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I live with two cats, Mia, a beautiful 6-year-old rescue with long, pretty hair, beautiful green eyes and a fluffy tail and MiMi, a 2-year old orange striped wild cat found as a kitten in the desert with one eye hanging out of her head. My cats are constant companions. I watch them. They watch me. Despite a huge gap between my species and theirs we’ve worked out ways to communicate that are quite effective. I’ve learned a lot about life and about myself from seeing how they live. Here is some of what my cats have taught me:

Live in the present.

Cats have smaller brains than us. So they worry less. I watch them enjoy a spot in the sun, good food, a nap. They live for what is happening. If they are having fun, they keep having fun until they are tired, then they lay down. If they are scared, they leave the environment to find someplace safer. Cats do not spend time worrying about their past or their future. Instead, they make their present as good as possible and the rest sorts itself out. While people can’t do that entirely since it would be irresponsible we often worry too much about a future we haven’t built yet and a past we can’t change at the cost of appreciating the present we’re living in now. My cats remind me, live in the present.

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Find amazement in simple things.

I buy my cats toys. They ignore most of them. Their favorite toy is a length of orange parachute cord that was a leftover from something I was making. They’ve been playing with it for two years. Both MiMi and Mia play with this cord like it was the first time they’ve seen it, and like their lives depend on catching it. When they do catch it, they carry it over to a corner, chew on it for a second, then forget it until next time. Then, it is all new again. There is tremendous wisdom to finding wonder in simple things.

Be careful.

Mia likes to jump from one piece of furniture to another. I’ve never seen her miss. Before she jumps she studies the area she is jumping to in detail. If she doubts the landing place is safe or she can make it, she finds another way. She still jumps, but she exercises care and caution in assessing the risk before she jumps. My cats still take chances and have fun, but they understand how far they can jump and aren’t reckless.

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There are no handicaps.

MiMi was found by my friend Billy as a stray kitten wandering in the desert with one eye out of her head from a terrible injury. She was dying. Billy took her to a veterinarian who saved her life and removed her damaged eye. MiMi doesn’t know or care that Mia and I have two eyes and she only has one. She simply uses her one eye for everything, moves her head a little more to compensate for only having one, without even realizing it. She can do anything Mia and I can do, and she is the most loving and kind cat. To her, having one eye is just the way it is. It is neither good nor bad. MiMi knows she can’t change only having one eye, so she lives like she has two and doesn’t let this become a drawback to her.

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If you want something, try to get it, but exercise reasonable caution.

MiMi learned food came from the refrigerator. So, she got in the refrigerator. That makes sense. The problem was I almost didn’t notice her and nearly shut the refrigerator door. It terrified me. I rearranged the food in the refrigerator so she couldn’t jump inside again and told her that wasn’t a good idea because she could accidentally get shut inside. I know (think?) cats don’t understand the complexity of that explanation and it is mostly for me. But since then, she hasn’t done it again.  Instead, when I open the refrigerator, she runs over and sits between the open door and the refrigerator until she gets what she wants. She figured out how to get what she wanted but with minimal exposure to risk. Smart.

Rest.

Cats take frequent rests. I have never seen either of my cats tired. They know when to lay down and stop playing. They never get burned out from chasing their piece of string or watching birds outside the house. Cats know they aren’t effective if they are too tired so they make sure they get adequate rest and they make rest a priority.

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Seek first to understand.

I read this idea in a book by Stephen Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) but didn’t really “own” the knowledge until I watched my cats for a long time. Before they do anything of significance, like walking across a room or chasing something, they study the area long enough to gain a reasonable understanding of it. Then they decide how they will respond. Consequently, they rarely get themselves into bad situations or a situation they can’t get themselves out of.

Sometimes you have to stand your ground.

A strange cat came onto the porch. This was a big event. Mia hissed and growled. MiMi’s tail seemed to get bushier and her fur stood up. There wasn’t a fight, but there was some hissing and low growling and everyone understood quickly they needed to respect each other. Once the visiting cat understood the porch belonged to Mia and MiMi already, the visiting cat went next door. Sometimes the cat comes and visits, but now, it sits a few feet away from the screen and rests there peacefully while Mia and MiMi watch it.

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Embrace good things.

MiMi and Mia have a fake furry blanket that sits in the sun and gets warm. It may be their favorite thing. They sit together on it, roll around, fall asleep, lick each other and get brushed on their warm, fake fur blanket. If I pick it up to clean it they follow me around until I put it back, then they get right back on it to be sure it’s still OK.

Have respect for yourself and take good care of yourself.

Mia is a very typical girly-girl. She gets her hair brushed every day and purrs the whole time. She never over eats and has a lean and healthy build. She loves to hold her bushy tail up in the air, especially when MiMi and I are looking at her, and move it just slightly to make it wave. She uses her beautiful eyes to get what she wants, and it always works. But, she has never taken advantage of it by asking for too much food or too many treats or too much brushing. MiMi is a tomboy and spends time sharpening her claws and likes to get brushed until she gets bored. MiMi and Mia spend time licking each other every day because they both know how beautiful they are and how important that is.

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These are just a few things I’ve learned from my cats. I’m always learning more. I don’t pretend to suggest everything about life can learned by watching your cats but, I will suggest there are a lot of common sense lessons there if you are willing to see them.

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By Tom Demerly.

Mimi the cat loves the sink.

I don’t believe in fairy tales. That I’ll admit to…

This is a story of heartbreak, healing and coincidence so odd it makes my brain itch.

Fred was my cat, my very best friend. Every pet owner will tell you their pet is the best but Fred actually was. Mistreated as a young cat before I got him Fred wound up with me after being rescued and cared for. He had only one functioning eye- his left eye- and was missing teeth. He was orange and white with the temperament of a cartoon character. A trifle overweight, Fred was a cookie-stealer. If you set your cookie down he would grab it with what teeth he had left, then settle for licking it. I lost a lot of cookies to Fred.

At night Fred would sit on the counter watching me do dishes or make tea. I would read to Fred, he liked the sound of a human voice. He loved books about African safaris. He also liked the BBC World News on the wireless. Fred would purr most times when you talked to him. If I asked him a question he wouldn’t say anything because cats can’t talk, but he would always seem interested in what I had to say. At night Fred would sleep next to me, purring until one of us drifted off.

Even though Fred suffered terribly as a young cat something in his cat brain made him a kind animal. His default reaction was kindness. If Mia, my little cat, would attack him, he would simply lay down. If she attacked him again he would make a low rumbling noise and walk away. Fred outweighed Mia by ten pounds, but he never took advantage of it. Fred was wired for kindness. In this life that is a miracle.

 Eventually the things Fred suffered as a young cat caught up with him. He was old, no one knows how old. In his later days he moved slower, stayed in one place more. He never complained. One morning I woke up and Fred wasn’t in bed anymore. He got up early, walked downstairs and lay down near his water dish. He didn’t look good. I called my friend T.J. to take him to the emergency vet. T.J. lives about 15 minutes away but was at my house in 10. I phoned the veterinary emergency hospital 3 miles away and gave them Fred’s vitals. Then Fred looked at me, meowed twice, and died.

Frederick and Mia.

I cleared his airway, gave him mouth to mouth- all those dramatic things. I picked him up and we drove to the vet. The vet immediately went to work trying to revive him. But Fred didn’t want to come back. He was gone. His little paws turned white.

The vet brought him into an exam room with me. He was on a white blanket. And I was absolutely alone.

When I got home my little cat Mia, only 3, knew something was wrong. Fred wasn’t there. She had an odd look on her face and she lay on the counter in Fred’s spot in a little ball. For three days.

My friend Billy at work is one of those lads whose wild blonde hair is always messy, but always looks right. He rides a big motorcycle, wins his age category in triathlons. Billy decided to quit his job where we worked and move on. It was a blow since he brought expertise and personality to our workplace. They gave Billy a nice send off at a local pizza place. I normally don’t go to these things but Billy, being a good guy and a great coworker, was a special case.

Fred on the left before he passed away, Mimi the day I brought her home on the right.

I was hurting from Fred being gone. Life was awful. I was shuffling around the outside of the giant hole people fall into when they believe life is filled with suffering and loss. I hung a few toes over the edge of the hole. I felt like I was being sucked in. I pulled it together and went to the pizza place for Billy’s sendoff party. Everyone was enjoying the banter, my friend Pete from work was there and a nice sales rep named Travis.

People said they were sorry about Fred. Then Billy told me a story.

“I found this kitten when I was out running.” He said. I felt myself stepping closer to the edge of the hole. It was going to be one of those bad stories where he found a cat and it died. I couldn’t hear too many more of those. He continued:

“It’s eye was hangin’ all the way out of its head, it was in really bad shape man…” God, can it get any worse? This was painful to hear after losing Fred. “So I picked it up and took it to the animal hospital. They saved her.” He took a pull on his beer.

Then it struck me.

“Hey, which eye was the cat missing?” I asked Billy.

“Ahh, right eye dude.” I felt an odd charge.

“What color was this cat?” I had to nip the onset of hopefulness in the bud. In this life, hopefulness only leads to disappointment. Things don’t work out.

“It’s orange and white.”

On the very same day Fred, my left eyed orange and white cat, died Billy found another orange and white kitten in a field with only its left eye. Run the variables. That is statistically bizarre.

But it gets weirder.

Billy took the one eyed kitten to an animal rescue run by a vet student named Gabe. They named the cat “MiMi”. They did an operation, removed MiMi’s damaged right eye. The same bad eye Fred had. They nursed her back to health. She put on weight, started playing with the other cats. She was oddly good natured according to Gabe.

I went to see this kitten. Gabe brought her into an exam room with me. Then he left the room, closing the door behind him with me and this little one-eyed orange cat inside.

The cat walked around, jumped on the counter. It was extremely small. Only 7 months they said. It sniffed, moving its little head swiftly to compensate for only having one eye. Sunlight filtered through a window in the room.

I sat there, this little kitten with one eye on the counter across the room from me. The absurdity of what I was doing hit me. A grown man. Sitting here like an idiot with an abandoned kitten with one eye. My cat died. It was gone. Maybe I should just deal with it. Life sucks and then you die. The kitten kept its distance. Quite some time passed. Why did they leave me in this room so long?

Then a thought entered my head, from nowhere. No one can hear me in here…

“Say,” I said to the cat, “Do you know Frederick the Cat?” MiMi went wild. She walked in tight circles and meowed three times. She leapt from the counter to the exam table, then from the exam table into my lap. She rolled over on her back in my arms, looked at me with that one eye and meowed one more time. Then she closed her eye and started purring.

I filled out some forms and brought MiMi home. She knew where the litter box and the food were. She jumped up on the counter and sat in the sink. She tried to play with Mia the Cat but Mia couldn’t figure out who this new cat was and hid in the corner. Like she had seen a ghost. MiMi listened to the radio and fell asleep when I read to her.

Yesterday I was petting MiMi’s kitten fur. Before Fred died he had a sore on his left shoulder near his scapula bone. It was a raised bump that had to be drained of fluid. It was almost an inch long and about a quarter inch wide.

MiMi has a little scar there.