“We are the cats inside. We are the cats who cannot walk alone, and for us there is only one place” -William S. Burroughs, The Cat Inside
Like Mr. Burroughs, I too have embraced the cat inside. Of course, Burroughs partially approached the cat, in his work “The Cat Inside, as an adversarial supernatural entity. For me the cat inside is the consistent best aspect of our angels. A reminder and consideration of my humanity in my everyday practices and principles. I have spent over half of my adult life in the company of cats. They have consistently filled my life with joy and wonder. I always say that “we live with our cats, they don’t live with us.” They have taught me the active trait of intuition and the ability to give and accept love, unconditionally.
As a child, I ran with dogs. As an adult, I stayed up with cats.
Like cats, I am a nocturnal creature. By nature, I prefer late nights and early mornings. Those solitary hours are my favorite times to create and cats are my favorite night time companions. I find their elegance to be infinitely soothing. Whether I am staying up late writing or coming home from playing a gig, the cats are there. In the quiet house they are also hungry for company. Usually, a late night snack is in order for all the nocturnal creatures involved.
Now don’t get me wrong; dogs and other animals have their own place in my heart. In fact, animals generally outclass humans ten to one in my heart and imagination. But cats have a special place in my soul. I have been lucky to have had some special cats as companions.
My first real feline soulmate was a cat named Joshua, in Norfolk, VA. In the early 1990’s, I had a girlfriend named Peggy who had five cats prior to volunteering at a Virginia Beach SPCA. Not the best place to work if you have cat acquisition syndrome. Soon after starting there she brought home 10 year old Joshua and his brother Sarah. Yes, I mean Sarah. Somebody had the brilliant idea of naming a male orange Maine Coon cat Sarah. Sarah was also 29 pounds of muscle and the enforcer of good behavior among the other cats. Joshua was a muscular, not as big as Sarah, gray, half Siamese, half tiger cat. We immediately bonded and were constant companions. He loved to beg for slim jim meat snacks and would get gin drunk on cat nip. With Bandit, Franny, their children Domino and Gabby, Gabby’s kid Simpson, Sarah, Joshua and eventually, Paco, eight felines was truly enough.
When my brother committed suicide in 1996, Joshua never left my side. He tolerated a temporary noir existence from me and always let me know he loved me by placing his paw over my heart. By this time Peggy and I had amicably parted and I was living with a longtime friend, and one of the world’s best guitarist’s, Woody Nordan. Joshua was an illegal border. All I had to do was say “Landlord,” and Joshua knew it was time to hide. Eventually, the building we lived in was sold and I worked out a fair pet deposit arrangement with the new owner.
In April of 2001, I met my lifetime friend and wife, Sharon. She had three cats of her own, Oznog a six toed, brown and black tiger, Oliver, a Lilac Point Siamese and Smoky, a formerly feral, gray Chartreux, all males. I think it was the fact that I bonded immediately with Smoky that sold Sharon on me. Sharon welcomed Joshua into her home and me along with him.
All four of these cats were gents and got along. They became a band of four brothers. All these guys were also incredibly smart. I taught Smoky, while whistling the theme from the old TV series “Lassie,” to set and raise his front paw at the peak in the melody just like Lassie. Oznog and Oliver were inseparable. They were the definition of friendship among animals and were always within meowing distance of each other. Sharon and I got married in September 2001 and a friend of hers from work told us of a black Bombay kitten she had found in a drainage ditch. This was in October and we named her Ophelia.
Even as a kitten, Ophelia ruled over her brothers. As a young cat, she used to walk around the house with one of my snakeskin shoes in her mouth. She loved music and loved being sung to. Her favorite songs were, naturally, The Band’s song “Ophelia” and a personalized version of Jim Morrison’s, “ Bird of Prey.”
By this point, Joshua was almost twenty years old and not in the best of health. He had developed feline diabetes and died before Sharon and I celebrated our first anniversary. Quietly, surrounded by all that loved him, in our home, in his sleep.
Our house, in Norfolk, was a general hang out for the neighborhood cats. Neglected and abandoned, no cat missed a meal at the Ingmire-Watson house. Food dishes were always filled on our front porch for the various strays. One particular homeless black and white cat we nicknamed Oreo. She was a young street cat. In late winter, 2004, she was pregnant. I thought she was breeding a small army. Meanwhile, while still pregnant, she decides to bring us this black and white male feral kitten. Another bonding moment with a new cat. He would only answer to one name, Elvis.
Elvis had been spotted by a neighbor running with a troop of raccoons. A large part of that raccoon experience had rubbed off on Elvis. He loved running water and he would run his paw across the surface of his water dish to simulate running water. As a kitten he would hold a strawberry in his front paws and eat it like an apple. He also loved watermelon and vegetables. He never really lost that feral edge, but loved Sharon and I. Not long after we brought Elvis Into our home Oreo brought her ten kittens to see us. One of the kittens was black and white like Oreo. Elvis fell in love and so Priscilla moved in with us. We thought the only Maine Coon in the litter was a male and called it Wolf.
In the summer of 2004, because of a job opportunity, we moved down to North Carolina. Eventually, we moved all seven of our cats. That was Oliver, Oznog, Smoky, Ophelia, Elvis, and the last two of Oreo’s first litter which had numbered ten. We named the last two kittens Priscilla AKA Willie and Wolf AKA Wu Wu. By this point, Oreo had a second litter. We managed to get that second litter adopted out and got Oreo fixed and adopted. When we took Priscilla and Wolf to be fixed we found out Wolf was Lady Wolf.
Our life in North Carolina was quite different than Virginia, but the cats were always an entertaining comfort. Willie AKA Priscilla, was and is the clown of the family and developed into a strong willed and an incredibly funny and loving cat. She and Elvis used to play together through our glass door in Virginia and they became inseparable companions. Lady Wolf was always very regal.
As our cats became older they succumbed to a variety of ailments. With the exception of two of them, I was with them when we decided that they had to make the transition. They always seemed to be able to look into my eyes as if to say, “I’m ready.” Never an easy moment, but always a spiritual one.
I look forward to seeing Joshua, Oliver, Oznog, Smoky, Elvis, Ophelia and now very recently Lady Wolf on the Rainbow Bridge. Save us a warm place to cuddle my beloved cats.
In November 2013, a black and white tuxedo cat came into our lives. We call him Tucker. Tucker had been abandoned by a neighbor who walked away from her house and left him abandoned to die inside her house. What a creep! For almost three years, because of his understandable aversion to enclosed places, Tucker, unlike his sisters, was an indoor/outdoor cat.
Our neighborhood in North Carolina has a sizable deer population. On many evenings, while taking a walk to our local park, a herd of local deer would come trotting by on the other side of the street. Coming up the rear of the herd, running a close second, was Tucker. Tucker, in his out door period, would walk beside me like a dog. On several occasions, Tucker would excitedly run ahead and meet a specific male buck. Tucker would meow loudly at the deer and the deer would bend his huge head to give Tucker a lick in top of his head. Tucker would come back to me, purring proudly. I think that Tucker feels an understandable affinity towards wild deer. I am thinking of writing a children’s book about his story.
Tucker brought a feral cat to our household to be fed. He is a large brown and black tiger cat we named Sid after the sloth in the animated film, “Ice Age.” This was because Sid was missing a lot of teeth and his tongue has a tendency to loll outside his mouth. Sid looks like a cross between a Maine Coon and a Bobcat. Definitely feral, but incredibly loving. He lives today in a cat igloo on our front porch. He is happily cared for and loved. Eventually, we managed to convince Tucker that he had a forever home and would be strictly an inside cat. He is on our bed as I write this. A true gentleman.
February 20, 2018, early morning hours. Our Main Coon Diva Lady Wolf aka Wu Wu is in distress. Sharon and I rush her to the emergency vet and the prognosis is not good. Our Maine Coon lady was suffering from congestive heart failure. There was no reasonable treatment available. We made that difficult decision that we had to make many times before. Lady Wolf would have turned 14 in May. I was with her when she made the transition. I noticed how my tears were beading like misplaced raindrops on her now still fur. I remembered the words of my Mother from adolescence. “Real men know when and how to cry.” I also thought to my self, “Real men love cats.” Many cats we had fed, rescued and nurtured in our lifetime. No regrets for those rescues at all. Those same cats rescued and nurtured me. All the cats in our life have been the graceful teachers of all the best aspects of unconditional love. The lessons that I continue to learn everyday.