Stacey Gross News Writer

“Please don’t roll around on that cat. She is fragile.”

I’ve written about things I apparently say — now that I’ve become a parent –before. But it’s worth revisiting because, I’ve discovered, there is always something surprising coming out of my mouth now that I have two humans for whom I am entirely legally responsible.

Mr. Patchen suggests that if I would just let the girls roll around on the cat more she would be less fragile. But I feel like that is an inaccurate speculation. So it is to Mr. Patchen I will send the veterinary bills, when my cat winds up in traction.

The cat in question is a four-year-old ginger ball of angora yarn with legs and a face. Her name is Squatch, and I found her behind my shed one cold October afternoon. My neighborhood is a bit overwhelmed by stray cats. There’s an entire social hierarchy of homeless felines who run amok, and were I to win the lottery the first thing I would do after paying Sallie Mae to go suck an egg would be to start my own trap-neuter-release program on the east side.

In any case, she was one of a pair left behind my shed by a tortoiseshell mother who’d been around for quite some time and who I actually never saw again after she left them off. It had been getting colder in the week leading up to the night I noticed them, and the night that I did was also the night of the year’s first snow.

I was still a smoker at the time, and every time I went outside that night I heard them squeaking. But I was not looking for additional mouths to feed, and I was committed to hardening my heart long enough to let mom come back for her offspring. I had my own mewling little ones to deal with.

But, by the next morning, I was still hearing their squawks, although they were growing hoarse by that point. I gave it until that evening, however, before I finally admitted to myself that mom wasn’t likely to be coming back and went to investigate. As I started moving the junk behind the shed around – flower pots and sawhorses and fire rings and cinder blocks and other detritus that would be irrelevant until spring rolled back around – the squeaks got louder, and more frantic. Finally, buried just below a large planter that had been filling with the cold, late-autumn rain and was dangerously situated a foot or so above them, were two little orange loaves of fluff trembling in the cold, wet dirt.

Their ears were still bent over and their eyes were a long way from opening.

Of course, inside they came.

Hi, my name is Sucker, and I’m an incurable softie.

And, thanks to the internet, I learned all about how to replace the functions of a cat mother for one-to-ten-day-old kittens.

It’s not pleasant, you guys. My daughters had just begun sleeping through the night on the regular, but now I had the pleasure of waking up every four hours to their squeals of hunger, to mix kitten milk replacer into a tiny bottle and help them latch on so they could eat. And then, just like real babies, the food made its way to the other end, which inevitably soiled the ratty cleaning towels that comprised their bedding. They were living in a clear plastic tote on the end of my desk in the living room.

We had two cats already, at the time.

Neither of them was all that impressed with the newcomers.

Wickett I’d adopted years before from someone who’d intended to get rid of her in an unpleasant way when her mom got out and came home knocked up. She now lives with my dad and stepmom, where she enjoys the life of a delightfully spoiled only cat. The other, Mr. Bill, had been found in similar conditions to these two in Cherry Grove.

Evening. Middle of the woods. Abandoned, and all alone. Hungry. Cold. At his first vet appointment I was told that he’s an inexplicable anomaly – an at-least-part silver bengal kitten with no interested party is uncommon, given that it’s a fairly pricey breed.

He’s now obese and also pleasantly spoiled, and sleeps with June every night.

Until she wakes up.

At which point he runs away like a little girl who just saw her shadow.

The two orange kittens survived, and thrived, in my home and by about eight weeks I was ready to get them moving on to forever homes. One, the short-haired sister, wound up with another local columnist.

How is Paddy, by the way, Mrs. Hornburg?

The other never did find a forever home, which means that mine became her forever home because, try as I may, I can’t completely harden my wasted heart.

And she became our Squatch.

And a better animal companion my daughters could never ask for. Mr. Bill is also preternaturally patient with their grabby hands and piercing shrieks. He’s gotten so comfortable around them that he will voluntarily seek out opportunities to pile up when we’re watching a movie or having a similarly still, quiet moment.

But Squatch.

Because she has been around the girls since before she could see or properly hear, she is strangely comfortable in their sometimes-crushing grasp. June, especially, bases her identity in large part on her relaltionship with Squatchie.

I’m the type of parent who does not reprimand our animals for nipping or scratching when they’re being tortured with unwanted attempts at physical contact. I will, however, reprimand the children. I consider their relationship with our animals a really great microcosmic way to teach them the concept of consent, which will be important in the coming years, as they are both girls, and beautiful.

Often, I enter a room to find June with Squatch clutched to her chest, on her back, hind legs kicking frantically, and if the poor cat could grunt I know she would be doing it.

“You need to let that cat go if she wants to go,” I tell June often, insisting that she release her death grip on the poor beast and let her decide whether or not she wants to be held. Or taken for a ride in the baby stroller. Or dressed up like Raggedy Ann. And, almost always to my surprise, I find that June can open her arms wide and the cat won’t run away, no matter how much she appeared to be going full William Wallace at the end of Braveheart.

I swear, it looks like Squatch wants nothing more than to unhinge her jaw and scream “FREEDOOOOOOM!”

I’ve promised the girls that if we’re not living in a dumpster behind the grocery store by the time both of our cats are gone I will entertain the notion of getting a dog. But I have to admit, I don’t think we will ever, ever have a pet more willing to be manhandled than the two we have now.