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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

vice-admiral

We got him because no one else would take him.

Malcom the Cat was in a crowded foster home with dogs, cats, ferrets and rabbits. Food was competitive and the population changed frequently as new foster animals came in, and older ones were (hopefully) adopted.

The lady from the animal foster home told me, “He’s a… handful.”

The arrangement seemed somewhat odd. The lady would bring Malcom to us, we would not go to the animal foster home to meet him. She asked me, “If I bring him there and it seems like it may work out, are you willing to keep him then?”

I said “Yes”.

Malcom was big, even before he turned one. A large, sturdy male cat, tall and long with powerful limbs and a large head. He was bright white with unusual striped spots and a dark striped tail. And claws. Very, very big claws.

We took him.

I am the first to admit that it did not go well at first, and that I was concerned. Our other cat, MiMi, is a gentle and polite girl with soft fur, one eye (she lost the other to a snake bite in the Arizona desert next to an air force base before she was rescued) and kind disposition. She’s a lap cat.

Malcom was a competitive, territorial predator. A fighter.

One day, when the house was torn up, MiMi was hiding somewhere terrified and I was losing blood through another series of scratches on both arms, I sat down and spoke with Malcom.

“You know Sir,” I told him, “This is a cooperative home. Every cat has to get along here, do his share, and be a good cat.”

Malcom stared at me.

“I know you are a fine cat, you just need some time.”

Time went by. One day I picked Malcom up and he didn’t tear me apart. He started purring. One night I felt something heavy on my leg. He was in bed with me.

Soon after a little cat named Chester showed up outside our window. And Chester moved in. Now there were three.

viceadmiraladministers

The Vice-Admiral oversees the delivery of new equipment.

I sat them all down one morning, as well as you can do that with three cats (which isn’t very well). We laid some ground rules: every cat must get along with the other cats. Meals are in the morning and the evening. Everyone eats together, served in order, from their own bowl. Everyone gets up at the same time. Everyone is allowed to sleep where they want but no fighting over sleeping places. There were more rules.

The three cats listened, seemingly interested, likely indifferent as cats are.

Finally, I appointed Malcom as the de facto leader, largely because of his physical prominence, but also because of his experience in an animal foster home. Apparently he used his size, strength and razor-sharp talons to enforce a kind of martial law there. Hence, he became Vice-Admiral Malcom Fredrick Davis III. Named from a number of sources, the third in an honorable naval lineage of cats who rose to equal prominence and distinction from the crucible of adversity.

Today the Vice-Admiral, as he is formally known, presides over nearly every activity in the house. He is served first at breakfast and dinner, eats in the highest position and in matters of cat politics, is subordinate only in seniority to MiMi, who is several years his senior and hence the wiser.

It took time to understand Malcom. It took time for him to become comfortable with the rules and procedures of a house with three very different cat personalities and two people. But with guidance and compassion and patience he has become a very fine man, a leader of cats, and an example to all cats. That every cat can rise above a difficult past, learn to stop scratching, accept and show affection, behave in a gentlemanly manner and enjoy the many things that cats take amusement in.

It’s just matter of patience and understanding.

viceadmiralportrait

By Tom Demerly.

MrX10

He just appeared.

Out the back window in a pool of light at 12:34 AM. He was interested in what was inside our window. When he looked inside our house he saw two happy, healthy, well-fed cats with rooms full of toys and cat trees and water fountains and beds. He had a sad look of longing on his face.

And then he was gone.

MrX20

It was March 13 that first time we saw him. Since then he has come back many times. Sometimes he just shows up. He comes running when he sees us. Now he answers to our voice when he is around or meows outside the window to come in.

We started calling him “Mr. X”, a man with no name, no obvious place of belonging.

When Mr. X arrived the first time I was concerned. Animals show emotion on their face. After decades of living with cats I could tell Mr. X was not happy outside our house that night. He wanted a warm blanket, a cat tree, something to eat and a friend.

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We kept an eye out for him and over time he would make his way back for another visit. Then another. Finally, one day, we invited him into the back porch. It’s segregated from our two cats (inside only cats with clean health records). He was incredibly affectionate, loved to be petted, then held, then brushed. He smiled a big cat smile and purred when we gave him his own blanket. Then we bought him a water dish, a food bowl, his own litter box, a heated bed, all on his own glassed-in patio.

MrX40

We wondered where he was from. Was he someone else’s cat? Did a family move away and abandon him? There were five houses for sale on our block- he could have been from one of them- a family moved out and left him behind.

We had a special collar with our phone number made and we planned to put the bright red collar with our contact number on him so if anyone owned him they could call us when he got home. Domestic cats have relatively small territories, males larger than females, but finite territories nonetheless.

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Mr. X happily accepted the collar and went on his way. We hoped we’d find an answer to the mystery of Mr. X soon.

On April 1st at 10:57 AM I got a text message, “My cat came home with a collar that had this number on it. Did you put it on?”

Success. Mr. X had a home, and a name. His name is “Chester”. We don’t know his last name.

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As it turns out Mr. Chester lives next door. He comes and goes as he pleases. The people who own him have children who love him and take good care of him. His excellent disposition speaks to their kind treatment of him. But the person who texted me told us her husband is allergic to cats and they were looking to relocate him.

Of course, Mr. Chester has a vote in all this.

Over the next few days Chester made it clear he loves us and enjoys good food, a heated bed and a wide open back porch to lay in while the sun spills through the window during the day.

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But Mr. Chester also loves his freedom. He wakes up from his daytime naps and wanders out of the back porch at night. He plays in the yard, running around me, playing fetch, getting petted and stalking imaginary things.

Then he disappears.

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We’ll see him in the window next door. Then outside. Then back in our porch. Our cats haven’t met him except through the window and screen and by sharing scents on the back porch after he leaves. Mr. Chester needs a clean veterinarian exam before he integrates with our cats because of disease that can be transmitted from cat to cat.

But there is more: As it turns out the man next door isn’t the only one allergic to cats though. Jan Mack is also allergic, and she takes a coal shovel full of prescriptions every day to moderate her allergies to our two cats, MiMi and Vice-Admiral Malcom Fredrick Davis III. So the full integration of Mr. Chester into our home may never be possible for three reasons; Jan is allergic, and a third cat may add to the symptoms, Mr. Chester may not want to live inside permanently, and outside cats can put inside cats at risk for transmitted disease. Lastly, MiMi and the Vice-Admiral may not want a new cat. They are curious about Mr. Chester’s visits, but reserved about him being a permanent resident.

MrX100

So, as it turns out, Mr. Chester is the decider in this matter. If he decides he wants to move from next door to our house, he is welcome as long as we can moderate the issues of Jan’s allergies and integrate him with MiMi and the Vice-Admiral. But those factors also weigh heavily on the matter.

For now, Mr. Chester is enjoying the benefits of two households and seems quite pleased about it. A veterinarian visit is in his future, and we worry about his exposure to traffic and other animals outside, but he appears to be a clever man who has made his way so far.

MrX110