Let me begin by saying that I am not a cat person. At least I haven’t been a cat person since about the age of three when our Siamese, Sasha, passed away. She was a rarity, I later learned, in that she was exceedingly gentle and patient for her breed. That is to say, I have never remembered her for being characteristic of a Siamese cat in any way. Maybe that’s because I was three. I blame her for leading me to believe I liked cats, but many scratches, bites, and feline disputes lead me to believe I loved Sasha, not cats.
My husband declares with certainty that cats are good target practice. Enough said.
Then Tiger Lilly (so named for her coloring and because she is as delicate as a flower) came to play with us one evening and lounged about adoringly in our garage for the next 24 hours. My daughter left love notes on the garage floor for Lilly to read; my husband played with her and sat in the heat in order to scratch between her ears; my baby was enthralled. The next day she was gone. Darn, sweet cat. I liked having her around.
“Do you need a cat?” my husband kindly asked.
“No!” It isn’t often you get a trial run at a cat, which is really the only way to go when selecting one. I didn’t want a cat, I wanted Lilly.
Boiled down, my mood was tenuous that week, and the idea of Lilly seemed like a remedy. My girls squeak their final needs around the same hour my husband heads out the door to work. Even though I’m exhausted, I relish a few minutes of quiet solitude at the end of a day. Now that I’m alone when this time comes around, the quiet can become disquieting. A purring bundle of hair has helped restore the peace of my evenings because Lilly came back and my husband let her in the house with the now-you-know-how-much-I-love-you-look.
Why share this? I used to think I understood the girls’ love affair with the strays outside their windows. Mr. G., the Housing Manager, gruffly threatened to have the cats removed, but the father in him probably couldn’t bear the imploring looks of a dozen homesick girls. The cats were still coming for their daily dose of love when I left in May.
The first time I met the cats I had to track my students down to an activity room where several girls stood huddled around a window where a corner of the screen between the thick windows and ancient metal bars had torn away. Fingers, anxious to touch something soft, stroked the matted fur. The cats were equally anxious for a kind touch. One of the girls peeled away from the group to tell me the cats’ names. Even though I got the sense that the cats came around often, my students reluctantly turned away to attend class.
At another facility, the dog training program is wildly popular with offenders. Why wouldn’t it be? The dogs live with the offenders throughout the program, so these men get a trusting companion and unmatched stress relief in a setting fraught with deceit and danger.
Lilly has crazy moments that grit my teeth. Somehow she hasn’t destroyed my furniture or curtains. After her frenzies, she wants to curl up in my lap and purr, purr, purr. She demands nothing but my existence and in doing so she delivers great calm. You better believe that in prison I’d be the first one in line to woo a cat to my cell window.