This is a piece I wrote last year on our cat Tango’s first birthday, but didn’t post for reasons unknown. I revisited it this week on her second birthday and it’s all still true.
I believe that everyone who gets a terminal diagnosis should also be given a kitten*. The doctor comes in, grim-faced, carrying a clipboard and a small cage branded with the name of the local animal shelter. The patient scarcely acknowledges the number of months or years she has left because this small, impossibly soft little fuzzball is vibrating against her chest, completely content.
[*Let’s not get bogged down into the cat v. dog debate. Anyone who claims to “hate” cats has never snuggled a 3lb. kitten. Do so and get back to me. In the meantime, substitute “puppy” instead of “kitten” if you wish, though I would point out that cats are a heck of a lot less work than dogs, a fact that becomes exceedingly important if you’re losing mobility by the day. But hey, if you’re the one dying, feel free to bend the rules!]
That’s basically how we met Tango, except the scene took place at the Washington Animal Rescue League and it was DP holding the kitten. The staff member helping us delivered the classic “I’m just going to get some paperwork. Can you hold her for a minute?” line and disappeared.
When DP’s eyes met mine, I knew it was over. Nevermind that it was the very first cage by the door and we were just supposed to be “looking.” The brown little tiger scarcely opened her eyes as she rubbed her face against his fingers and snuggled down in his arms, purring very, very loudly.
We did our due diligence though, checking out all the residents of Kitty City and leaving without putting in an application so that we could take a night to think about it. But we both knew it was a foregone conclusion.
Really, the only thing left to decide was what to name her. Her shelter-given name, Miracle, was a no go. “That’s like a guarantee she’ll be a terror,” we agreed.
So over margaritas and enchiladas that night, we pitched names to each other. I was lobbying for Taco, for obvious reasons, but DP wasn’t giving in.
“Tango!” I exclaimed, clearly not wanting to let go of Taco. After all, she was our second cat, and well, it takes two…
We ran through 20+ more options (because once you decide, you can’t decide anymore), but the name Tango felt as right as our decision to adopt her.
We were back at the shelter the next day, 15 minutes after it opened. Miracle/Tango was still in her primo-adoption spot cage by the door, but this time she was ready to play.
“Wow, she’s got a lot of energy,” the volunteer said when we took her out, as Miracle/Tango tried to climb the leg of my jeans using her claws. “And I see she’s been brought back once already. Are you sure you’re ready for this?”
What? That snoozing, purring pile of fluff from last night? No way.
Tango was wild. Having gotten Lizzie at nine months old, we had no idea about the boundless energy of a 2-month-23-day-old kitten. When we got her home, she was in constant motion – sniffing electrical outlets, pawing at every piece of lint on the carpet, pouncing on our fingers if we moved them too fast. She zoomed around the basement rec room for hours, chasing blue fake bird feathers on the string DP was whirring above her head. She sprinted, leapt, batted, dove, rolled, and sprinted again until she had to rest, panting, her little sides heaving.
Our sides were heaving too – from laughing so hard. We couldn’t be sad around this little munchkin. She was just too cute and too funny. DP would go down to the basement to feed her in the mornings and she would jump in his lap, purring away as they bonded…until she saw the drawstring of his sweatpants and launched her attack.
I loved just looking at her. There was so much to memorize – how the spots on her sides stretch into stripes, the white eyeliner around her eyes…she’s just a striking-looking cat:
Lizzie had an entirely different opinion. She did not like this intruder, not one bit. Our attempt to follow the online advice on introducing new cats over the course of a week backfired badly. The cats were supposed to eat on opposite sides of a door so that they would associate the new cat’s smell with food – something positive. Lizzie refused to get anywhere near her food bowl when we took it down to the basement, arching her back and hissing at the noise from behind the bathroom door. And with Tango bounding from one corner of the room to the other, I’m sure Lizzie thought she was in danger of being mauled by a large junkyard dog instead of a tiny kitten a quarter of her size.
Eventually, we gave up and introduced them face-to-face on opposite sides of the french doors leading to the kitchen. A lot of aggressive tail swishing and pawing under the door ensued, each bout ending with a hiss from Lizzie.
And that’s pretty much their relationship today, with the addition of at least two rounds per day of all-out sprints from one end of the house to the other. Sometimes Lizzie is chasing, sometimes Tango. The tables and chairs become strategic fortress walls for one cat to get higher than the other and paw-shadowboxing ensues until someone takes off running again. It always ends with Lizzie hissing and Tango flopping down on her side to expose her belly, asking “what? who me?” And then they return to ignoring each other; Tango sunning on a windowsill, Lizzie curled up on the cat tower. Sisters.
After the careening stage of kittendom, Tango grew into a plucky little teenager. Still exploring her world, but now alternating between death-defying feats on top of the cabinets and sleeping way too late. She also has developed an unyielding propensity for crinkly wrappers. She begs for them and as soon as I drop one, she grabs it with her teeth and goes skittering across the hardwood floor and making a game out of her prize. I usually find it on the bed at night, an offering. At least it’s better than a dead mouse.
While it’s still a dippy name, in many ways, Tango is our miracle. She came into our family at the perfect time when we were struggling to accept the gravity of my ALS diagnosis and our dawning realization that having children was no longer part of the equation. Tango made us laugh again.
She is love incarnate – she can’t help but purr when you stroke her. She just wants to be with you, whatever you’re doing. Whatever cat-shape she makes when she falls asleep, you can count on her having a wide, sleepy smile on her face. She embodies the quote from Jean Cocteau, “I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.”