"There are no ordinary cats."
A scruffy black-and-white cat with ragged ears, a hairless patch on the side of
his head, and one oddly speckled eye is dropped off at the Seattle City Animal
Shelter—the second time in his life he’s been abandoned. His name is
Miguel. If no one picks him out of the ranks today, he’s destined for the Great
Mouse Meadow in the Sky.
Enter a tall, gray-bearded man
with shaggy eyebrows, a hairless patch on the top of his head, and a
twinkle in his eye. His name is Michael. He very much likes critters—sometimes more than people. He especially likes big,
affectionate male cats with outboard-engine purrs.
Miguel seems to know it. When Michael
walks into the Viewing Room, the cat runs full-tilt to the door of his cage and
bonks his head against it, his purr in overdrive. When Michael reaches in to skritch him under the chin, he ramps up the purr even more. And then he flops
over in agonized ecstasy: Pet me, pet me!
The rest, as they say, is history.
I must admit, I was skeptical when
Michael, my partner at the time, walked in with a cat draped over his shoulder. Oh, I wanted a cat, all
right, but somehow Miguel wasn’t the cat I’d had in mind. He wasn’t exactly a
beauty. In fact, he had a disreputable look about him, a certain piratical air.
I could almost imagine a black patch over his peculiar, dark-specked eye. “Now
why, exactly, did you choose this cat?” I asked.
“I didn’t,” said Michael. “He chose me.”
Piratical or not, the cat obviously needed a skritch
between the ears. The instant I touched him, he burrowed his head in my hand and broke into his outboard-motor purr.
That was it. He
had my heart as surely as he had Michael’s.
In the years he lived with us, Miguel
our "baby" and our constant companion. He greeted us at the front
door, followed us around the house, and made sure we got out of bed in the
in the morning! He came in from outside when we called him. He had an extensive
vocabulary and used it often. (I admit, I usually talked back.) And he loved
nothing better than a comfy lap for a long, luxurious nap. What an inspiration!
TANDEM CATNAP ON A LAZY AFTERNOON
Miguel was also my writing inspiration.
He aroused my curiosity. What did he do in the morning and evening hours he
disappeared from the house and prowled the neighborhood? When he came back in,
what was he trying to tell us with his meows and mews and squeaks and warbles? What did he think
about the fact that we adored him? Did he realize how lucky
he was―a "used" cat, abandoned twice, suddenly the center of someone's universe?
With these questions, My Life as a Cat, my first children's story, was
Eventually My Life as a
Cat morphed into The Secret Life of Walter Kitty (Alfred A. Knopf,
Spring 2007). Miguel also directly inspired I Like Black and White (tiger
tales, Spring 2006). He even
inspired me to create a picture or two, including the logo at the top of this page.
And obviously he inspired this website! (To hear that story from Miguel's point
of view, go to
Walter Kitty's Biggest Secret Ever.)
Life with Miguel wasn't always a bed
of catnip, though. There was a reason for his chewed-up ears and his bald spot
and his speckled eye. The specks, we learned, were the result of a chronic eye
infection, most probably caused by a fight-inflicted wound. Yes, he was a lover AND a fighter. Not because he had anger-management problems,
of course, but because he was duty-bound to defend his people, his house, his yard
and his neighborhood from every other male cat on Sunset Hill. (Technically he
wasn’t a male, but you’d never have known it from the way he acted.)
A CASE OF POST-SURGERY BLUES
In Spring 2004, Miguel's eye infection worsened, causing a cataract and then a tumor.
Eventually the eye had to be surgically removed, leaving him one-eyed and
looking more like a pirate than ever. To our great sorrow, the vet wasn't able
to remove all the diseased tissue, and shortly after his surgery, we had to say
our final goodbyes. We trust he's having the time of his life chasing
birds and mice―but only for fun―in the feline version of heaven.
For a long time, the house felt
empty without Miguel. We still expected him to come running when we let
ourselves in the front door or opened a can of tuna or sat down with the
newspaper. We still woke up at 5:30 every morning―the time he always woke us up
for a bite to eat before his morning rounds. Then we'd remember he was gone and
feel sad. But we know the years he lived with us were bonus years, years he had
because Michael dropped by the animal shelter one fateful day and lost his
heart. Miguel gave both of us so much and made our lives infinitely richer, and his spirit lives on.
If you and your family
have ever thought about asking a furry creature to share your home, we hope you'll
consider adopting a cat or dog from your local animal shelter. The need is
great―and the life you save may inspire you more than you’d ever guess.
All text and images on this website © Barbara Jean
Hicks 2005-2009 unless otherwise identified. Text and images may be used for
educational and other non-commercial purposes if copyright and website information are
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