If you know anything about cats, you know they choose you; you don’t choose them. They decide who strokes them and feeds them. They decide who they will love and who they won’t. You don’t own them; they own you. And the day Parnelli decided he was going to own me, I was very lucky.
We met at “Orphaned Felines” when a warm, friendly woman led me to a room filled with cages. Each held a little fur ball of energy. Up until now, I was a dog owner and didn’t have a clue how to select a good cat. So, I surmised, the first animal that would let me hold him/her and purred in the process, would be friendly enough to take home.
So, I went about my task — opening the cages, picking up the kittens, stroking them and then returning them to their cages because none of them purred. After handling about twelve animals, I grew worried . . . obviously; my selection process wasn’t working. But I promised my children I would bring home a kitten, so, I kept trying.
As if he read my mind, a six-week old, black and white kitten with Peridot green eyes and a very pink nose beckoned me with a series of tiny meows from one of the bottom tier cages. He stuck his little white paw through the steel bars, begging me to give him a chance.
I opened the cage and picked up this mouthy kitten, and the second I held him close, he nuzzled my neck, and purred as loud as a lion. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “Either you love me very much, or you know the way out of here!” Either way, this little rascal was smart enough to be making the trip home with me.
The children were so excited when they saw him. He was playful and loving. He allowed the girls to kiss and hug him. He never scratched them. He never hissed. He never jumped up on tables and other kitty “no-no’s” – in fact, he was more like a puppy than a stereotyped kitten—with the exception of not having to “house break” him.
We named him, “Parnelli” because he’d race around the house as fast as he could go, stop on a dime, fall over, and fall fast asleep a second later. It was if he was the famous race car driver Parnelli Jones making a pit stop.
In a few weeks, my eight-year old Sarah had Parnelli riding in a doll buggy, wearing a baby bonnet. She tucked him into bed in her doll cradle at night, read him a story and a kissed him goodnight. This little trooper took all the loving two young children could dish out. When he had enough, he would jump up on the bookcase where they couldn’t reach him and take a break.
Parnelli learned to sit, come, and shake paws. He would even perform all of his tricks for company–providing there was a few treats in it for him. He played his own version of “fetch” with a furry gray “mousy” that we bought in the grocery store. Curiously enough, he enjoyed getting dressed up He especially loved to wear a bow tie–you could just tell the way he proudly pranced around that he knew he looked good.
As Parnelli got bigger, our love for him grew. But then tragedy struck. Ten years after Parnelli came to live with us, our family when through a divorce, and I had to leave. As much as I wanted to take him with me, I thought it would be terribly unfair to the girls to take their pet – so Parnelli stayed with my daughters and their father.
As you might imagine, being sent away from my family was torture, and my angst included Parnelli. It was months before I stopped looking down, so not to step on him because he usually was under my feet. I missed his snuggling at night and his funny antics that made me giggle throughout the day. I even missed his demanding “meows” early in the morning when he announced it was time for breakfast, and he spurred me into action to fulfill his wishes.
Everyone at work thought it was very curious that I kept Parnelli’s picture on my desk right beside the children. He was more than a cat or a pet, he was just a four-legged child. I had to accept Parnelli and I would never be together again.
Then one night after supper, I received a distress call from my youngest daughter, now age eighteen. “Mom. I need some help. Would you take Parnelli? Dad’s going to put him to sleep!”
Panic rose in my throat, “Is he sick?”
“No,” she answered. “Since I moved out, Dad’s sick of taking care of him. That’s all. I can’t have him where I’m living. Parnelli’s perfectly fine. Please say yes, Mom.”
“YES, Of course! YES!” I hung up the phone knowing my “baby” was coming back to me!
Ten minutes later Parnelli was in my arms. It was a joyous reunion, and even though his living quarters had shrunk to a two-bedroom condo from a four-bedroom house in the country, Parnelli seemed happy. He purred non-stop for a month, snuggling with me whenever I was still. We “talked” because he knew I understood his meow intonations. He seemed elated he was “home” again.
Parnelli lived his retirement years in the lap of luxury. He lounged on a heated king-size water bed in the boudoir most of the day, sometimes getting up to stretch, have a snack or make a needed trip his private “box.” He properly trained my new husband, Ken to his satisfaction. He made sure he got his milk in the morning and his treats at night. And every evening after supper, Parnelli sat between us on the sofa as we watch television and stroked his silky black and white coat. One year on Thanksgiving, he jumped on the chair at the head of the table and sat there waiting to be served. You see, Parnelli never realized he was a cat.
As I watched his round, eighteen-pound body sprawl in the sunshine by the patio door, stretching and yawning before he returned to his most comfortable sleeping position on the couch, I was so grateful he was with me again. He’d chatter at the birds by the window, and on good days, he played like a kitten. Parnelli loved to crawl into empty boxes, and I laughed so hard when he tried to get his fat self into a tiny jewelry box, as he looked at me as if it was my fault he didn’t fit.
Parnelli’s life was long and good. We enjoyed each other as much as a human and a cat can. When his tired, old seventeen-year old body couldn’t sustain him any longer and he had to leave me behind, it was the saddest day in my life.
But a friendship like ours endures the ages, and I know someday we’ll walk together cuddle again, reminiscing about the good old days when we both were young.