Friday, February 4, 2011

Who's Putting Whom Out of Bed?

A new study out of the University of California, Berkeley, says that we should put our pets out of the bed. They’re germ-laden and will cause us more illness. So says the UC.

Not only do I protest this weak science, my cat does.

My cat will be 21 years old in June: Susan. That’s almost 140 in people years. Though she eats well, she’s thin and demanding. She spends her days on the deck in the sun, and her nights under the covers, cozied up to the small of my back.

She works the system and gets pretty well whatever she wants---unlimited petting, space on the lap, love, admiration, and amazement.

Susan’s always been small. She peaked at about 6 pounds when she was five or six years old, long ago. She’s tiny now, barely 5 pounds. When people first see her, they invariably think she’s a kitten.

Once, when she was young, I saw her whip a big white fluffy cat who dared to look comfortable in our back yard. She watched him with her head low. She growled long and steady to give fair warning. At this, he turned and gave her a lazy look, underestimating the force of her will.

In a flash, Susan leapt on him and they had a cartoon cat fight. A frenzied cloud rose before my eyes with only the occasional paw or ear identifiable as they screeched and yowled in a wild, wild scramble. Then they separated, landing face to face for an instant before the white cat broke and ran for the fence.

Susan watched him for a moment, then decided he wasn’t exiting fast enough to suit her. She lit into him again, catching him on the haunches just before he bounded up and over the enclosure with one last howl.

She sauntered back to sit at my feet, smoothing her coat and pulling tufts of white fur from between her toes, never looking in the direction of the interloper.

In her prime, she killed a bird every day, quite disconcerting for a bird lover like me. I used to come home to the scene of the crime. She brought the slow and the weak to my bedside time after time, dismembering them, eating bones, feathers and all. Mostly I would find feet, beaks, a smudge of blood, and the occasional entrail. Now she watches birds from the windows, occasionally chattering at them, more often showing only detached interest.

She killed a squirrel once, leaving him stretched out in the center of our bedroom with only a hind leg missing. We discovered him after an appraiser had surveyed the entire house, including the bedroom, without mentioning the gruesome scene. (In spite of this, the house appraised well, and we refinanced successfully.)

Back in the day, Susan had a favorite toy, a catnip mouse with pink ears and a leopard-print body. She played with him daily, crouching behind chair legs to ambush him in the hall, sliding across the kitchen floor with him in her jaws, tossing him in the air. She traded that mouse once for what she seemed to perceive as my favorite toy, a furry trinket from Alaska she saw me fawning over after our first trip there. I came home from school to find her leopard-print mouse sitting on the shelf where the souvenir had been, and later found the trinket in the kitchen next to her dish.

Susan rode with us in our big black Chevy Blazer when we moved here from Oklahoma, adjusted to two more changes in residence, supervised two Labrador retrievers, and still travels with us when we go for weekends on the coast or a week in Oregon. She’s a wise old friend and respected confidant.  

And not once, in all these years, has she made me sick.

Put her out of the bed? I don’t think so. I prefer to rely on the long-standing, well-established research that says human contact with cats (and dogs) enhances our lives, reduces our stress, diminishes the blues, and brings us joy. That matches my experience with the venerable Susan. 

Besides, I’m a little intimidated. If she knew about the research, she might put us out of the bed!