Last summer, DH and I spent three weeks animal-sitting their two pets while Younger Son and his wife vacationed in Europe: Gannon, an enormous, much-adored Alaskan Malamute, and Iago, a small, eleven-year-old black cat with a big personality.
Sleeping over was nothing new to Gannon, who is a regular visitor to our home and has been since he was a puppy. DH likes to walk him while his owners are at work, and he normally brings him back to our place for at least a little treat, some lovin’ and a quick snooze before returning him to his rightful owners.
We like to tell folks that we have joint custody.
However, Iago has never before graced our home with his presence, so although I’ve been a cat person for lo these many years, I was a bit concerned about how well he would adjust to being in a strange home.
After all, he is eleven years old, and cats – elder cats especially – can be very picky about where they spend their time.
I knew when Iago came to us that he was accustomed to sleeping with his owners. However, never having actually slept with an animal right in bed with me, I was having none of that nonsense. I was quietly determined that little Iago would sleep in his own quarters.
To that end, I prepared the guest bedroom (the guest bedroom!), queen-sized bed and all, for our small but distinguished visitor. Over the pristine white duvet I threw a cozy blanket to trap any errant cat-hairs, moved all breakable objects to safe locations, and gathered every soft, cushy throw in the house for Iago to sleep among during his stay. The resulting nest was so inviting that I was sorely tempted to test it out.
Which I did. It was wonderful.
The Big Day arrived, and so did our guests. After lapping up our usual adoration and providing some of his own, Gannon ambled off in the direction of the kitchen to scour the floor for crumbs and such (I never said I was a wonderful housekeeper, okay?) and Iago, once freed from his temporary travel restraints, hared off under a bed to think this entire visitation thing over. Knowing that this is the usual feline survival routine for unknown venues, I put food and water in his bowls, checked that the litter was ready for occupancy, and left him to his own devices for the time being.
Since our human guests were champing at the bit to be off to other climes, we bid them adieu and bon voyage and began our roles as host and hostess. Gannon, having completely cleaned the kitchen floor, came over for a little more adoration before throwing himself on the rug and relaxing into his usual pose for a nap. The cat was nowhere to be seen.
However, within a couple of hours, Iago was up and around the house, nosing into every corner, playing with dust-bunnies (…see above statement re housekeeping…), and generally getting underfoot whenever anyone in the room moved. This was great! I was enormously pleased that it had taken Iago so little time to become completely at home in our house.
Shortly after that realization, I began to notice something unusual: it was clear that this senior cat actually believed he was a kitten!
Ever ready to play at the drop of a yarn-ball, he’s so agile that he can leap some five feet up onto the fireplace mantel from about a foot away. In human terms, that would be like me standing outside my house and suddenly deciding to leap onto the roof! Keep in mind that this animal actually eleven years old – in cat terms, he’s a geriatric feline, for heaven’s sake!
Apparently no one has informed him of this fact, though. Iago blithely leaps onto window sills, tables, bookshelves, and other high places with no apparent difficulty at all. He is also incredibly sure footed. I soon stopped moving my breakable items out of harm’s way because I realized they weren’t actually in any danger at all. Each leap brought him delicately positioned among the breakables with nary a wobble from any of them. In the entire time he stayed with us, he moved constantly among the glass ornaments without disturbing a single one. He’s a feline Baryshnikov!
However, I have to confess that my sleeping arrangements went up in smoke from the very first night.
I tried evicting him from the bedroom when I went to bed, which he accepted with reasonably good grace; but I invariably have to get up in the night for a bathroom run (scourge of the elder years) and once that bedroom door was opened, keeping him out became a lost cause. He’s lightning fast, and he was up on the bed and rolling around in ecstasy, waiting for pats, in literally a nanosecond.
Since turning on the light ruins my night-sleep and I couldn’t see his little black self in the dark, I eventually gave up the fight and shoved him over a bit so I could get back into bed. He immediately settled into what he clearly believed was his rightful place, guest bedroom or no guest bedroom.
It quickly became his habit to snooze on the guest bed during the day, taking advantage of the little nest I had prepared for him; however, every evening he would begin keeping an eye on me. The very moment I began my bedtime rituals, he would scoot up onto the bed, lie right in the middle of it, and wait for me, wriggling with delight and seemingly unaware that he was supposed to be next door. He was at his most charming at that time of night, as if to assure me that it would be perfectly all right with him if I just left him there right from the get-go.
Nevertheless, each night I would pick him up and trot him over to his bed, and then rush into my room and shut the door as fast as I could. A moment’s delay would find him – black lightning, literally – once again on my bed, purring like a small motor, as if daring mean old me to move a little friend as gorgeous and adorable as him to the cold, unwelcoming guest bed. What could I do?
So I began waking up in the morning to discover that he’d arranged himself in the night so as to be approximately nose-to-nose with me, and every time he moved his head, his whiskers tickled my face.
Did I mention he’s a friendly little guy?
However, the real issue was that I’m a very light sleeper, and every time he decided to leap from the bed to the window sill and back down in the middle of the night, the movements woke me up. On the other hand, he’s pretty loveable, and it was really pleasant to go to sleep at night with the sound of purring in my ears.
So we arranged a compromise: he would stay in his guest room when I went to bed so that I could get to sleep; and in the middle of the night when the door opened for one of my nocturnal treks down the hall, he was allowed to scoot onto the bed to spend the rest of the night there, the proviso being that if he jumped up onto the window sill and back onto the bed, out he went – banished, poor soul, to his obviously unsuitable cell-like quarters on the guest room bed.
The three weeks passed like a breeze, and the boys went back home again. However, for awhile the bed seemed a bit empty without that warm little body cuddling close at night, and there were moments of nostalgia when I’d come across an occasional short black hair on some high shelf.
Maybe it’s time for us to get ourselves a cat.