I have to begin by saying we lost a member of our family yesterday. His name is Spenser. Animal lovers understand that your animals are indeed members of your family. They have personalities. They can bring joy, be very needy, and cause terror. If you are an animal lover you are probably a lover of all, or you’re a dog lover, or you’re a cat lover. I am not a cat lover!
I am not a cat person. I have had dogs all my life and when I had kids it was natural. I could write several chapters and probably will about dogs in my life, especially my Kali, but this is about cats.
My dislike for cats can be traced back to very early when at a family friend’s house their cat scratched me right in the eye. I closed my eyes just in time or I would have lost an eye. I was 6 or 7. A couple of years later while living with my grandma, I came home from a friend’s house and was itching like crazy. Grandma started yelling some craziness in Italian and chased me into the back yard. I had to take all my clothes off and then scrub with some kind of rough soap while being subjected to a half English half Italian verbal onslaught of expletives and rules for never going to anyone’s house and especially if they have CATS!
Many years later it turned out I had Toxoplasmosis, a terrible deadly parasite that can kill you if it gets to your brain. I was “lucky” as instead of getting to my brain it lodged itself in my left eye. Specialists said it was rare and amazing and several appointments at Bascom Palmer in Miami included visiting specialists being brought in to see this rare case, me. Treatment was horrific and I won’t horrify you with where you get the shot. The first time you don’t realize what’s coming. But then you do, and the next time you have to “cooperate” and open your eye when it comes. Luckily I am ok and my photography doesn’t seem to be affected, other than more fuzzy pictures than I would like to sift through, but that’s another story. Why do I tell you this, you ask? Because where do you think a person can get Toxo from? You guessed it, a CAT.
Let’s just say when I went to see Cats on Broadway I was the only one in a cold sweat. And now that I think about it, I was fascinated with Catwoman on the Batman TV show, but I think it was the weird combination of desire and absolute fear!
So, that fateful day when my girls came back from a visit with Grandma, and their Great Grandmother (my Grandma) I came home to the sight of my two little girls holding a CAT, well really a kitten! Yes my Grandma, the same one from my childhood story, instigated my Mom, a non-animal lover, to let my two girls rescue poor Sammy, as he was known then, being the runt of the litter. My grandmother all of a sudden was all for helping cats? I was not happy and if I could have yelled at her in Italian I would have.
If you have kids, you know this was a done deal. I tried my best to undo this, but I was outnumbered and there was no turning back.
Sam became master of the house. The dogs stayed out of his way. At the time, my girls had 4 or 5 other girlfriends who basically spent all their time at our house. Sleep overs, homework sessions, late night horror films, getting ready to go out was a constant as they grew up together. Sam relished in his “attacking” them on a moment’s notice. He was clever; he would hide and burst out and swat them or even bite their feet. Girls were always screaming and running and my daughters would have to mediate. He was famous for hiding on top of the fridge and when one of the girls came out to the kitchen late at night in the dark and opened the fridge they would feel slight air pushing their hair and shake their heads till it got harder and harder and then, the scream. He was crafty. I liked his ingenuity, but I still didn’t like Cats. Over time Sam settled down somewhat but I never turned my back on him.
And then along came Spenser. Spenser was rescued by roommates of one of my kids’ friends. He was found wandering in the street and was probably abandoned by people who rescued him. He became one of 4 cats at an apartment of this friend’s roommates. Then the roommates suddenly moved out and left the found cat, abandoning him again. My girls learned of this twice abandoned cat and they sprung into action. Jenifer, my oldest daughter, decided that she and her sister, Jessica, were going to rescue him for good, and off they went. They coaxed him into a box and he was on his way… to my house! Again, I was no match for the women of my house.
When he arrived he jumped out of the box and ran right up our Christmas tree causing such mayhem that that was the end of real Christmas trees in the Skolnick house. They discussed names for a while and ultimately Spenser was the newest member of the family.
With the dogs gone at this point Sam was the head of the household and was beginning to mellow, slightly. He went from biting me to get me to move (“Dad can’t you see he wants to sit where you’re sitting on the couch, please move”) to sitting next to me on occasion. Maybe I was mellowing too.
Spenser, though, was a lunatic and chased Sam at every turn. We had to protect Sam all the time and would often banish Spenser to the garage, which he made his kingdom and spent his time hunting. There were times you would hear the “doggie door” come flying open and the cat running crazily around the kitchen. He just got a lizard and the girls would jump and try to rescue the lizard. It was bedlam once that cat was in the family. They never gave up on him. They had such patience, all my girls, Darla, Jen, and Jess.
Sam was declawed and used biting and swatting to protect himself, or to get attention. This time around, it was decided that this would not be done to Spenser. Consequently the furniture was shredded, the scratches and bleeding from him were endured, and we learned to keep our distance, all of us, including Sam.
Sam went missing one time. We think he got out when Jenifer came home from her late night job and opened the door. There was screaming and flashlights and all day and night walks around the neighborhood chanting “Sam, Sam we are here, Sammy where are you!” We had flyers printed and put out everywhere. No luck. Everyone was heartbroken and well, so was I. He was part of the family. After one week on his own, clawless and lost, we began to feel our wandering the neighborhood was hopeless. Then one night, exactly one week later at the same time of night he left that fateful day, as Jen was coming home from work, there he was, sitting on the porch as if to say “I’m home. Now open the damn door.” Well, if you’re a parent and you hear a bloodcurdling scream at 2 am, you are at the front door fully dressed with either a gun or your keys in your hand to head to a hospital in 10 seconds without knowing which item was necessary. Sam undoubtedly knew when Jen would be home so she would be the one to let him in. Everyone cried.
Over time Sam started moving slower and came to sit with us, me, even getting in my lap and snuggling. “I cannot like Cats,” I would say, but I could not be mean to him ever. It was always us guys in a houseful of women all those years. At some point Sam was insistent on laying right on my neck, my throat to be exact. I thought it was weird. We hadn’t noticed how small he was getting and not long after this period, he was gone. It is heartbreaking when this happens and you have to wonder why you put your family through this. I am convinced after being diagnosed with cancer, found in the spot Sam would lay on, that he knew and was trying to tell me. I miss Sam and I still don’t like Cats, but I loved Sam.
At this point our dogs were gone and we went through that terrible time as a family, and now Sam was gone too. Spenser was king of the house now and got all the attention for a year or two. I made a rule. “No more new animals! I can’t take it and neither can the rest of you… No More!”
I still had a grudge against Spenser for how he treated Sam and I stayed away from him as much as possible.
Then one day, what does my wife, Darla, do? She brings home our newest member of the family, a rescue dog we named Kali. I tried to be livid and demand she be returned, but well I am a dog lover, and when I looked in that puppy’s eyes it was love at first sight. My wife is a sly one!
Spenser made sure Kali knew who was boss and she learned how to navigate around him without too many confrontations. Every so often Spenser would sit in Kali’s way and rather than risk a swat with those nails, she would give out a certain bark that we understood as she needed help getting by Spenser. It was comical actually. This huge dog wouldn’t pass close by the cat. However, there was balance in the house again. It wasn’t a cat house anymore. Pardon the pun.
Kali has become my best friend and maybe all the other dogs and the mistakes I, we, have made gave us a chance to be the best we could be, for her. I began to tolerate Spenser even.
Years later when Jen brought her own dog Riley by for a visit he would terrorize Spenser and chase him like Spenser used to chase Sam. I thought “karma’s a bitch, dude.” He would give me a look like “how are you letting this happen to me?”
And now, like with people, our family of humans and animals are ever evolving and teaching us lessons of life – of loss and suffering, happiness, fun, fulfillment, and responsibility. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Spenser’s time has come. He has been different since he got sick, but still was defiant. He even would lay next to Kali and even me at times. The last couple of days were hard. For Jessica, and Darla, and my son in law, Carlos, as well. For Jen, who instigated his rescue with her sister that day. It is hard for everyone. They took care of him and all the animals day to day. The routine is exhausting: feed them, clean up after them, let them out, let them in, take them to the vet, play with them, pay attention when they need it, train them. I did all the fun stuff. Fun training, walks, taking them for grooming, buying toys, and cuddling. Oh yes, I admit it, I like all that dog stuff. I still don’t like cats. Well, maybe I’m coming around.
Spenser was part of the family and we gave him a good and stable home after all he endured in his youth. Isn’t that what everyone wants? In the end that’s all you can do. Rest in peace Spenser, and please don’t chase Sam around when you meet up with him again. Although, I’m sure Sam is the one running things up there.
I still don’t like cats, but, as it turns out, I loved Spenser too.