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They Come Bearing Gifts


I started this column some five years ago in the first week of a new year. I told my readers then that it would not be a political column (although the Trump years offered many forays into that realm), that it would not necessarily be humorous, nor would it deliver advice—rather it embraces any idea niggling at the back of my mind, any subject that has captured the public’s (and my) attention or anything observed that tickles my funny bone.

For that first column, I visited the last category, offering a Tale of Two Cats, a story about the deep bond between my two cats, outcasts who nearly 20 years ago, made their separate ways to my door. In making their home with me, they found true love—not with me but with each other.

They were my friends and I observed them closely for years and knew their personalities and peculiarities so what I related—without a shred of scientific research to support my observations—appeared to be an account of marital pique.

Today I am going to tell another feline love story but this one with even more question marks associated with it. The largest question is, “What do they know and how do they know it?”

First, the cast of characters. Tip and Eric the Red, my original protagonists, have long since gone to their rewards. They have been replaced by a second Norwegian forest cat, Leif Erickson, and a little Russian Blue named Sasha.

Leif came to us as an adult rescue to ease the loss of Eric. He looks much like his predecessor—big, bluff, long-haired, with a luscious deep orange-auburn coat. Like his processor, he was traumatized by the dislocation in his life and is just now, after four years with us, beginning to unfurl his full personality. 2022 was the year he finally bonded, claiming a space next to me while I work, allowing more physical contact than a brief ear scratch and emerging from under his favorite spiera bush to greet us every time we return home.

Sasha, on the other hand, came to us a tiny teacup kitten, so small my husband could cradle her in his palm. She spent her first month with us perched on one of our shoulders or snoozing on our chests before finally venturing out into a world that must have appeared enormous to her infant eyes.

Breed descriptions of Russian Blues say they are “curious but calm, affectionate, very smart, playful and loving. While they are happy living with families and even other pets, Russian Blues tend to form a deep connection with only one person.” Sasha is all those things apart from tolerating other animals. She loathes dogs and has a vendetta against other cats except for her roommate. I am her special person.

I am now going to step out of my own household to introduce my sister’s cat, Reese, a bossy, energetic, possessive cat who rules her household with a velvet paw.

Let’s get to the questions at hand: How much do they know about us? Do they have an inner calendar? Are they empathetic and do they understand gift-giving? Here are the events that prompted these musings.

August 2021: I woke on my birthday to find that Sasha had left a fine, fat mouse beside my bed. She has not left a mouse by my bed since.

July 2022: My sister’s husband had a stroke and was transported to a hospital by emergency services. As she ran out the door to follow the ambulance, Candace left the back door open and told Reese she was on her own for the day. When she returned home late in the evening, exhausted and hungry after a long day of medical emergencies, she found that Reese had done her best—a mouse and a bird were carefully laid on her pillow.

August 2022: I came downstairs early on the morning of my birthday to find another mouse gift placed by my chair.

October 2022: My husband and I had been at our Maine house for two weeks, an unusually long time away from Connecticut. Neither cat does well when we are away even though they are well cared for in our absence. I surmise they decided to do something to lure us home. Coming into our apartment in the morning, my nephew found that my chair had been turned into an altar, with a squirrel, chipmunk and three mice arranged around it.

The cats have not repeated the carnage since—indeed, not even one rodent has been proffered. But they made their sacrificial offering on the very day of our return and I fear that they will associate their big game hunt with our coming home. I do not want to imperil the neighborhood wildlife.

So, is there any way a cat can know about anniversaries? How could they? Do they understand emergencies and respond in the only way they know how, by bringing food? Do they try to negotiate their circumstances using gift giving as a enticement? It’s beyond me. In the words of Joe Friday of the old crime series, Dragnet, I give you “just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.”