For twenty years, my wife and I have lived in the desert, in a hilly region north of Tucson, with an abundance of wildlife surrounding us. Due to my wife’s allergies to dogs and cats, we had never sought to be pet owners, but one day, that decision was made for us.
While cleaning out my garage one day, I discovered a fuzzy, jet black cat hiding behind some plywood. My first thought was that she might be a neighbor’s cat spending a sleepy day away from home, but it quickly became apparent that our new visitor was here to stay.
It was not uncommon for people to dump unwanted pets in our area, so our hearts started to open to her, as she was quite thin. We decided to let her stay. Then one morning, my wife came bursting through the door and declared, “this room is full of kittens!” Apparently, our visitor had not informed us of her pregnancy before taking up residence.
Since I am a writer by trade, you may assume I would have considered all manner of clever names to apply to our black, fuzzy mother, but no—we simply called her “Mom Cat”. But we now had six more cats, and the task became daunting. So we named them Grey Cat, Spotted Cat, Fuzzy Cat, Black Cat, Big Cat, and Little Cat. Very practical.
Eventually, we decided to find homes for them. We kept Fuzzy Cat, a female who could spend hours at a time looking at herself in the reflection of a barbeque grill, and who inspired many of Cat’s personality traits in my children’s picture book Dog Vs. Cat.
Somehow, the word was out in the cat community about our hospitality. And it wasn’t long before more strays and more abandoned cats began to encircle us. There was Ghost Cat, a shadowy white feline we could never coax in. And Skinny Cat, a thin grey teenager who always seemed like he had somewhere else he’d rather be. Then Tom Cat, congenial male with a giant head, decided to join the clan. We also took in our daughter’s female cat (named “Kiatty” with equal creative effort). No one had had ever told us about what can happen when female cats battle for territory. And shortly thereafter, on a dark and stormy night, Kiatty and Fuzzy Cat faced off and we found out the hard way. It was all very exciting, and it was becoming hard to imagine our home without a chorus of hungry meows greeting us upon our returns.
Over the years the numbers dwindled. We found new homes for some cats, and some passed away. But one cat always remained by our sides—Fuzzy Cat, the runt of the first litter, whose name finally morphed simply into “Kitty”. She was our companion for 18 healthy years until she passed away peacefully just a few months ago, right as my new picture book Dog Vs. Cat was going to press. When she died, I called New York to ask my editor to ask if we could “stop the presses” in order to dedicate the book to Kitty. And so we did. She spent the last year of her life sleeping in my studio as my quiet companion, and it was important to me to have her officially immortalized in print. The house was finally silent, and the impact of those 18 years, with so many feline guests adding so much substance to our lives, was profound. It wasn’t just that we had raised and cared for cats, it was that they all, in some way, had been rescued.
And so our cat hotel now bears a vacancy sign, and awaits other wayward travellers seeking shelter from the world.
Chris Gall has been the owner of both dogs and cats and maintains a policy of strict neutrality. He is an award-winning author and illustrator.