Sharing Mana‘o

“Mom, you’re gonna be one of those cat ladies someday.”

When my son told me that, nearly 30 years ago, my husband, Barry, shot him a look that said, clearly, “She already is!” Back then, we lived in Spreckelsville, near a popular dumping ground for unwanted kittens. Over a couple of years, I fed – and named – 50 or so strays who found their way to our backyard. Barry didn’t share my love for cats but he tolerated their presence because they kept the kiawe tree rats at bay.

After we moved into town, I acquired a pair of beautiful blue point Himalayan kittens, but we soon discovered that Barry was allergic to indoor cats. “It’s them or me,” he declared, and I reluctantly gave up Musashi and Puakea. I’ll admit, there were a few moments when I regretted my decision. Cats may seem aloof but they never nag or pick fights.

When Barry passed away in 2007, I briefly considered getting another cat or two, but decided to wait awhile. Nowadays, my lifestyle and living situation just aren’t conducive to pet ownership.

Fortunately, I have several close friends who are pet parents and also travel fairly often, so I get to indulge my animal love on a part-time basis. Over the past four months, I’ve had the pleasure of looking after brother and sister tabbies, walking a sweet pit bull named Schatzie, and housesitting with my favorite canine niece, Pili, who is a lovable chocolate Lab.

Pili and Schatzie don’t seem to know or care that I’m a cat person, and when I’m around them, I don’t care either. I did have a pet dog once, a shaggy poi dog named Jingles. I still have the trophy she won at the 1969 Maui County Fair for “Mutt with the Shortest Tail.” I had hoped for “Most Talented Mutt,” but when her moment came, she refused to jump through the hula hoop as we’d practiced for weeks. Instead, she ran up to the hoop, paused to consider the effort it would take to jump a foot off the ground, then trotted underneath. Apparently the judges didn’t consider good sense to be a talent.

I never tried teaching any of my cats to jump through hoops (I’ve got some good sense too), but a couple of them had tricks of their own. Marconi, a sleek, jet-black tom, loved to play fetch. I’d toss a crumpled cigarette pack across the room and he would dash after it, pick it up with his teeth, and prance back, dropping the cellophane-wrapped “ball” into my open palm. Just like a well-trained dog, he’d sit at attention and wait for me to throw it again. My other two house cats at the time would lie on the floor and watch, but neither of them showed any interest in joining the game.

I think Kilowatt, a large orange tabby, was the smartest cat I’ve ever owned. He taught himself to open several doors in our house by standing on his hind legs and grasping at the doorknob with his front paws, in sort of a batting motion. Luckily, the knob on the front door wasn’t easily turned, but Kilowatt could get into our bedroom and bathroom any time he wanted. He was also one of several of my cats who loved baths. One day I entered the bathroom and found him in the tub, trying to turn the water on.

I’ve heard it said that pets, like our human loves, never really leave us; that their spirits or some form of presence remain by our side until we, too, cross over into eternity. That would explain the occasional sneezing fits I have. One shaggy dog and 60-plus cats make for a lot of dander. And a lot of loving memories.

* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is kcmaui913@gmail.com.

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