Fear of a Black Cat

September 30, 2011 — For ten months out of the year, I forget that I have a cat. But then Halloween comes along, and I see its sinuous black form squeezing between large orange pumpkins by the fireplace and rubbing against ratty witches and grimacing skeletons on the kitchen counter, and I’m suddenly okay with all the reasons I usually don’t want a pet.

Yeah, I’m not big into pets. I know that’s supposed to say horrible things about me as a possible mate, parent, and human being, but I have more prominent ideas and attitudes that’ll get you there way before you get to the “Doesn’t Like Pets” check box.

Truth is, I really am an animal guy. I’ve got entire shelves dedicated to nature books, I lift up every rock I pass to see what’s underneath, and when I come over to your house, I’ll play with your pet more than I will talk to you.

I just don’t like living with animals, that’s all.

Wasn’t always the case, of course. As a kid, I went through all the major divisions of Linnaeus’ animal classification system—reptiles, birds, fish, mammals, insects—but my first apartment had a no-pet rule, and I fell in love with the freedom and the lack of hair, excrement, and destroyed property that the policy forced on me. Best, it saved me from the worst thing about pet ownership…living under the cloud of one day having to either bury the poor beast in the yard or dropping it off at a veterinarian for incineration. Really hate that.

But you get so much in return for winter walks with plastic baggies on your hand, cat litter smells, and ragged, hairy couch cushions, right? Not really. I mean, if you’re a full-time pet hobbyist, have few other recourses for affection, or have kids, I think it might be true. However, pets are like teen sex. Fun in the moment, but with ramifications that could hurt the quality of your life in the future.

And, since my wife and I can’t have teen sex anymore, we ended up adopting a cat from a shelter a few years back. We got her in early September and, with our two-month-long Halloween season looming, we made sure it was a black one. And we kind of lucked out with her. She ended up not being the kind of cat you want to seal up in a wall.

She’s short-haired, meaning shedding isn’t a horrible problem and she always looks sleek; a runt, meaning she maintains a kitten-like size and litheness and is never overweight; and independent, meaning she has a low annoyance factor, although she’s still up for a scratch and lap warming if you are.

At first, we couldn’t come up with a name for her, so we just called her Kitty for like a month and a half before drunkenly christening her Eleanor one night while watching the 1963 film The Haunting just because we had a Champaign bottle handy.

But like I said, the best part of having her is what she brings to Halloween. We spend hours carefully arranging black and orange decorations to their maximum effect, and she walks gracefully past and makes them 100 times better in just the few seconds it takes for her to cross a room. She’s a living Halloween decoration.

The downside of having a black cat, though, is that it can be a terrifying experience at times. As a guy who stays up late at night with the lights out writing, I can assure you that its nocturnal camouflage and whisper movement has done wonders for my cardiovascular health.

There’s nothing like being in the middle of a particular tricky sentence and having a black cat drop out of the ceiling fan onto your keyboard or staring into a corner in frozen terror because you’re sure something moved and are pretty sure it’s the cat but don’t want to take any chances or having it predict your death by arranging dead insects into sentences and images. Black cats are daggone spooky.

Of course, at Halloween, that’s also an upside.

Did you finish this post? Because it was about a cat. Just wondering. I’ve got better content lined up. Honest.