Love an animal? Not me!
I never believed people who said you could love a pet as much as a family member. Not me. I didn’t have any pets growing up, and I didn’t want any now.
Especially now. I had just started a new job in a new town—San Antonio, Texas—doing the billing for a psychology practice. My boss was nice enough and the job was decent, but so far I still felt unsettled. I’d moved down here from Pittsburgh because I was tired of the cold and because three good friends of mine and their families had made the same move a few years before and loved it.
But all three families moved away soon after I arrived. I was alone in a strange city. I dreaded coming home to my sparsely furnished apartment. I watched TV in my easy chair and prayed, God, please send me some friends.
One day at work I got a call from a woman named Marcia, a friend of my boss’s. “Since you’re new in town,” she said, “I thought you might be just the person to help with a stray kitty.”
Stray kitty? I almost hung up on her. But I had to be nice.
“He’s living on the roof of my carport,” she went on. “I can’t take him inside because I’ve got dogs. He really needs a home—even if it’s only for a short time.”
The “okay” came out of my mouth before I could stop it. I gave Marcia my address and agreed that I would see her the next afternoon—Saturday—at my apartment. Why I agreed to it I’ll never know. I suppose I was clinging to the idea of a “short time.” That was my escape clause, anyway.
Mid-afternoon the next day there was a knock on my door. “You must be Kathleen,” said a woman with a chipper smile, cradling a grocery bag in one arm and carrying a big blue animal carrier with the other.
“I’m Marcia. You don’t know how grateful I am to you! Here’s some kibble and a kitty-litter tray to get you started. Now, don’t you worry. We’ll try it out for a week and see how things go. I’m sure he’ll settle down and feel right at home before you know it.”
Marcia put the carrier on the floor and opened the little front door. A ragged black cat emerged and proceeded to shoot around my apartment like a balloon someone had let the air out of.
“Thanks again!” chirped Marcia. Then, with one smooth move, she closed the door to the carrier, swept it up and out the door she went.
I sank into my easy chair to watch the cat. He finally slowed down and trotted nervously through my three small rooms. Then he plonked himself down in the middle of the floor and commenced licking his coat. Just as abruptly, he got to his feet and pounced into my lap. He took a few quick turns and, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, curled up and shut his eyes.
I sat there for a few minutes, hands at my sides, not quite knowing what to do, watching as the cat’s breathing became more regular. Finally, he began to purr. A gentle, wonderfully contented sound. But just to be careful, I decided I wouldn’t give him a name so that I wouldn’t get too attached.
That was the end of my quiet little life in my quiet little apartment. Who knew cats were such crazy creatures? Calm one moment, a ball of energy the next. He pushed open doors that I wanted closed, pushed closed ones that I wanted open.
He pounced at the TV set, pulled my bathroom towels off their hangers and flushed out dust bunnies from under the refrigerator. But the biggest change in my lifestyle was this: I couldn’t sit or lie down without instantly turning into a piece of cat furniture.
Each morning, the cat sat by the door and bid me a silent good-bye, eyes following me out the door, as I headed out to work. He was waiting at the same spot in the evening, greeting me with an impatient meow.
“I see. Anxious for your feeding, aren’t you?” I would say and pour out a big bowl of kibble for him.
No doubt the cat enjoyed his meals. That was for sure. But I think that he enjoyed me too, curling up in my lap and purring away.
“All right,” I said on day four, “maybe you should have a name.”
The cat looked at me and blinked.
“You’re a run-of-the-mill black cat,” I said. “So don’t expect me to be giving you some fancy name. It’s going to be something everyday, like Sam or Ralph….” The cat let out a quick meow. Ralph it was.
Ralph’s “trial week” came and went without either of us marking the day. I can’t say that Marcia called to remind us of it either.
Before I knew it, I wasn’t just talking to Ralph now and then, but giving him full reports on my day. It was talk therapy—just like the therapists at my job dispensed. Only Ralph charged a whole lot less. A dish of kibble and a lap to curl up in was all he asked.
“You’re such a good therapist,” I said to him one day, “that I ought to call you Doctor Ralph.”
So Ralph got a new nickname. Sometimes I even called him El Doctor, since so many of the patients at the place where I work were Spanish-speaking. I couldn’t help myself. I had become one of those animal nuts who treat their pets like people! Was it just because I was lonely? No, no. This was different. This was love.
Day by day, the news I gave Ralph was more cheery.
“So, you have a cat?” a woman asked me in the laundry room one day. “I often see him in your window. He’s beautiful. I’m Veronica, by the way. I’m new to San Antonio.”
“So am I!” I said. Before long, Veronica and I were talking all the time. She introduced me to a neighborhood church where I met more people. Doctor Ralph was still my best friend in San Antonio, but he was no longer my only one.
Did I say friend? Yes, Doctor Ralph had indeed become just that. But God had done more than give me a friend. In fact, Ralph was just like family.
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