The Kedis by John L. Neel

When I was a kid, we had a dog, Mitsy, but she was my brother Jim's dog, a member of the family before I was born. I've always been a Cat Person. I love them and we had a passel of them growing up. I can name them all—Oscar, Jinks, Miki, Grendel, Griselda, and Tiki. All were indoor/outdoor cats and most came to an early end for various reasons. Miki stayed with us for about ten years and died of a stroke.

When Kady was growing up she says she had “all the things,” six cats and six dogs. I only met Missy, her last dog.

While we were in Turkey, on my second tour there, Kady, the kids, and I lived in a high-rise apartment building. There were feral cats all around the building. Coming in the entrance one day, Kady saw a kitten in the hallway who was far too young to survive on its own. When she got to the apartment, she told me.

I rushed downstairs and, boom, we had a cat.

It was an adorable little orange Tabby, about 4 weeks old and all eyes and tail. We fed it milk in a bowl and the was so tiny it had to put its front feet in the bowl to drink.

I made a half-hearted attempt to find where she belonged, knocking on all the doors of every apartment in our building with a note written by our neighbor Nurgul. The Turks mostly laughed at me.

I promised Kim that I would be the kitten's person, take her to the Vet, and take care of her. The Kids were delighted...their first pet.

I have never been great at determining the sex of kittens, especially this young. After what I thought was a thorough inspection, I named “him” Bustopher Jones, after the Musical Cats character. We had seen the play twice while in England.

I took her to the American Vet as soon as he came to town. He corrected my classification and we scheduled “her” spay surgery during his next scheduled visit.

The name stuck.

Bustopher was super intelligent. She would fetch like a retriever, played hide-and-seek like a champ, learned to open doors, and answered the phone.  She would knock the phone off the cradle and make a noise into the mouthpiece that sounded very much like Hello. She was my cat, loved Kim and called her “Mara,” and thought Jay and E were her littermates. She despised Sylvia, probably because Syl always wore black and Bus hated black. That was my fault. I roughhoused with Bus and as she got bigger, I had to wear a thick, black glove to protect my hand. When I put on the black glove, Bus knew it was time to wrestle.

As we began our second year in Izmir, we were greeted each morning by a nice little gray kitten who wanted to rub all over our ankles with his flea-bitten carcass. He was an anomaly. All other Cats around the house were mean as hell. He was sweet, but we figured we had done our part and he was surviving.

While she was watching for the kids to get off the bus from school, Kady saw a Turk kid pick up the little cat and throw him in a 55-gallon trash can. He was too small to get out, so she went to get him. I came home to a filthy little kitten at the bottom of the bathtub.

I caught a cab back to the PX, bought some flea dip, and hurried back home. I enlisted Ellen's help and we dipped the little guy in a concentrated bucket of the dip, up to his little face. The water turned black with dead fleas, and what emerged was a beautiful orange and white kitten who was marked like a Turkish Van.

Since our female kitten was named a boys name, I chose a girl's name from Cats for our new cat, Rumple Teaser, R/T (like the Dodge Challenger) for short.

He quickly became a part of the family, even gaining a semblance of acceptance from Bustopher. His crowning glory as a kitten was the night he got into an unwatched pot of chill, eating his fill, and earning a trip to the Vet. I was elected to massage his butt with Vaseline until he had a poo, which, of course, made the whole house smell with what can only be described as chili cat...uh...poo.

He wasn't a clever as Bustopher but had his ways. To show he loved you, he would give you a little bite on your nose, not enough to hurt, but enough to know he cared. As sweet as he was, outside female cats drove him crazy and he was likely to attack the nearest moving body as Kim found out one day. He hurt her so badly that I was about to strangle his sweet neck, but she called me off. We and the other cats just gave him a wide birth when he started his mating nonsense. R/T was also the most annoying alarm clock. When he wanted you out of the bed, he would cry incessantly until you opened the door. We all learned to keep magazines by the bed to throw at the door, which would run him off. Like a snooze alarm, he'd return a few minutes later, resulting in more magazines or getting up.

Moving them back to the States was a comedy in the making. As a test, I bought one cat carrier, thinking I could put them in it, thereby saving us money on the flights from Izmir to Atlanta. Just getting Bus in the carrier was hard enough, but trying to get R/T in the carrier with a pissed-off Bustopher was almost impossible. The carrier was almost tumbling around the apartment. When I opened the door, both cats flew out, as if together, and we didn't see them for a few hours. I went out and bought another carrier.

In Istanbul, we had to claim all of our luggage to move it to the International Terminal. Once there, we sat with all our bags and the cats while we waited to check-in. Turks would walk over, look in the carriers expecting to see some exotic American pet, only to look at us and hold up their hands, and say, “Niçin? Bunlar sokak kedileri.” Yes, they were "street cats" but we loved them.  They may as well have been rats to the Turks.

Arriving in Atlanta, Bill and Sylvia picked us up in their car. The two-hour trip to Birmingham was epic. Bill was able to get all of our bags in the trunk, but Kady and I, the Kids, and two cat carriers had to go in the back seat. Bustopher was maniacally quiet the whole way, R/T whined. At Bill and Syl's house, the first order of business was to build two cat boxes. Both were immediately used.

Bustopher had a notoriously bad attitude about the Vet. Once in Birmingham, I had to take her to the Vet, hissing and scratching. I forget the reason. The vet asked me, “What's the point?” She meant, what's the point in having a cat who acts like this. I was offended. I said, “Hey! That's my kitty; she just doesn't like YOU!” Thereafter, her carrier displayed a “Cat Bites” sticker as a warning. Even giving her pre-vet-visit chill pills didn't work. She was the worst patient.

We lived for five years with just these two Cats. We took them to Texas with us, Jay and I drove them out, E and I drove them back.

For a while, they enjoyed themselves chasing down the gigantic palmetto bugs (HUGE Roaches). They became bored with this game pretty quickly, overwhelmed by the numbers. Maybe they were just tired. They took to watching them, expecting the humans to kill them.

After Texas, when we were assigned to Lexington and VMI Army ROTC. I came home from work one day to find two new kittens in the house. The kids had brought them home, Kady said OK, and though I argued a bit, they sure were cute.

I wanted to continue with the T. S. Elliot  names but lost out to older children and their ideas. The little white cat, Jay named after an on-line buddy called Fofo. I miss identified the fluffy black one as a girl, and E named “her” Abby.

When Abby's true gender was discovered, his name went into flux. Everyone gave him a name- Abigus, Serendipity, Blackass, but we finally settled on Black Kitty, B-K for short.

These two little cats took over  chasing each other, willy-nilly, all over the house, across the furniture, under the furniture, up and down the stairs, up the stair banisters. Notwhere was safe.

Bus and R/T watched on in amazement, offering a hiss and a slap if the kittens came too close. R/T treated them well enough, but Bustopher must have seen the writing on the wall and established her dominance early on. She held onto her alpha cat position until Fofo grew to be one of the largest cats I have ever seen, weighing  close to twenty pounds and solid as a rock. BK was a slight little thing, who just looked big because of his extra-long black fur. He probably only weighed about seven pounds. He was, however, a great hunter, ferocious when it came to catching the occasional mouse that got in the old house.

The pecking order went from Bustopher to R/T, to Fofo, down to poor BK. Everyone picked on BK. Mostly BK and Fofo played together all their lives, but sometimes it got rough and Fofo always won. R/T was nice to everyone, but the only cat that could back him down was Bus. Bus was a bitch to the kittens, but Fofo could back her up, and, if she ever tried to pick on BK, Fofo became his brother's big protector. If Fofo got too aggressive with Bustopher, R/T would intercede. If there was a female cat outside the house, everyone, including humans, learned to stay away from R/T. An uneasy peace was established in the house.

R/T was the first to go. He got very ill, very quick and stopped eating. He wasted away. After a trip to the vet, I had him put down. The way he went, with his eyes glazed over from the first, calming shot, traumatized me and I mourned for about a month and a half. I swore that I would never drug another animal up before the shot to stop their heart. Later, I discovered that the food he was eating, Special Kitty, had been poisoned, and, though Kady doesn't believe it, I am convinced they killed my buddy. He was old and had some thyroid problems and surgery, but his symptoms were the same as poisoning. He had lived a good, long life but  I was sad to see him go.

Bustopher was the next. She had a few minor episodes where she would flop over and shake for a few seconds, then one day, she had a massive stroke that lasted much longer. I took her to the vet and they suggested I put her down. I went home and got Elise out of ROTC Class, and she and I went to take care of Bus. Bus went out like the major league bitch that she was, growling and spitting through the exam, through the shot, and then growling under her breath until her heart stopped. That, somehow, made losing her a little better. Bus was almost eighteen.

Fofo went third. He developed kidney problems and began peeing all over the house. He had lived a long happy life and I didn't see trying to medicate him and still having to live with that, so I put him down.

With the other three cats gone, BK came into his own. He became the big house cat and took up with everyone. He was, by far, the sweetest of the cats. About a year after Fofo, I had to put BK down too. He developed cat Alzheimer's and couldn't remember from one moment to the next where the litter box was located. Not OK. I had no choice but to put him down.

I buried them all below the parking lot behind the house, in a large tract of woods belonging to W&L University, under a huge oak tree, just off the top left corner of the Women's Soccer Field.

Kim and I have decided that we are done with pets. It's nice not having a litter box, fur balls all over the house, dead animals in the hall, need for pet-sitters, nor scratched-up furniture, but I do, sometimes, miss having a warm fussy buddy climb in my lap, playing a game of chase the laser, or getting a little love nose nibble.