The Story of Merle, From Barn Kitty to King of the Castle In His Own Mind
Late last summer, Tyler asked “Can I get a barn kitty from Katie’s Grandma’s house?” Being the practical Mom that I am, I answered a resounding, no, absolutely not. In a few short weeks, the girls would be back in school, Tyler away at college, and all animal maintenance on my shoulders. Where would it sleep? We already had a cat, albeit one that rarely made an appearance amongst humans, but a cat and two dogs were enough. Why would I want another critter to care for?
“Well, look at him,” he said, flashing me a picture of Katie with a tiny runt of a kitty sitting on her shoulder like a bedraggled parrot. It was not a handsome kitty.
I rolled my eyes. “The answer is still no,” I said, shaking my head at the homely kitten, although I had to admit it was a charming pose. My mind moved onto other things.
That night as I tried to sleep, I couldn’t stop thinking about that kitten. In that single pic, the posture of that scruffy little face stuck in my head. My logical self told me I was crazy for even entertaining the notion of having another animal living here, even if it was just until Tyler lived somewhere that would allow him to have a cat. Probably just a year, I reasoned. And what if we saved the little runt of a kitten from the barn kitty life, and gave him a loving home…
Have I mentioned I watched a lot of animal cartoons growing up?
The next morning, I texted Tyler from work. “When do you need an answer about the cat?” And so it began. I’ll spare you the details of the text conversations between the kids, my husband and me. To sum, there was a tiny bit of resistance, lots of debate and all kinds of mushy words of how a deprived little kitty needed a home. I should mention there was not a shred of logic.
In the hours that followed, you would have thought we’d been expecting a newborn baby. We batted around names, with Tyler having the final say, and decided he’d be called Merlin. We went to the pet store for new toys and treats, more kitty litter and a separate litter box, kitten food and the much-needed kitty door for Tyler’s room. As they rang up the purchases, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d somehow been bamboozled. I have always been too big a softie when it comes to furry creatures with big, round eyes. Sucker.
We spent the evening waiting for Katie to come back from her Grandma’s with the new kitty. As we have other pets, and he had been mostly living outside and had yet to be examined by a vet, we met him outside in the garage. He was so skinny and tiny!
Despite his puny appearance, he had an obvious curiosity about everything going on, and was so trusting and friendly.
Until I put him in the sink.
He had some jumpy little fleas on him, and we had an aged bottle of flea shampoo upstairs, so I figured why not? This pitiable little kitten went from curious to a terrified lump of fur in a matter of seconds. I thought I’d killed the poor thing from the shock as he went completely limp. There was no fight in him, but as soon as we got him in the towel he had completely forgiven me. Little did I know at the time that dog flea shampoo can be toxic to cats, or I really would have thought I had killed him.
Not surprisingly, he ended up spending the night in Tyler’s room, not the garage. After a trip to the vet first thing in the morning, it was determined he had quite a few health issues besides just fleas. We ended up with anti-worm medication, eye drops for his runny eye and, of course, they did a flea treatment. He wasn’t healthy enough for his first round of vaccinations.
Velma, our other cat, did not have much use for him, which ended up being a good thing since he had his health woes to overcome before we wanted them to meet. Chester and Grendel were their nosy selves, but took to him better than I thought they would. Of course, he was usually in someone’s arms or lap, so he was gradually introduced. Early on, he showed those two he wasn’t afraid of them by leaping down right in the middle of the two of them while they had been looking at him like a pack of hungry hyenas. It may have been in that very moment that he decided he was one of the boys, an honorary dog in his own right.
Tyler was like a new father to his pet. It was only a week before he had to head back to school, and he spent as much time with him as he could. My favorite memory from that week, though, was when Tyler told me, “All he wants to do is play in the middle of the night, and all I want to do is sleep”. He also had a hard time leaving him, even if it was to go out with friends. I told him welcome to Parenthood Lite.
Summer wound down, the kids all went back to school, and I found myself with a kitten who thought he was a dog, following me from room to room, bringing me his toys and looking for me in the morning for his daily spoon of soft food. In fact, the daily spoon is the one thing he and Velma can agree on, and I often wake in the morning to find two cats roaming around looking for me to get up and get them their treat.
It’s been about six months since he’s wormed (literally) his way into our household, and I can’t believe it had ever been a question of “Mom, can we keep him?” While he still battles with his runny eye, an issue I imagine he’ll deal with most of the time, he’s grown to be a spunky, curious, and affectionate cat.
Despite my best efforts to not get too attached to him (he’s Tyler’s cat after all) I find myself completely in love with this mangy little guy. He still hasn’t mastered the ability to actually meow, instead making a sort of chirping sound. (Hmm, a cat that thinks he’s a dog and sounds like a bird. Perhaps he really does have an identity crisis.) He greets me when I get home from work, is always looking for a snuggle, and constantly finds ways to endear himself to me. I hate to admit it, but most of the recent photos on my phone are of Merlin and I can’t go to the store without bringing him some sort of toy or treat home. At some point I became Crazy Cat Lady and the notion is unsettling. I thought that only happened to empty nesters.
If you were to ask him (and he could talk—I’m not that crazy yet), I believe he would tell you he’s King of the Castle here at the house. There may be a dog or cat around here that would disagree with his assessment, but I doubt they’d do anything about it.
Regardless of who rules the roost, none can argue he’s injected some excitement into the quiet household, whether he’s playing the part of cat, dog or parrot. Not too shabby for the runt-of-the-litter barn kitty he started off life as in the beginning.