Jeff the Cat
Ryan and I are often thought of as dog people. We've had three pups since getting married, each with their own distinct personalities and quirks. But once upon a time our first pet was a yellow tabby. This is the tale of Jeff the Cat.
Immediately after graduating college, we moved into a small apartment together in Austin. Ryan felt that this new phase of adulthood should involve getting a dog. The Steans household had included dogs since Ryan was in elementary school, and he wanted one of his own. We found a cute six month old border collie who was being fostered, brought him home and named him Clark.
The Clark Experiment failed on two levels. One, though I liked dogs, I had absolutely zippo experience raising one. This wouldn't have been a problem if I wasn't the primary caregiver, but Ryan had an actual job and I was still in the process of looking. The second issue was that at the end of our first week with Clark, his comfort level with his new surroundings had increased to where he was leaping over the couch. We realized it had been foolish to bring a herding dog into an apartment with no yard. Sadly, we made the decision to give Clark back and I have no other option than to believe he was then claimed by a kindly old rancher with lots of sheep for him to herd.
A year later I was shocked when Ryan suggested that we try again with another pet but this time get a cat. I knew he liked kitties, but like me with Clark, Ryan had no experience with cat ownership. Since cats were easier to leave at home (we were both working by then) we headed to the ASPCA.
I can't remember if we had decided ahead of time to select a kitten, but we ended up browsing all of the cages. We were tempted to bring home a chonky cat so massive the staff had simply named him "C4". The shelter names are meant to be temporary, but there was no way that cat would not have been C4 the rest of his life. There were a few litters of kittens available, but one kitten was by himself, the last of his litter.
An adorable three month old yellow tabby, this kitten seemed perfect. We played with him in the meeting room and felt bad that his brothers and sisters had all been adopted without him. This little fella needed a home. We signed the papers, placed him in a box and loaded him in the car.
By the time we arrived back at the apartment we had settled on a name. He would be called Jeffrey, but we always called him Jeff after that. The thought process behind this name was 1) we thought it was a funny name for a cat and 2) we knew an insane number of "Jeff"s and thought that would also be funny. To avoid confusion, whenever speaking to others about Jeff, he would always be referred to as Jeff the Cat.
The name only ever became an issue twice. The first time our friend Heather was cat-sitting while we were on vacation. Jeff the Cat was staying at her apartment because she lived too far away from our apartment to make drop-ins convenient. For context, Heather has an older brother named Jeff. One day while keeping our kitty she was on the phone with a friend. Kitty had made himself at home on the kitchen counter and when Heather spied him she yelled, "Jeff, get off the counter!" Her phone partner was very confused.
The other incident occurred when we lived in Phoenix. My cousin Jeff was getting married in town (his wife is from Arizona) and was stopping by the house before the wedding. As he entered the house, Jeff the Cat sauntered up with an up-to-no-good look on his face. With his history of entering into attack mode with no warning, I without thinking yelled, "Jeff, NO!" My cousin was incredibly alarmed until I explained that we in fact owned a cat named Jeff.
Adjusting to Jeff was a process. It was a rocky first year with this spirited kitten. Ryan had to get used to the spooky sensation of constantly realizing a cat is staring at you from across the room. Jeff also loved to attack things, especially my legs. Now, this is not uncommon for kittens, and we weren't concerned about our crappy furniture. We were concerned about my legs. A few months after getting Jeff, I went on the blood thinning drug Coumadin. This meant every time the cat took a "playful" swipe at me I was dealing with a lot of blood and bruising.
We had to make a difficult decision. Declawing is obviously controversial, and I know more recently it has been outlawed in many states. Twenty years ago it was not advised, but not as big a deal. We knew it wasn't a great option for the cat, but our only other choice was to give him up and we were afraid of what would happen to a kitty returned to the shelter because he was "too violent". He got declawed and we kept him.
Even without his claws he was a little stinker and found ways to injure me. The violence was certainly reduced without his shredders, but that's when he learned about biting. Now, you may think of biting cats being associated with defense. Kitty doesn't want you picking him up, he'll snap his teeth. Jeff did this without warning. I would be walking down the hall and he would run up out of nowhere and chomp my leg.
One bite was so bad I had to seek medical attention. I had been cleaning the wound for a few days, but it soon became apparent it was not healing. It looked angry and (sorry) started oozing. I'll be blunt, it was disgusting. I also didn't feel well, and by the time I went to the ER had a fever of one hundred and catscratch. Oh yeah, I had catscratch fever. One enormous shot of antibiotics later and I was better the next day.
The strange thing about Jeff was although he was generally a jerk to the general population, he loved Ryan. Ryan never got scratched or bit, and Jeff would seek him out for warmth and friendship. Later in life, when we moved into this house, Ryan would be sitting in his spot on the couch and Jeff would come crawl on his chest and curl up.
It was maddening. I cleaned his litter and changed the box most of the time. I fed him most of the time. I was the one who had grown up with cats and expected them to be affectionate. I was tolerated by Jeff, so at least there was that. Despite the unexpected attacks, he allowed me to pick him up quite easily. Everyone else, however, we had to warn to steer clear. It was so tempting, though, because he was ADORABLE. He really was a very cute kitty and looked innocent, but when visitors got the "kitty!" look on their faces we immediately would say "he bites" to avoid lawsuits.
When we moved to Phoenix, I moved out there by myself first to look for a house and start my new job. Ryan was slated to arrive a month later and it was decided that we would ship Jeff out by air a week before that. I had the new house by then, so he could just hang out in the empty house for a week. What could go wrong?
Everything. Do not ship your cat unless you absolutely have to. I won't try to tell the story of getting Jeff onto the plane because I wasn't there, but I've heard the story from Ryan and it sounded like a complete horror show. By the time I picked him up from the airport in Phoenix, he was out of his mind from drugs and trauma and was just staring into the distance. He had obviously been through a whole thing.
I think out of all of us, Jeff actually enjoyed living in Phoenix. The house was very sunny, and our backyard was walled in, so it was the one time in his life he was allowed outdoors. This didn't happen very often, but the few times he was out there you could see his little brain processing the strange environment as if it were a new planet.
Jeff had a pretty mixed relationship with all of the dogs. The first day we had Melbotis (who was fully grown when he showed up - Mel will get his own post someday) set the tone for the rest of their time together. Mel was chilling out on the floor of our house, head down, when Jeff started stalking him. He got about a foot away when Mel suddenly raised his head and said, "WOOF!" right in his face. A Jeff shaped cloud appeared in the space previously occupied by the cat and the order of things had been established. Jeff would mostly leave Mel be.
Lucy was a different story. She was a puppy when she arrived at our house in Phoenix and was quite interested in "kitty". For Jeff's protection, we had isolated Lucy to the tile area of the house, the kitchen and living room. There were 2 foot tall barricades around the entrances, tall enough that puppies could not scale them, but short enough for humans to easily step over. Though the walls were there for Jeff's safety, he couldn't help himself. He would sit on top of the barriers, tail twitching, eager to keep an eye on the new foe. Lucy found the kitty fascinating and would stick her snout right in his face. Jeff retaliated by punching her nose repeatedly. Because Jeff had no claws and Lucy had an impressively high pain tolerance, she loved it. It was attention! Kitty is friend now!
Jeff didn't have much interaction with Scout. They tolerated each other, but I believe Scout was a little bit afraid of him. That tracks with her warriness around neighborhood cats to this day. When we moved into this house in Austin and had a second story, we added a baby gate at the bottom of the stairs to provide Jeff with a refuge away from dog craziness. the baby gate had a small cat-sized door at the bottom allowing him to come and go.
Though he was a bit of a turkey at times, we did love Jeff the Cat. He could be affectionate with us when he wanted, and had personality to spare. I don't know that we'll ever get another cat. We seem to have settled into being a dog household, and once my dad starts travelling again we'll get his kitty for cat-sitting. A rent-a-cat a few times a year is all the kitty time I need these days.
We said goodbye to Jeff when he was 15 years old, which is a good long life for a cat. His pictures remain here and there around the house and I sometimes think I see him out of the corner of my eye still sitting midway up the stairs staring at me. I'll never forget that little weirdo.