Monday, January 21, 2008

My Three Sons

First, there was Basil, the Bookstore Cat. When we first opened our shop, Old Saratoga Books, back in 1996, we were not planning to have a bookstore cat. We had enough on our plate with two young daughters, a new business with lots to renovate and lots to learn, and a few hairy pets at our homestead to take care of. However, living across from a horse barn lends itself to having lots of stray animals show up. Basil was a scraggy, elderly tiger tom with a bent tail and loads of other old injuries who kept strolling over from the barn to play with my girls. He was affectionate and gentle and we grew to love him despite his disgusting, perpetual sneezing habit.

Eventually we were won over and brought Basil to live at the bookshop. After numerous trips to the veterinarian for antibiotics to clear up his everpresent boogers, a customer knowledgeable in herbal healing recommended that we dose his food with the herb eyebright. We got some capsules at the health food store and would sprinkle half a capsule on his wet food every day and miraculously, this regimen worked after a couple of weeks.

Basil was a big hit with all of our bookloving buddies with his affectionate ways and scratchy meow. During the warm months he would sometimes sneak out by pushing open the screen door. The next door diner owner would often show up with this long, bony feline package in his arms and dump him back inside the door and I would weakly apologize and try to keep a better eye on him. Basil was our bookstore cat for two years until one day when he went for a much more adventurous jaunt than usual and decided to cross Broad Street. One of our neighbors tearfully came in to let Dan know that he was lying motionless by the curb, apparently hit in the head by a car.

We were grief-stricken with Basil's demise and vowed to be cat-free at the shop because of the street hazards, but several months later, Maggie, the local antique shop owner approached us with the tale of a sweet-tempered Siamese mix who had been dumped off at the local toilet tissue factory. We were hesitant, but Maggie was persuasively persistent, so we went to take a look at this fat, furry boy cat with lots of extra toes. Maggie theorized that his extra toes made him the unwanted result of a breeder trying to make a Snowshoe Siamese cat, one with white paws on a cat with traditional Siamese markings.

We were hooked on his striking looks and sweet disposition and so Bookstore Cat number two entered our lives. Our Harry Potter-obsessed kids named him Hagrid and he was in residence at Old Saratoga Books for almost two years, until his normally sweet demeanor started to erode. I found him stalking young kids at the shop and swiping at them even when they weren't bothering him, so we had to find him a new home. Luckily, we were able to place him with some bookseller colleagues in Vermont where he is now completely in charge of the (childless) household, sleeping on the parental bed at night and keeping a large dog in line.

Once again, Dan and I agreed to keep the shop feline-free for the future. The extra hair and maintenance, the alienation of cat-allergic customers and the desire to keep as much cat poop out of our lives as possible all led to this firm resolve. And once again, the Fates intervened because we are such suckers for strays.

Sam, our grey and white tom cat, was a midnight drop-off at the neighbor's horse barn, and at the time, was an extremely skinny boy with a plaintive voice, whom the reigning barn cats battered and bruised every time he neared the communal food dish. My kids pleaded with us to install him at the shop and we were not too hard to break down. After getting him cleaned up and neutered, Sam ballooned into the fine, fat specimen that he is. It takes strength to hold him in his favorite poses (on his back like an infant or astride the nape of your neck, draped like a Forties fur piece.) He's been the greeter at the shop now for six years and is generally a lovable and charismatic addition. We have trained him to fear the sound of my jiggling car keys when he gets too near the screen door (a water pistol did the trick) so we don't have to worry about cars, and he is given the run of all three floors of our shop with various cat doors. Many a customer has been surprised in our restroom by Sam's face plowing through the cat flap.

Two summers ago, we were greeted at dusk by another feline drop-off: a nursing mother cat and four young kittens. These black, long-hairs were so cute and almost wormed their way into our hearts, but this time Dan and I held firm, and despite the six weeks we kept them in an outside shed and got them cleaned up at our friendly vet's office, we found good homes for all five beasties by bringing them into the bookstore and walking around with these balls of fluff in our arms.

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