Amblin' Alameda: Alameda cats

Amblin' Alameda: Alameda cats

Morton Chalfy

Let me begin by saying that there is no single way to be a cat keeper. Just as there is no single way to be a human being, there is also no single way to be a cat, so the permutations of relationships are practically endless.

Among our friends and acquaintances are those who keep multiple cats and find that cages are necessary to give them all their own space and to keep them safe from their cat cohabitants and also, to provide multiple sand boxes for cat excrement.

Our two cats, who could not be less alike, require three cat boxes and still manage to express themselves by depositing occasional piles outside the box. What exactly they are expressing is not clear, but that it is an expression of something there is no doubt.

A day in the life of our cats mostly consists of a little eating, a little scampering (mostly at night when we're in bed and the occasional thud of something hitting the floor is less likely to get us on our feet), use of the cat box, use of the scratching box and a lot of lying around.

Bessie likes the top of the back of my sweetie's armchair for a while, then moves to the cushion on another chair and then to her little cat hut, and maybe for variety, the heater grate in the bathroom. She also will zip into any open closet door and happily stay there in a dark and unreachable corner until five minutes after the door is closed, when she starts to mew and scratch.

We keep our cats inside, mostly to protect them from the tough street cats on our block but also, and very importantly, to protect area bird life. Inside cats also have fewer medical problems: With the cost of veterinary work nowadays, that is no small savings.

Street cats abound, however, and add their inscrutable personalities to the scene. One black and white tom with a ragged ear and tough guy swagger regularly visits our area and seems to delight in stirring up the indoor cats, who watch him cut his path intently and often hiss at him since they're safe inside. An orange tabby on the next block often saunters across the street nonchalantly - usually just out of reach of passing cars - though I fear I will find it lying in the gutter one day.

Last night as we were leaving a friend's home, she called, "Don't let the cat out," just as the gray furry streak of feline darted through our legs and out the door. "He'll come back in a minute," said our host, "don't worry about him."

But of course we did worry - we who never let our cats out - and tried to entice him to come back in. Fat chance. He sat at the very boundary of the walkway and licked his paws unconcernedly while we got in our car and drove off. His attitude spoke volumes: "I own this place, so mind your manners and watch your butt."

Driving home through the night we saw two other outside cats, one that looked like an opossum at first and another who seemed intent on getting somewhere special. The night is the cat's natural world, and it's one that's hard to get into, even in our imagination. Smells we don't smell, sights we can't see and sounds we don't understand make up the landscape, and the cat navigates it all with intentions we can't fully understand. Looking for a mouse or a bird or something similar we get, but in the dark, stealthily creeping about, while that's not alien it's so far back in our cultural past that it's hard to relate.

Our inside cats, however, stealthily creep into our laps, between the books we're reading and our chests. They make themselves comfortable there and demand their pets. They are so direct in their desires, so insistent that we pet them, and the only payment offered is purrs.