21 June 2010

His Excellency

Not the cat in question. But there’s a certain physical resemblance.

His Excellency, so often my roommate when I am in New York, is a cat, but he seems unaware of this fact. A foundling, he arrived so young at the home of his owners (a.k.a. his human family) that he had spent very little time with any other cats, and has hardly seen another cat in the many years since then; even the grip of instinct never developed fully in his psyche. This explains his many un-catlike qualities, particularly his openly and entirely un-manipulative affectionate nature. He will be nice to you even when he doesn’t want food, and he likes to be petted even when there is no itch in a spot he can’t reach on his own. His Excellency wants love, and has no qualms about letting you know so.

I’ve never known another cat who behaved this way. Yet his real distinction is his utterly trusting — and affectionate — nature when he’s eating. Has any other animal not only permitted but insisted on being petted while he eats? By someone who is not even his owner (a.k.a. his servant)?

Several years ago, he began to call out to me at meal times, when the food was already in his dish, so that I might admire (or envy) his good fortune. If I didn’t sit with him to watch, he’d come after me, calling until I returned to his side. But then, gradually, he made it clear that he wanted petting, too. Now when I’m in town, His Excellency refuses to eat if I don’t stroke him. He seems to feel it necessary to proper digestion. Heaven knows how he manages when I’m not around.

His owners (a.k.a. his vassals) are private people, so I’m using neither their names nor His Excellency’s. In truth he is named for a Marxist hero, from a country and an era far away enough as to give offense to few; but he is an unlikely revolutionary. Really, he is an aristocrat. If you pet him so that his fur ruffles, he will smooth it again as soon as you’re not looking. With his spotless jabot and the chic flair of his fluffy fore- and hind legs — like pantaloons or jodhpurs — he looks more like a terribly grand major domo, or perhaps even a prime minister, from some little-known operetta.

He remembers me vividly, from all my many visits to his home, and if I’m out late, he will sit like a parent on the sofa-bed, staring at the door, until I return. Again, another cat would behave this way only if his bowl was empty; His Excellency misses only my companionship. This is immensely gratifying.

We have learned that he likes company very much, and he is seldom alone for very long. But there are limits to the numbers of humans whose presence he can tolerate. He knows when there is a party brewing and begins early to signal his disquiet. He mews the plaintive inquiry, “Why are you putting me through this?” He paces nervously. Once the guests begin to arrive, he hides in the closet.

Though his eyes gleam with the clarity and questions of a child’s, his brow is noble and wise, and he is quite old. We feared for his health a few years ago, but he rebounded. I don’t want to jinx him, so I’ll make no prognosis; suffice to say that he has confounded the veterinarians already and blessed us with more of his time than we’d dared to hope for.

I’m especially grateful for that. I’ve never been what one calls a “cat person,” but His Excellency’s uncomplicated amiability and compassion have taught me much. Though the feral kittens have abandoned the garden in Beynes, I may sometime try to adopt a cat, if I see some hint of His Excellency’s better qualities in another puss. His owners (a.k.a. his minions) are lucky indeed.

I would tell you more about him, but he is cocking his head at me, and lolling in a particularly alluring fashion, with an inquisitive expression: “What can you be doing that is in any possible way more interesting than petting me?” He wants my affection, and I, his friend (a.k.a. his slave) must obey.

UPDATE: Having dodged so many health problems that he probably used up more than a few of his nine lives already, His Excellency passed away on October 19, 2012. He is sorely missed.


Anonymous said...

As a cat staff member myself, I have to say that that kind of personality is in abundance in the cat world. At least in my personal experience.

When food is not an issue of life and death survival, and they are raised with love and safety, this is what most are. We have adopted rescue cats and I have seen them grow from frightened, sad beings to being happy, loving and trusting. Very like little children. There are also the very troubled and wacked personalities, just like people. But most are affection mongers if they are responded to with loving affection.

It breaks my heart to see so many deserving, loving fuzzy beings dumped by their owners, through no fault of their own, in most cases and slated for euthanasia because there just isn't enough space for them all, no other reason. Adoption is a beautiful thing for the kitteh and the owner.

This is why we produce benefit concerts for a wonderful rescue organization, Zani's Furry Friends in NYC at Birdland twice a year to help. And of course we have our own fuzzy contingent of beloved and party hearty rescues. Luckily, my husband is a cat lady in his heart.

Sarah Rice

Amy B said...

So many reasons why I love this blog entry. I don't have to tell you!

Anonymous said...

Aristocratic, unlikely revolutionary? I'd guess your roommate's name is either Herzen or Bakunin.

-- Rick

William V. Madison said...

I neglected to mention another of His Excellency's preferences: he likes to drink water from my hand. He sits on the edge of the bathroom sink, so that I can run the tap, and he can lap the water as it streams from my fingertips.

Lately, he has begun drinking from a cup that is set out for him especially, atop a bureau. I can't prove it, but I think he acquired this habit when he started to steal sips from the cup that I place by the bed when I stay in his home; sometimes at night I'd wake to find him crouching beside me, drinking my water.

Rick, I can neither confirm nor refute your guesses at his name, but I'm very pleased that you made the attempt!