My fiancé, Spencer, texts me a little before noon.
“Call me on your lunch break, I have something important to ask you.”
I’m obviously too excited by this text to wait until noon. I hastily wrap up my work and call him in the hallway.
“I have a proposition for you,” Spencer begins slowly. “You know how we have been thinking about getting a pet?”
“What about two pets? That are free?”
“What kind of pets? What kind of crappy pets are free?”
“Well, that’s the thing. Two cats.”
“You know I hate cats!”
“Do you hate cats, or do you just think you hate cats?”
“You know I’m allergic.”
“That’s the thing—these are hypoallergenic cats.”
“What the hell does that even mean—you know what, let’s talk about this when I get home.”
I stomp to my desk and begin googling hypoallergenic cats. All I find are pictures of those cats that don’t grow fur. I learn their dry pink skin must be moisturized daily and that they leave tiny butthole prints on glass surfaces. Disgusting. I head back to the break room.
My entire life I have lived with dogs—mostly Labrador retrievers. Labs will eat anything and love everyone—they are simple to understand. Before the phone call at work, when I was first dating Spencer, I told him that I was resolutely a dog person. He seemed happy enough to co-parent a dog with me someday. But when we were closer to engagement, he confessed that his only childhood pet, Lester—a hairy overweight cat that sat like a human on the floor and hissed when you walked by—had captured his heart. He wanted a cat.
“Why do you want a pet that hates you?” I ask Spencer when he showed me another blurry photo of Lester’s orange mess of fur.
“Well that’s the thing—he hated everyone but me!”
“You’ll get a cat when you attend my funeral. I’ll arrange for someone to hand you a kitten as I’m lowered into the ground.”
I’ve made my point. Spencer stops showing me photos of the orange monstrosity.
After we finally got engaged and moved into our first apartment, we were ready to adopt our first pet. We talked about getting fish but we both had enough of an ego that we needed the animal to love us. We agreed a small dog was a good choice because it would be better suited to apartment living. We drove around our apartment complex slowly, looking at people and their dogs. We idled in our car as an older couple with fluffy white hair walked a small poofy dog.
“The fluff to dog ratio is too high on that one,” I told Spencer.
The neighbor below us ambled by with his corgi. He was a heavier young guy in a sweater vest that was too small for him. The dog’s ears flopped comically in the wind, its body protected by a red sweater. Our eccentric video-game obsessed neighbor walked her Yorkie that also had clothes on—a tiny sweatshirt. It quivered nervously. An attractive young couple in matching Patagonia jogged by with their lean Great Dane.
Where do we fit into this social scene? Spencer is bespectacled, wears colorful socks that he refuses to match, and is surprisingly athletic. My daily uniform is flannel and jeans. I avoid organized sports at all costs, but I jog regularly when the weather is nice. Spencer and I are a cool, young couple, but maybe not that good-looking—we are not blind to the reality that we look like grownup band geeks. We split the difference between the Great Dane and the Yorkie and decided we should own a medium-sized, generic-looking dog.
To find a medium-sized dog for a medium-cool couple I discreetly scoured the shelter websites while I should have been working. Eventually, we visited a farm in the middle of Nebraska that was full of dogs. The farm owner, a retired lady in a housedress, waddled around the premises with a diapered chihuahua under one arm and a blind Shih Tzu under the other while she gave us a tour. We were primarily there to see a dog named Suzie Q—a spunky looking dog with a stubby tail, an ambiguous breed, and a big smile. She was supposedly full of personality yet seemed apathetic that we had driven to the middle of nowhere to pet her grubby coat.
“Hello Miss Suzie!!” I said brightly to the dog. She stared at the open door to her pen.
I grabbed her leash and offered it to Spencer. He walked her out of the pen and wiggled the leash up and down a few times in a wave. Neither Spencer nor Suzie Q made eye contact with each other or seemed to know how to go on a walk, but the image was right. An unassuming man with a perfectly non-threatening but also non-frilly dog. This dog was on-brand for us as a couple, and we would all get comfortable with each other eventually. I told the dog farm lady that we will be back in a week.
We were not back in a week. Before we saw Suzie Q, I was convinced I was an active dog person. But the early spring weather that week had hit us with days full of sleet and I had spent every evening on the couch after work. Even that weekend when the weather had cleared up, I spent my mornings doing what I love best—sleeping in. Reflecting on that week, I realized I had hoped a dog would make me the kind of person I want to be—active, fit, and with a closet full of outdoor gear. Instead, I imagined walking Suzie Q during the wintertime—my frozen hands picking up dog poop in the snow—with absolute dread while Spence kept asking, “When are we going to pick up that dog?” to which I responded “soon” but never scheduled a time to pick her up.
And that’s when Spencer asks me to call him during my lunch break. First of all, I had been in charge of the pet hunt when suddenly Spencer became a shady cat dealer peddling two cats for the price of free? Secondly, cats. I was very clear with him about how I hate cats. Thirdly, free. What was wrong with them that they were free? But he begs me to at least meet the cats. He reminds me that I should be more open-minded. I am very open-minded—to looking at these cats once and never seeing them again—so I finally give in.
As we enter the dimly lit house, we know something is off. Clothing is pushed into corners and an orange cereal box sits on the counter that someone has not bothered to close. The first thing we smell is dust. We go into the basement careful to not hit our heads on the ceiling. A black cat sits in the middle of the empty room. Another pair of yellow eyes glows from inside a hole in the wall. Spencer sits on the floor and the first cat saunters over to rub itself on him before settling in his lap. Turns out these cats had been abandoned by a family that skipped town to avoid paying rent. For weeks the empty house, full of garbage and scattered furniture, was solely occupied by two black cats living in the wall.
I had no intention of adopting the cats when we entered the basement but seeing them in front of me made me consider a future with them. I was going to start medical school in another year. My schedule would be incredibly busy, and this meant that Spencer was going to do all the pet care. And as I watch him interact with these dusty wall-dwelling cats and smile when one of them crawls into his lap, I decide to give Spencer what he wants. After all, I didn’t have to like them, they could be his pets.
The next day we force the cats into two plastic pet carriers. We purposefully take them under the cover of night and sprint into our building before our apartment manager notices the two new occupants. And as planned, I am prepared to dislike these animals. Spencer spends all his time trying to coax them out from under our saggy red couch with treats and I support him by lounging on the said couch while I watch TV. That night he corrals the cats into the bathroom to sleep. The next morning, I wake up to yowls of frustration. I pee angrily and thwart their attempts to escape by planting my feet in front of the door when I leave. One cat attempts to fake right and run left to freedom. I block the prison break and it bumps its head against my shin. I feel no remorse.
When I return from work that afternoon, the cat is on top of the refrigerator. Clearly, Spencer felt bad that they were being held captive in the bathroom and released them after I left. I stare at the cat and she stares back. I frustratedly pull her off the fridge. Do these cats explore every inch of our home when we are out? Feeling violated, I lock them both in the bathroom again.
I hear a warbling meow and turn to see a tiny paw grasping under the door. The paw pushes something out from underneath that rolls onto the carpet at my feet. I bend over to inspect what I now see is a cat turd. It feels like a huge FU from this cat that I’ve trapped in the bathroom. Laughing loudly, I swing open the door to lock eyes with the smaller cat. She gives me a wry look that says she knows exactly what she’s done.
“What did Spencer say your name is? Rey?”
I pet the cat clumsily. She saunters out of the bathroom, pleased with herself.
“I like your attitude,” I confess and laugh again.
That night the cats have hidden under the couch again. Spencer and I start a TV show and settle into the cough together. Late into our final episode before we head to bed, Rey climbs out from under the couch and climbs up onto the cushion next to me. I pet her gently while Spencer’s face falls.
“She won’t even look at me and I’ve been trying to bond with her all week! And now she prefers you?!”
I cackle, delighted. He tries to pet her, and she sprints away. Several minutes later she is back at my side but looks at him warily.
“I guess she is mine now.”
“Uh-huh.” He tries to look disinterested, but I can tell from his expression that he is jealous. And I am tickled. I happily pet my cat. I still hate cats, but I’ll make an exception for this one.
About the Creator:
Ellen Voigt is a second-year MSTP student at the Carver College of Medicine. She enjoys being outside and her favorite mediums to create are writing and 2D art.