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This post is about my feline baby, so I’ve put most of the text after the fold:

percy1My first baby, Percival, is fifteen today, and I can hardly believe it.

I brought him home to my Ann Arbor apartment in September 1995, when he was about one and a half years old. I can still remember the day I met him with amazing clarity. I was about to begin my fourth year of graduate school at UM, and I went with a friend to help her pick out a cat at the Huron Valley Humane Society.

While Kate was busy falling in love with Shu-shu (that’s short for Shuranu Mukanishat Ninglublaga if you must know*), I spied a little brown tabby with white paws and a white chest who caught my eye. His name was “Percival” according to the tag on his cage, and the same sign announced that he was “young and scared” and “needed someone to take him home and love him today.”

I reached out to him to coo and fuss, and he reached a white paw through the bars of his cage to bat me on the nose. I fell immediately in love.

The problem was that I had a brand new landlord, and I had no idea if she would reverse my previous landlord’s strict “no pets” policy. So the night I met and fell in love with Percival I went home, thought of every argument and bribe I could devise that would allow me to adopt him, and rehearsed it in my mind as I tossed and turned in bed all night, unable to sleep.

When I finally got a hold of my landlord the next morning, she agreed to my having a pet with such alacrity that the conversation was downright anticlimactic. My friend Kate drove me back to the Humane Society, I went through my adoption interview with nervous sincerity, and I brought home my new baby in a cardboard box.

“Home” for him has been my rundown grad-school apartment in Ann Arbor Michigan, three different apartments in San Francisco, my in-laws’ house during various vacations, and our house in Louisville for the last four years. I think he likes this house-with its many windows, four levels, and views of neighborhood trees and squirrels—the best, and I’m glad he’s somewhere he loves for his golden years.

Percy has some issues, it must be said. Many a friend and relative has asked me straight-out or in a more subtle fashion if I’ve ever thought of getting rid of him. The answer is a resounding no, and the question frankly hurts my feelings.

Percival is difficult. He was once a stray, and as a result he still thinks every meal may be his last. Despite having been fed meals at regular intervals for over 13 ½ years, in his mind he still exists on the edge of starvation. He also is a cautionary tale against declawing, a procedure undertaken by the guardians who lost or abandoned him. Having no front claws to defend himself, he cannot tear up my furniture (unlike his fully loaded brother Tristan), but he compensates with his teeth. My Percy is a biter.

I feel responsible for these issues, even as I had nothing to do with him. It’s clear to me that whether by choice or accident, Percival was let down by his first family. Who am I to hold early trauma against him? Who among us would not be scarred by abandonment and hunger?

Other parts of his personality are part and parcel with his genetics. Percy has the long ears, long nose, long body, and loud, persistent voice of a Siamese. The incessant meowing can surely try my nerves, but the upside is his super-social, super-devoted, super-people-oriented personality. I more than most cannot fault a creature, any creature, for being a blabbermouth. We are kindred spirits in this regard.

Percy has slowed down a bit in recent years. I don’t find him on top of the kitchen cabinets quite as often as I used to, he bites less, and several years ago he gave up jumping on my head at 5:00 a.m. to request breakfast.

What has not changed is his affectionate nature and devotion to me. He loves me; he follows me around the house, he sits on my mousepad as I work, he sleeps in my bed, and he curls up on my lap at every chance. He has been—truly—a devoted and loving companion, and over the course of 13+ plus years that companionship has taken the edge off of graduate school stress, unemployment stress, work stress, death-in-the-family stress, and general rainy day blues.

Percival has also taught me much about myself. I learned from him that I quite like having something to take care of, and that I am happy as a homebody so long as I am not alone. It’s also no exaggeration to say that Percival helped pave the way to parenthood. When people told me how much babies could cry, I scoffed at them. Nothing could cry as much as Percival, I thought to myself. And for the record, barring a few grisly, colicky days, I was right. And in ways that may sound silly but about which I am deadly earnest, learning to accept Percival’s shortcomings and appreciate his strengths—learning, in other words, to love him for who he is and not who I wish him to be—has taught me truths from which Simon will surely benefit.

Since Simon has come along, I’m afraid Percy doesn’t get quite as much time with me as he used to. But despite this, he has been amazingly sweet with and tolerant of my third boy. He allows Simon to pet him, he follows Simon around, and he is teaching Simon an invaluable lesson in how we should treat animals and about the beauty and love they bestow on our life.

At fifteen, Percival is the picture of health, but also very much a feline senior citizen. I think I have given him a good life, I know he has been a blessing in mine, and I look forward to enjoying his beauty and companionship for however many days we have left together.

* About that name. My friend is a scholar in things archaeological and Mesopotamian. “Shuranu” is Akkadian for cat. “Ningublaga” is a Sumerian god with an awesome name. And “Mukanishat” translates loosely as “She who must be obeyed.

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