11/10/05 -- ENCINO, CA.
I live in a large, 2 bedroom apartment with two roommates. They are both freeloading at the moment, since I'm the only one of us who is gainfully employed. While one of them has job prospects, the other is destined to spend his days sleeping on the couch all day and being waited on by women. The job hunter is pictured at right. The permanent loafer is playing the part of a fur stole.
I moved into this apartment in 1996. Come August of next year, I will have lived here ten years. That's about twice as long as I've ever lived anywhere in my life. It is also the first place I've ever lived where I spent time actually apartment hunting, chose it myself with no outside input, and have paid the rent and the bills myself (with no help and with varying degrees of success through time). It is my home. But until last year, it was gravely lacking.
When I signed the lease, it was made pretty clear that no pets were allowed. My manager had been begging and pleading with the landlord to change the policy, but he refused to consider it. I personally feel landowners who ban pets should be subjected to any number of creative and innovative tortures (like being forced to watch every episode of all ten seasons of Survivor back-to-back). Denying someone the company of an animal is cruel. Jerry came in through the back door early this year, stayed secret for a week, then was tacitly accepted by the management in what has come to be a "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
I have been raised with pets my entire life (minus the eight years I lived here under this bio-fascist regime). By rough count, the permanent pets* I have had in my life consisted of five dogs, seventeen cats, one bird (a cockateil -- 'nuff said there), a quarter horse, a couple of Oriental fire-bellied toads, five hamsters and a guinea pig. My daughter kept her iguana at her father's house, which explains why Iggy has since shuffled off this mortal coil. My ex is a nice guy, but clueless about the care and feeding of dependent, confined things. I've laid down the law in this regard: The next exotic pet my daughter acquires, she pays for, and it lives at our house (Note: Tarantulas need not apply).
Jerry is what they call an "inside cat." He used to be an "inside/outside" cat when he lived in Savannah's father's house. But we live close enough to the hills that letting him run around outside makes me uncomfortable. I've already sacrificed one cat to the Coyote Gods -- I'd rather not do it again. Even in his tom-catting days, he wasn't a hunter. His sister was. Her reputation for bringing home half-eviscerated baby rabbits is the stuff of cat lore throughout the feline worldm I'm sure. But Jerry can't hunt. Won't hunt. Shows no interest in it. Unless he's sitting on one side of the glass, and the sparrows are pecking the seeds off the patio concrete on the other. Then he becomes the Great White Hunter.
Through the sliding glass door, he stalks them, follows them, conceals himself behind the vertical blinds, and makes that noise that my ex-college roommate used to refer to as "eeping" -- his jaw drops and "chatters", while a soft, very low machine-gun sound comes out of his mouth. I can only assume that the low-frequency sound is meant to help cats in the wild coordinate their conjoined attack on the unsuspecting prey. As it happens, because of the glass that separates them, the cat could be belting a cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and the "prey" would be oblivous. But it doesn't stop him from having his little primal "lion" (or "puma" or "ocelot") take over and drive him to hunt. The cruel sadist in me waits for the day when, after I've cleaned the sliding glass door, he actually decides to throw caution to the wind and pounce.
Watching him, I'm reminded that he started as a "wild thing." He wasn't really designed to live "inside," though doing so means he'll live a longer, healthier life. He was created to hunt other wild things. The same markers that dot his DNA are the ones carried by whatever feral feline began his lineage thousands of years ago, and DNA dies hard.
What about our DNA, then? What prompts so many of us to require the companionship of real, live "wild things" (domesticated though they may be) in our dwellings? Why does that give us such comfort -- lowering our blood pressure, raising our endorphines, curing all manner of physical ailment? What coaxed the first hunter/gatherer to believe that bringing home the pups of the wolf he'd just killed, then raising them as pets was a good idea -- especially knowing what truly awful pets tamed wolves make? (How many Neanderthal toddlers went missing, do you think?) Is it the control over nature? Is it companionship they give us? I don't live alone, after all. I have a teenager at home. And she actually wants to spend a lot of her time with me, as crazy as that sounds. So why the need for a big, largely inert furball that gives very little in the way of material benefit?
I don't have an answer yet. It very well might be the subject of my final paper. Film at eleven….
*This does not include the countless fosters -- rescued litters of barely-weaned feral kittens, stray dogs and homeless cats, rats and injured squirrels which came to live for a while, then later found new homes elsewhere.