Love the unwanted, even if it means a little wheezing
Jim Borg's May 9 "My Turn" column
about his love for a parrot that never was made me laugh. I, too, have a funny animal story to tell.
Readers of my first memoir, "Like a Joyful Bird," will remember that I had three chickens as childhood pets and later a dog in New York City. Cats, for some reason, were mysterious beasts I could never consider as pets -- until the day I experienced a conversion.
In August 2004, my younger daughter, Lisa, brought home a five-month-old kitten, which she had named Jimmy after Jimmy Fallon, the actor and former Saturday Night Live comedian. He was an ugly cat, with dark gray hair and random patches of light beige.
"You can't keep him," I told Lisa. "I'm allergic to cat dander -- it makes me wheeze. You'll have to take him to the Humane Society, where some nice family will adopt him."
Lisa was heartbroken. Her beauty salon client had given her the kitten and its sister when they were three or four weeks old. Lisa had been raising them at her boyfriend's home. They were tiny and had to be fed kitten formula with an eye-dropper. Months later, her boyfriend was deployed to Iraq as a member of the Army National Guard. Lisa had to find a new home for the cats. Jimmy's sister, Michelle, was beautiful -- grey with a white face and chest -- and Lisa had no trouble finding someone to adopt her. But nobody wanted Jimmy.
Lisa tried to bargain with me. "Can't we just keep him outside?" she pleaded. "That way, you won't be exposed to the dander."
"No," I replied. "I don't like the smell of cat urine and doo-doo outside my windows, either."
She said she would take Jimmy to the Humane Society the next day. The next day came and went. She kept postponing the inevitable.
In the meantime, the cat was kept outside. Lisa complained that the other cats in the neighborhood intimidated Jimmy and he would let them eat his food.
"Jimmy is such a wimp," she said.
It was my duty to feed him while Lisa was at work. One day, I found myself looking at Jimmy. I mean, I really looking at him. I looked past his ugly coloring and noticed his cute face and gentle, winsome ways. He was a sweet, affectionate cat and would purr whenever I picked him up. (Brief moments of petting didn't cause me to wheeze.) Jimmy would wait on the front doorstep for Lisa to return home. He loved my daughter so much he would run around the house and leap onto the living-room window screen at the sound of her voice.
I was aghast to learn I'd fallen in love with this cat.
Finally, I told Lisa she could keep Jimmy, but he would have to be neutered, vaccinated and kept outside. He also would have to use a litter box, which he had learned to use at her boyfriend's home. The litter box would be placed away from the open windows. Lisa was overjoyed. She made an appointment to have Jimmy neutered when he turned six months.
The day before the appointment, a staff member at the animal clinic told Lisa to stop feeding the cat after 6 p.m. and give him no water after midnight. The next morning, Jimmy mewed for breakfast in the most demanding manner. He couldn't understand why I had taken away his dish. He was one hungry and confused cat.
Around 9:30 a.m., Lisa took Jimmy to the animal clinic. They called later in the day with shocking news: Jimmy was a female! She would have to be spayed instead of castrated.
So, we now call the cat "Jenny." We also are wondering: Is Jenny's sister, Michelle, a Michael?
Glenda Chung Hinchey is the author of "Love, Life, and Publishing: A Second Memoir." She lives in Honolulu.