, brown and black female Calico of age 4 or 5. The cat naturally dashed behind the bed but soon appeared and allowed me to hoist her on my lap. Well, she wouldn't have to live in a cage, so she probably figured my place would be a step up.

We arranged for an official adoption, and Bernie even delivered the cat again. Amy, who I renamed, policed around each corner of the apartment (there aren't that many) to choose where she would be most comfortable, which more or less dictates her life. People who had met the previous cat congratulated me on my new addition, since they were relieved from fear of being scratched.

Animals who come from shelters often are found on the street and don't reveal their beginnings. So I don't know where Amy started life. But she seems as happy as you can expect a cat to be without access to woods to trample through. I've introduced a furry toy mouse which she relishes throwing around the bedroom. She spends a lot of time by a window looking as if she'd like to be outside, happier looking I think than if she were outside. In cold weather a radiator steams out heat nearby. She shows no interest in scratching furniture and is unfussy at mealtimes. She precedes me to the kitchen, should I have forgotten how to get there. And after a brief meal she hangs around until it's clear that she's wasting her time to wait any longer.

She knows how to set rules. If I overdo petting, she backs off or leaves a love bite bordering on a real bite. She climbs on the bed (in between naps) and likes to cuddle and have her back scratched--but not too much. Despite her small brain, she's learned a skill better than I have: how to show someone affection without consuming him or being consumed by him. Whose teachings she has followed is a mystery, but she practices them all the time.

And she seems like her new name.

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Amy and other cats make appearances in Stanley Ely's new memoir, "Life Up Close," out soon from Dog Ear Publishers in paperback and ebook.