August 12, 2013 will be the 17th anniversary of the day I adopted my cat Ozzy. He died on April 20, 2013. This essay is part of a long narrative I am writing about our 16+ years together. And don’t forget that August 17 is Black Cat Appreciation Day.
I finished eating the breakfast bowl and stared at the container. Ozzy loved Jimmy Dean Breakfast Bowls. After eating, I used to leave a morsel of sausage in the bottom of the plastic bowl and give it to him. He would eat the sausage and then lick up all of the gravy and sausage, moving the bowl around with his nose. Sometimes when he was done, a spot of gravy remained on the tip of his nose. It always made me laugh. He would look at me with a quizzical gaze – what was so funny? In his last days, he could no longer groom himself, so I would have to wipe his nose and mouth. I think I will have to give up breakfast bowls. I don’t enjoy eating them by myself.
When I first got Ozzy, I didn’t know that he would become a human food connoisseur. My only house cat experience was with Smokey, who only ate cat food, unless it was in the hands of his lord and master, my ex-boyfriend. He would eat shredded wheat and milk from his bowl, but was not interested in my breakfast dishes. In fact, Smokey was not interested in me at all. I was the person who interfered with his time with his Person. But other than the occasional cereal and the mesmerizing CHICKEN (more about that later), Smokey wasn’t interested in food that wasn’t in his bowl. But Ozzy was, I was proud to learn, a fiercely loyal cat, and wasn’t interested in the eating habits of this other feline.
On one of our first mornings together, I was sitting on the sofa in my office (how I miss having that office), eating my breakfast. The smell of eggs and sausage caused Ozzy to follow me into the room. He sat and watched intently as I ate, moving his eyes from the plate to my mouth. He waited patiently for a morsel to fall on the floor, but it wasn’t happening. But when I speared the last link on my fork, he decided to take action. He jumped on my lap, hitting the fork and the plate, causing both to flip backwards from my hands onto the floor. He grabbed the link, breaking it in half and eating the pieces. After my initial shock, I started laughing. Then he turned his attention to the eggs, scooping them up until nothing was left but a few orts of yellow. The commotion caused Smokey to come into the room. He looked at Ozzy, sniffed at the egg crumbs and walked away. Ozzy licked his lips in satisfaction. From that point on, breakfast was a meal that was shared.
Now, all bets were off when chicken was concerned. Whether I bought it at a restaurant or baked it in the oven, chicken was the one human food that both Ozzy and Smokey loved. I don’t know if love is the appropriate word for their reaction to poultry. When I sat down in my lounger with a plate of chicken in my hand, I was immediately surrounded. Ozzy jumped on the left arm of the chair. I guess he figured that since I was left-handed, access to my fork or fingers was more readily accomplished from that side. Smokey got on the right arm and leaned toward my face, hoping that his stance would give him an advantage. Both of them got glazed looks in their eyes, as if the aroma of chicken had altered their consciousness. Neither of my cats ever responded to catnip, but chicken seemed to turn them into drooling furry addicts.
Once they were in their respective positions, I knew that I would not be consuming much chicken. But I tried to make things fair. I would put the plate in my lap, hoping that Ozzy didn’t make a dive onto it; tear a long strip of white meat from their favorite part, the breast; divide the strip in half; and dangle one piece in front of Ozzy. As he snatched the strip, Smokey would lunge forward, sometimes falling on the floor. I would take the other piece and hold it in front of Smokey’s face, careful that my fingers were far enough from the end to not be included when he bit into the morsel. While they were hurriedly eating their pieces, I tried to get at least one piece into my own mouth. But before I finished chewing, each cat would be back on the chair, waiting for his next bite.
Even though what should have been a quick meal took hours with my two chicken fiends, I wouldn’t have dreamed of having chicken without them. They had the same reaction to turkey. For Thanksgiving, I would pick up a meal at Boston Market, with extra turkey, of course. If I went to a friend’s home for dinner on Turkey Day, I would always return home with a “Kitty Bag.” Thanksgiving was definitely their favorite holiday.
After Smokey died in 2010, Ozzy and I still shared chicken and turkey dinners. Since he no longer had competition, he would sit on the floor and wait for his portion. It was always a bonding experience, the one food that we both enjoyed.
The day before I took Ozzy to his last vet visit, I went to Boston Market and got extra turkey with gravy. That night and the next morning, he savored his favorite meal. It makes me happy that he went to the Great Kitty Beyond with a stomach full of turkey.
Poultry will never be as much fun again.