The loyalty of true friends

Steve Hammer

In a life full of rented rooms and an ever-changing cast of characters, my two most loyal friends and companions over the past half-decade have been two slightly dysfunctional cats, Tisha and Soja, who act as my closest confidants and advisers.

If an armed conflict were ever to break out between dog lovers and cat fanciers, I would gladly strap on an AK-47 for the side of cats. Not that I dislike dogs, but people who tend to love dogs aren't, generally, the kind of person I like.

To me, I have a longstanding lack of respect for dogs. Why? Because of all the animals on the planet, only the dog has chosen to enslave himself to humans. In exchange for a few bits of kibble and a warm place to sleep, the entire canine species has made itself slaves to humans. With enough training, they'll do just about anything you ask.

Don't fool yourself; if the police could train Bengal tigers and elephants to sniff out drugs and chase criminals, they would. I don't want to own dogs because I don't want to be a slaveholder.

Cats, on the other hand, rarely give away their love unconditionally. And they'd certainly never let themselves be employed by the cops like dogs do. Just as in humans, the trust and love of cats needs to be earned and won.

Tisha entered my life in 2000. Our downstairs neighbor had found her wandering around the apartment complex and befriended her. Tisha frequently padded her way up the stairs to visit me and my then-girlfriend, and when the neighbors moved she took up permanent residence with us.

Her fur is jet-black, with a tint of fire-red that shows up only under sunlight. Despite being an indoors cat, she's maintained her youthful figure and has not appeared to have aged at all since 2000, while I feel and look like a lifetime has passed since then.

The entire world is Tisha's personal scratching post. No wooden surface within her reach is safe from her claw sharpening. Even though she never goes outside except for a rare excursion to the patio, she wants to maintain her talons at full razor-sharp readiness.

The funny thing is, she never uses her claws for anything more than sharpening. When she tussles with Soja, who entered my family already declawed, Tisha will bat her paws but never scratches her.

Tisha's preferred method of displaying affection is to sink her claws softly into your flesh, repeatedly, until the recipient either shoos her away or cries out in pain. Tisha seems baffled at the latter response and is immediately penitent.

Nothing made of wood lasts more than an afternoon before she breaks it in.

Just as old married couples make secret pacts to ignore each other's irritating habits, I've long since given up on trying to stop her. I own no antiques or other valuable items for her to destroy and if it gives her pleasure to scratch through several layers of wood on the door paneling, who am I to tell her no?

I have had far worse offenses committed against me in that apartment by people with much less value to me than Tisha. I like watching women's hoops on TV and listening to classic R&B; Tisha likes to sharpen her claws to inflate her vanity. Who am I to quarrel with her?

Soja moved in a year or two later. My ex worked at an animal hospital and one day an elderly couple brought Soja in to be euthanized. Their reason for ordering her execution was that they'd gotten a new kitten and preferred it over Soja. In a noble gesture, my ex saved her from lethal injection and brought her home.

Perhaps my ex sensed that Soja's fate - to be replaced by a younger, prettier, newer model - could also be her own, as indeed it turned out to be. While my ex is long gone, Soja remains, an extremely loving but codependent and jealous companion.

While Tisha is curious and vivacious with almost everyone, Soja is much more taciturn in her dealings with unknown humans. It takes several visits before she begins to warm to someone. Perhaps, like many people I know, she's only known heartbreak and is skeptical of newcomers who extend a hand in friendship.

But when she falls in love, Soja throws herself into the relationship with the reckless abandon of a schoolgirl. More precisely, she throws herself onto your lap, your shoulders, any area on which she can lay.

Moreso than any cat I've seen, Soja likes to talk. She issues comments on just about any occasion and seems frustrated at the proven inability of humans to decipher them. On occasions where the verbal protests result in a desired action being taken, whether it's more food or being scratched behind her ears, she grunts affirmatively, wondering why all of her edicts are not equally filled.

She also takes an instant disliking to some people and never accepts their offers of caresses or even cat treats. Maybe she's content with knowing only a few people and giving them her all, again, like many humans I know.

Whether I'm gone for five minutes or a few days, I am greeted with the same scolding look upon my return. Even after five years spent together, she never seems fully convinced of my commitment to the relationship.

We make an interesting family, the three of us, none of us without flaws but each of us willing to overlook the others' faults. I could only wish that everyone had such loyal friends as I do with Soja and Tisha.


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