I Live With a Cat Who Acts Just Like a Dog
I know that my cat, Mina, wouldn’t mind me calling her a prototypical feline. After all, like most members of her species, she has a royal countenance that screams, “I reign supreme. Just accept it already, and get me a treat. Then, maybe, if you don’t irritate me too much, I’ll make you my court jester.”
I grew up with cats who carried themselves similarly — although some were sweeter and some were edgier than the rest — so I was never surprised by her manner.
When my husband, Andrew, and I decided to adopt a kitten as a companion for her six years ago, I figured that the next one would be the same way. It turns out, I was barking up the wrong tree. Somehow, despite all appearances, I ended up with a dog-cat.
The Makings of a Classic Starter Cat
When I think back, I realize that the distinction between the two animals may have seemed even more pronounced because Mina has always been so intensely catlike: She is a purebred Chocolate Point Siamese, with a delicate head, long whiskers, bright blue eyes and a perfect ski jump nose, balanced on a long neck. Even as felines go, she is particularly elegant, graceful and feminine, jumping to incredible heights from a standing position without apparent effort.
From the beginning, she was conscientious about her appearance, grooming herself constantly, and she tried to groom people with her sandpaper tongue, too — if they let her. When I went to sleep at night, she followed me onto the bed, padding and circling until she found the perfect cozy spot against my legs. Once slumbering, she remained entwined in a perfectly circular ball for the entire night.
Temperamentally, she has always liked a lot of attention — but only on her terms. When the mood strikes, she tiptoes up to you and commands (with a throaty meow) that you squat down close to her, so that she can purr and rub her cheek against your own.
Actually, it was that shrill cry that prompted us to consider another cat. Mina would meow frequently late at night — and the sound was not at all melodic. We wondered if maybe she was lonely. Andrew wanted a puppy, but I nixed that idea. I’d never had a dog before, and they seemed like too much work. Plus, Mina was surely going to rebuff some big canine!
So when a neighbor of ours who rescues cats mentioned to Andrew that she was fostering a kitten who also appeared to be part Siamese, Andrew figured that we had nothing to lose by meeting him.
Of course, we were lost the moment the woman entered our apartment with this little guy asleep in the palm of her hand. He looked tiny by comparison to Mina, although she was only a runty 7 pounds. Who could resist a 3-pound kitten, especially one who already showed signs of a big, lopsided black spot splashed across his nose?
We named him Waldo, and although Mina did not seem impressed with her new brother, he quickly became a part of our family.
My Curious Doglike Cat Comes Home
Waldo was rescued from an abandoned house in South Central Los Angeles, where his mother and siblings had been rounded up and taken to a kill shelter. That experience seemed to account for some of his unusual behavior at first: He suckled the fringe on blankets and hid and shook for hours whenever he heard a vacuum cleaner. He also wasn’t adept at using a litterbox, which had me in a panicked state for a few months.
As he got older, other unique attributes became apparent: That black spot on his nose emerged full force, making him look like a koala. Plus, he had enormous paws, which should have forecasted the future for us. Waldo quickly grew to be twice Mina’s size in height and also weight — he was almost 14 pounds, but without the fat belly that's characteristic of big cats.
People who came over and met him for the first time would always remark on his size.
“He’s huge!” they’d marvel.
“He’s not huge,” Andrew would quip defensively. “He’s big-boned.”
While Mina had liked to chase string and other cat toys as a kitten, she’s mostly outgrown that interest. Waldo not only loves to play with everything from feather toys to rubber balls, but he fetches and plays soccer.
To this day, if you throw a felt pet toy his way, he'll likely chase it down, gather it in his mouth, bring it back to you — and then back up and wait for you to throw it again. Sometimes, if you roll a ball in his direction, he will literally kick it back to you and then expect you to kick it back to him.
A Feline With Canine Manners
Waldo was scrappy from the get-go in a non-feline way. Even as an adult, he behaves like a puppy, gnawing on your hand without biting down, and rolling around on his back before jumping up and bounding away.
He doesn’t growl, but when he's obviously frustrated, he snorts at you, as if miffed. And he's never been a fantastic jumper, like most members of his species. He can get up on counters and shelves, after readying himself for several seconds, but he sometimes misses and slips.
He eats everything in sight, including a sticker off Andrew’s shirt once, lettuce left on a plate and an olive that dropped to the floor.
By comparison to Mina, he's always been sloppy. When she tried to groom him once because he wasn’t doing enough for her taste, he simply swatted her away. He would never deign to hiss because that’s just not something that he does.
At night, when Andrew and I go to sleep, he jumps on the bed like his sister. But instead of finding the perfect spot to curl up in, he plops down wherever and sprawls out, often sleeping in absurd positions — and displacing poor Mina!
One day, a few years after Waldo came into our lives, I was watching him twitch in his sleep, with his legs haphazardly splayed and his belly facing up.
“He is the strangest cat ever,” I remarked to Andrew, who glanced over at him and grinned.
“He’s a dog-cat,” my husband replied.
And I realized that he was right. Andrew had gotten the puppy that he wanted, and I had experienced a small taste of life with a part-pup (at least in spirit). It turns out that it isn’t half bad.
Nora Zelevansky's work has appeared in Elle, Self, The Daily Beast and The Los Angeles Times, to name a few. Her first novel, Semi-Charmed Life, comes out in July. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and kitties.