The Cat and the Candles

hanukkahOne of my two cats, Minnaloushe (pictured here to the left) is named after the cat in W. B. Yeats’s poem “The Cat and the Moon.” The other, Aengus, is named after Yeats’s “The Song of Wandering Aengus” (not about a cat, but fitting all the same).

Minnaloushe and Aengus show some of the complications of personality. Minnaloushe is friendly to everyone–rushes up to strangers and rubs against them–but does just fine without company for long stretches of the day. Aengus, on the other hand, hides from people he doesn’t know but craves and seeks affection from the select few (including Minnaloushe, who sometimes plays with him, sometimes rubs up against him, and sometimes pushes him away).

Despite appearances, I’d say Aengus is more “extraverted” than Minnaloushe, in that he seeks company more determinedly. But he’s also reserved and selective in his affections, which makes him, well, complex and difficult to define. If cats are difficult to define, what about humans?

I got sidetracked here; I meant to talk about Minnaloushe and the candles! Just before I took this photo, Minnaloushe was gazing at the candles with an expression of awe (or something that looked like awe to me, given my tendency to read into things). But now both cats seem oblivious to the fire. One is bathing, the other sleeping. So, if this suggests anything about humans, I suspect we experience, from moment to moment, only a fraction of the possible awe. But even that is quite a bit.

“Through hollow lands and hilly lands….”

aengus2I met Aengus (formerly Thomas) last Thursday. At first he shrank away from me; I saw that he had only one eye. But when I put my hand inside the cage and began to stroke him, he cuddled up to my hand and purred, and rolled and purred some more.

I knew that I would give him a home, if someone else didn’t do so first; I spoke with the staff at Sean Casey Animal Rescue and explained that I couldn’t come back until Saturday but would come back then. When I returned on Saturday, I heard Aengus’s story. I may have a minor detail or two wrong, but most of this is correct.

Two months ago or more, he was hit by a car (at least it seems that was what happened). His right jaw, palate, and right eye were smashed, but he survived. Because he was feral, he wouldn’t let anyone near him, apparently. It was only after he had become weak and emaciated that someone found him curled up in a flower pot and took him to the animal rescue center.

The rescue staff took him to the veterinarian, who saw that he was too weak for surgery. So the veterinary staff force-fed him and gave him antibiotics until he was strong enough for the medical work (this took several weeks). It was a precarious situation: his injured eye had become severely infected, and his other eye was on the verge of infection.

At last he was ready; the vet removed the injured eye, performed surgery on the jaw, and reconstructed the palate. During his recovery at the veterinary hospital and back at the shelter, he became gentle and affectionate. Many people grew fond of him; I had a strange knowledge, as I took him home, that I was responsible not only toward him, but toward those who had saved his life and spent time with him day after day.

minnaloushe2I named him Aengus after the Yeats poem “The Song of Wandering Aengus.” My other cat, Minnaloushe, is named after the cat in his poem “The Cat and the Moon.” (My Minnaloushe is female; the cat in the poem is male.)

During this time, I was finishing George Kateb’s wonderful book Human Dignity and thinking about his acknowledgment of tensions: in particular, the tension between humans’ capacity to act as stewards of nature and their massive failure to do so. Aengus’s being reflects these two sides: he was almost killed by a human, and yet he lives and purrs, thanks to the dedication of the rescue staff, vet, and visitors.

To keep Minnaloushe and Aengus separate for the time being (except for now and then), and to make sure each one gets what he or she needs, I have worked out a complex system. At night, I have Minnaloushe in my bedroom, with door closed; Aengus gets to roam the apartment. When I am out of the house, or when Aengus is eating, Aengus stays in the study, with door closed, and Minnaloushe stays anywhere else. When I am home and not sleeping, and Aengus is not eating, I keep him in the study but leave the door ajar. Minnaloushe comes in now and then and rolls over on the floor. She stays about three feet away from him but seems relaxed at that distance. If she gets testy, I take her out of the room and play with her a bit. Tomorrow I return to teaching, so Aengus will stay alone in the study all day long (with food, water, and litter, of course).

Sometimes Aengus gives me a probing stare with his one eye. Often he rolls over and invites me to scratch his belly. Minnaloushe does similar things. She plays, and he doesn’t yet, but today he batted at a toy (once) for the first time.

This is a departure from my usual pieces about education, but it’s a worthy aberration. Long live Aengus and Minnaloushe, and Happy New Year to them and to you.