Tag Archives: cat names

Ms. Whisht and Buddy

They look so innocent, don’t they? Of bank robbery and murder, as my Dad would have said. In actuality, these cats are naughty little fiends who try to get away with anything they can, including chicken bones if we don’t keep a sharp eye out and a lid on the garbage can.

Their names are Toby (the tabby) and Dushenka (the calico). (Dushenka, if you’re interested, is Russian for “little soul,” but has a colloquial meaning of “sweetheart.” But I digress.) All our cats have had nicknames, from the descriptive (Mr. Underfoot), to the sickening (Toto-Booboo), to the ridiculous (Sir Boinks-a-Lot), to the obscure (Naughty Baby Fek’lhr). But when these two take up the sport of door-darting, they acquire new ones – Buddy and Ms. Whisht.

Dushenka is the primary door-darter, and in a way, I can’t blame her. Before she came to live with us, she was a mostly-stray cat in our neighborhood and it might be expected that she would want to pussyfoot around in her old haunts or beg handouts from other suckers. But we don’t let our cats outdoors for health and safety reasons, and once she joined our little family, she had to follow the rules.

Except, of course, she didn’t. One day I looked out an upstairs window and said, “That’s a pretty calico walking up the neighbor’s drive. It looks a lot like Dushenka. Hey, wait a minute…!” We would chase her, to no avail. We would stand outside and call her name fruitlessly, then give up. After about half an hour I would go back out, lean on the car, and call her name again. Shortly she would amble into the cul-de-sac and flop down on the macadam, where I could scoop her up and tell her she was a naughty girl, which she ignored. Toby got out occasionally too, but he wasn’t used to the outdoors, so he was much easier to round up.

When we moved to a new neighborhood, though, we had new worries. This wasn’t familiar territory for either cat. If they got out, they might not be able to find their way home.

Of course, it happened. Dushenka slid through the screen door opening (which I would have sworn was only two inches wide) and made for the street. Dan and I threw on pants and shoes and followed as best we could. She wandered about, inspecting the row of houses across the street as we followed along behind her. When we got within about seven feet of her, she would casually stroll into the backyard or over to the next house or into a stand of trees.

Finally, we gave up, exhausted. We were headed back to the house to start printing up Wanted posters, when I noticed that, about seven feet behind Dan, Dushenka was coming trot-trot-trot in his footsteps. She followed him all the way home and flopped down on the patio, looking smug.

She had invented a new game, which was fun only as long as we played it. We took to waiting out her occasional escapes until she had had enough boredom and come home, usually in about 30-45 minutes.

Still, our goal was for her not to get out in the first place. Now I have to stand guard when either one of us opens the door. Dushenka has learned that when I take up position, clap my hands, and loudly hiss, “whisht,” she is to remove herself to another part of the house, or at least stand back six feet.

I then engage in a little monologue. “Don’t even think about it, Missy. I have my eye on you! [making the gesture where you point at your own eyes and then theirs] You’re thinking about it. I can tell. Don’t make me whisht you! ‘Cause I will!” While I’m at it, I pin Toby down. “You too, Buddy. Don’t you get any ideas either. Whisht!” He wanders off, pretending he has no idea what I’m talking about.

They still try every once in a while, especially when Dan is bringing in an armload of packages. He has to ring the bell so I’ll know to get to the door and be ready to clap and whisht. I can’t wait until we have company over and they get a demonstration of our little routine. It may sound stupid, but it works for Ms. Whisht, Buddy, and us.

How I Learned I Was a Cat Person

cat-pet-furry-face-162319.jpegI looked around at the rooms full of cats. Black cats, white cats, orange cats, gray cats. Cats sleeping, playing, hiding. But I wasn’t a cat person. Or was I?

When I was a kid, we never had cats – only dogs. Back in those days, dogs didn’t live in the house but also weren’t allowed to run loose. So they usually had a length of chain or a fenced yard to circumscribe their limits. Only tiny fluff-dogs such as Pomeranians had the run of the house. My mom, it turned out later, liked little fluff-dogs, but my dad didn’t. So our dogs, first Blackie then Bootsie, lived in the garage, with a chain to run on.

I never really bonded with either one. Another thing that was uncommon back then was dog obedience school, so when I went out to feed the dog, he would jump all over me with muddy paws. And when he got to ride in the car for long weekends away, he would drool, track mud on the towel we laid down for him, and vomit (until we learned to give him half a Dramamine before we started).

I longed for a cuddly pet and one that I could call my own. My next pet was a rabbit, which I named Christina, the most beautiful name I could think of. This was also in the days before rabbits became indoor pets, so Christina lived in a wood and chicken-wire cage, in the yard in summer and in the garage in winter. No real opportunities for cuddling or bonding.

So it went. No pets in my college dorm. No pets in the apartment complex where I lived after I graduated. But I began to think more and more that what I needed was a cat. My father had hated cats because one had once bit his mother. Perhaps it was time for generations of antipathy to stop.

At last I got an apartment which was four rooms on the second floor of a house. I asked the landlady if I could have a cat – just one – and was given permission (if unenthusiastically).

The obvious place to find a cat was at the local Society for the Improvement of Conditions for Stray Animals (SICSA). And the obvious person to bring along to help me was my fiancé.

SICSA had rooms full of cats (and other rooms full of dogs). Some were in individual cages and others shared larger rooms with other cats. I thought I might want a calico cat as I found them the most attractive, but there were none at the shelter that day. There were, however, a few tortoiseshell cats.

Tortoiseshells are a variety of calico with mostly black fur, mottled with some orange, thanks to the same genetic arrangement that causes the distinctive calico pattern. Some people find them unattractive, but I was drawn to a little tortie. She was shy and quiet and gentle, the opposite of the dogs my family had had.

But there were other cats that attracted me too, to the point that I was overwhelmed. “Which cat do you think I should get?” I asked my fiancé.

“I don’t know, honey. They’re all nice cats,” he replied, proving that I had indeed chosen the right man to marry.

I took the little tortie home and called her Bijou. (Her nametag said, “Bejeau,” but I assumed it was a typo.)  She spent the first night sleeping across my throat. She was otherwise so shy that she didn’t want to be picked up. But every day when I came home from work, I picked her up and gave her a kiss and set her back down. Eventually, she gained enough confidence to sit with me on the sofa and watch the Today Show and for me to carry her around.

Ever since, I have had up to five cats at a time, and almost always a calico or a tortie – or both – among them. Bijou, Anjou, Julia, Laurel, Louise, and Dushenka have fulfilled my need for a calico or tortie to call my own. Not that I haven’t loved the orange tabbies and gray tabbies that my husband favors and the tuxedo cat, the gray, and the black-and-white spotted cat we’ve also lived with.

But the calicos and torties hold a special place in my heart. They taught me that cats were what I really needed.

My (Lame) Attempts at Babytalk

First, let it be noted that I have no idea how to talk to babies. They stare at me like I’m from Mars and I stare back or read them the newspaper or something. Once in a restaurant a woman handed me her baby while she went to the restroom. Said baby and I had a staring contest, as there was not a newspaper handy. I jiggled it a little, which the baby didn’t object to, though I felt ridiculous. My husband took a picture, which I made sure no longer exists.

But with cats, it’s a different story. One conducted almost exclusively in babytalk. (I say “almost” because I do not use babytalk for communications like, “Get down off that shelf before you break the vase we bought in Italy!”)

Toby (aka Baby Boo)

The rest of the time, I sound like a blithering idiot. The blithering starts with their names. “Dushenka” becomes “Shenka-doodle” and “Toby” becomes “Toto-Booboo” or even “Toto-Booboo Baby.” (And we can’t overlook the geek-inspired “Toby-Wan Kenobi.” Sometimes Dushenka is even “Shenka-doodle-doo.” I knew you were wondering about that.)

I know there are those who feel these are not dignified things to call a cat, but the fact is that cats have no use for dignity. Despite their reputation, cats do the most un-dignified things, from licking their nethers to sneezing in my face. (One cat did this while I was blithering, “Sugar for mama?”)

Then comes feeding. “Does kitty want some noms? Nice noms for the kitty! Om-nom-nom!” And to think I used to make fun of my mother-in-law, who used to call her cat to the food bowl by yelling, “Pussy-Woo! Chickie!” (At least it’s not just me.)

For some reason, babytalk must be delivered in an unnaturally high-pitched voice. Of course, people talk that way to babies, too, but with cats it just adds to the absurdity. Maybe babies process language better at higher pitches, but I’m not really sure cats process language at all. Although I did once know one that would respond appropriately to a cry of, “Hey, you! You with the fur! Get down from there!” That was delivered in a regular, rather than squeaky, tone of voice, which is probably why it was effective.

Maybe the reason that I can babytalk cats but not babies is the fact that I have been around cats for years and years, while that encounter in the restaurant constituted most of the sum of my experience with tiny humans. It can’t be that only babies look at me like I’m from Mars, because the cats do too, when they aren’t just ignoring me.

Somehow, though, I feel that babies judge me and cats don’t. When your sole comment on anything is “mmma-weep!” (that’s a direct quote from Toby), you can’t afford to cop an attitude. (Dushenka has a wider vocabulary, including an assortment of purrs, trills, sighs, and snores. Dainty snores, but definitely different from the purrs.)

It’s ludicrous, I know, and one more sign that I may be turning into an official Crazy Cat Lady. Sometimes it’s even so bad that I make myself want to retch. (Does ittle Toto want snuggles from mama? Can I get the floofy white belly, Shenka-Doo? Does oo want to play with the nice mousie?) I mean, gag me. In either sense of the word.

Of course, it’s my belief that talking babytalk to babies sounds like blithering too. It’s just more socially acceptable. But since I’m seldom out in public with my cats, only my husband and closest friends know my little secret. And another little secret – I sometimes catch my husband cooing at the kitties as well.

Seven Reasons I Hate the Bloggess

Red heart, studded with apins isolated on a white background. 3d render

First, let me say that I read the Bloggess all the time. I have her books and I read them all the time too. But secretly I hate her, and here’s why.

1. She had a weirder childhood than I did. She lived in a small Texas town full of farm critters and wild animals, and weird characters, including her father the taxidermist, and has interesting poverty stories, like the one about the bread-sack shoes. I lived in a nondescript middle-class suburb with a stay-at-home mom and a dad that went to work every day smelling of Vitalis and Aqua Velva, rather than deer blood.

(This was also the problem I had trying to write country songs. You can’t get very far with “I was born an industrial engineering technician’s daughter/in the Central Baptist Hospital of Lexington, KY.”)

2. She had more interesting pets, with more interesting names than I did. She had a raccoon named Rambo that wore Jams and a delinquent turkey named Jenkins. Later she had a dog named Barnaby Jones Pickles and has cats named Ferris Mewler and Hunter S. Thomcat. We had dogs named Blackie and Bootsie and rabbits named Christina and Mittens. Our recent dogs have been Karma and Bridget, and the only eccentric cat names we’ve bestowed have been Django and Dushenka.

(Ordinarily, I don’t like cat names like Baryshnikat and F. Cat Fitzgerald. I think cat names should be something you wouldn’t be embarrassed to yell out the door if one of them wanders off, like Louise or Garcia. But I suppose the Bloggess’s neighbors are by now used to anything.)

3. She has more interesting disorders than I do. I have a bad back and bipolar disorder type 2 (and a blog about it, bipolarjan.wordpress.com). The Bloggess has generalized anxiety disorder, anti-phospholipid syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, and, apparently, an obsession with chupacabras and vaginas. This gives her much more to write about. Although I do have two blogs. Two! In your face, Bloggess!

4. She’s less inhibited than I am. The Bloggess would have ended that last paragraph, “In your face, motherfucker!” I didn’t learn to cuss till I was in my 20s and no one I meet ever believes I swear until I do. Then they’re shocked. Also, I swear all the time, except in my blogs, where I’m afraid I’ll offend readers, all of whom I assume have tender sensibilities. The Bloggess knows her readers better than that.

5. She has way more readers than I do. And she’s published books and has another coming out. I have 495 followers and I think most of them want to sell me books on how to publicize my blog. I should probably study a book like that, but I’d rather read ones about emerging viruses, cloud cities on Venus, and mostly true memoirs. On the other hand, I have the distinction of being the only writer ever to have articles in both Catechist and Black Belt magazines. So take that, moth . . . Bloggess!

6. She and her husband have more interesting arguments than my husband and I do. We never even talk quietly about whether Jesus was a zombie.

7. She has a stronger voice than I do. I mean her writing voice. I had no idea what her speaking voice was like until I saw a video clip of her on the web, talking about vaginas. But when I’m going to write in my blogs, I have to lay off reading her for a day or two, because her voice takes over my weak, tiny mind and it wants to sound like her. I wish I could write like that. Or at least as well as that.jennyme

But, like the Bloggess, I am a strangeling. And that’s a start.

Cats, etc.: Sir Boinks-a-Lot

All our cats have nicknames. Some more than one.

The cats we have right now are Louise

The Queen of Everything
The Queen of Everything

Garcia (1)

Horrible Mr. Horrible Face
Horrible Mr. Horrible Face

and Dushenka.(2)

Li'l Bit
Li’l Bit

Then there was Django.(3) A robust gray-and-white male, he was the one we called Sir Boinks-a-Lot.(4)

Would you like to guess how he got his name? Hint: It wasn’t because he boinked a lot.

No, he just tried to boink a lot.

Gender didn’t matter. He would go after either boy-cats or girl-cats – neither with any degree of success. He was neutered.

His intended didn’t even have to be another cat. Or even animate. We once caught him trying to mount a feather duster.

But the escapade that earned him his nickname was when he tried to have carnal knowledge of my husband’s elbow. Never mind that there was no orifice. Sir Boinks-a-Lot was determined to make one. He kept drilling and drilling, but he never struck pussy (so to speak).

Dan’s theory was that when he worked on his computer, his forearm resembled the shape of an aroused female cat. His hand and wrist were the head, his arm the body, and his raised elbow the…er…target zone.(5) Or it could be that Django was near-sighted with no sense of smell.

My theory was just that he was a horny bastard.(6)

He was also camera shy, which is why there isn’t a picture of him here, but then again, who wants their sexual peculiarities displayed all over the Internet?(7)

Alas, Sir Boinks-a-Lot is no longer with us, though he proved as determined about fighting cancer as he was about finding someone or something that welcomed his advances. We still miss him terribly.

I think even Dan’s elbow misses him a little.(8)

(1) Also Mr. Underfoot, Red-Headed Stepchild, Baby-Cat.
(2) Also Ms. Crazy Eyes and Baby-Cat. Everyone is Baby-Cat except Louise. Other memorable cats have been Matches (Badness, Checkers), Chelsea (Chips), Shaker (What-a-Pie), Maggie (Gelfling, Gertzie-Girl), Laurel (Keet), Joliet (The Silly Pet), and Bijou (Angel Kitty).
(3) He was named after guitarist Django Reinhardt. I figured if Dan could have a cat named after a guitarist, so could I.
(4) Also Baby-Cat.
(5) Django never tried this with me, but my chair arm was narrower, or maybe my wrist and elbow were just not as appealing.
(6) Django, I mean. We will not discuss how pets come to resemble their owners.
(7) No, wait. Don’t answer that.
(8) Although it’s tough to tell with an elbow.

Cats, etc.: The Candy Bar of Cats

All my life I’ve admired calico cats. The lovely contrast of tricolor fur is like nothing else in the cat world – and indeed a rarity in the animal kingdom.(1)

But I had never thought twice about the variety of calico called tortoiseshell, “torties” for short. Torties are a brindled variety of calico with little to no white fur – black, brown, red, russet, and multiple, mixed variations of black and orange.

This is a calico.
This is a calico.

This is a tortie.
This is a tortie.

When I went to the shelter to get my first cat, they had no traditional calicos, only tortoiseshell calicos, among the tabbies, bi-colors, solid colors, and just about every other color pattern – except calico.

I pondered the many choices, and found myself drawn to the torties. After all, they were a kind of calico. I asked my fiancé’s advice. He was studiously and purposely unhelpful. “Gee, I don’t know, honey, they’re all nice cats.”(2)

I found a little tortie whose elastic name band said “Bejeau.” “Aha!” I said. “Someone can’t spell Bijou. That’s the one.”(3) I took her home. And made her a new name band with the proper spelling.

A few days later, the shelter called to see how we were getting along. “Fine,” I said, “except she wants to sleep across my throat.”

“Oh, dear,” said the shelter lady. “She’ll probably stop that when she feels more secure.” And so she did.

Bijou was the first of my torties, but there have been others since – Anjou, Laurel, and Louise.(4)


Once I was sent to New York City on business and had an extra day to spend (because of the ridiculous way airlines charged for business travelers).

I decided to make it an all-cats day. First I went to see the musical Cats, and then I went to the cat show at Madison Square Garden.
The musical was awesome, but the cat show was fun.

I saw varieties and breeds of cats that I had never heard of. I saw pampered cats that looked like princesses in elegant pink silk beds, their likewise-silky long hair flowing around them and a look on their faces that said, “You peasant! Move along now that someone else may adore me.”(5)

At one of the judging stations, the man doing the judging was willing to chat with me. He told me how to tell the difference between Norwegian Forest Cats and Maine Coons by the shape of the face. Then he told me about tortoiseshells.

With all his years of cat-judging experience backing him up, he authoritatively informed me, “All torties have a screw loose.”

Maybe that was why Bijou slept on my throat and Anjou carried a tampon applicator though one of my parties, and Laurel curtsied to everything, and Louise was known in her youth as “Naughty Baby Fek’lhr.”(6) A screw loose indeed.

One of my friends put it better, though: “Torties are the candy bar of cats: a little bit sweet and a little bit nuts.”

(1) There are calico guinea pigs, which are kind of cute, but nowhere near as compelling. Guinea pigs just don’t have a lot of personality.
(2) Smart man.
(3) I had studied French for years. My second torte, named Anna by the shelter, became Anjou.
(4) And some traditional calicos: Julia and Dushenka.
(5) I later saw one of those uppity cats turn pure kitten when a feather on a string was dangled before her. She caught it and proudly sat there with it sticking out of her mouth for the rest of the judging. “It’s mine!” she seemed to say. “I caught it and you can’t have it.”
(6) A joke that almost no one gets.

Cats, etc. – The Little Soul Who Strayed, Then Stayed

The slim calico prowled the neighborhood, checking out the opportunities. This house? That one? There was a nice culvert in the cul-de-sac where she could both hide and find water.

The big, dark car stopped beside her and the door opened. The cat froze, waiting to see what came next. The human made cooing and chirping sounds, and the ones she’d learned to recognize as “here, kitty, kitty.” But she ignored him and sauntered on. You don’t get into a strange car with just any old human, after all.

Still, the human hadn’t appeared threatening. Maybe she’d check out this area again.

Carefully, the calico watched and waited. The big car went by several times a day. If she was hidden well, it passed by. If she allowed the human a glimpse of her bright eyes and sleek tri-colored fur, she might also listen to the low, comforting sounds that spoke of invitation.

Sometimes she strolled past the place she had lived before, just to check it out. Loud dogs barking in the house. In the yard. Not worth trying right now. Maybe some day the dogs would go away, just as she had.


“I’ve seen this little calico around lately,” my husband said. “Doesn’t look like anyone owns it.”

“Her,” I said. “Calicos are almost always female. They need two X chromosomes to get that color pattern.” I knew I was being pedantic, but I wanted to keep the conversation out of emotional realms. Our big gray and white cat Django had died not long before, and I wasn’t ready to give my heart to another feline companion.


A few days later, the calico saw the sign above our door, visible only to cats: SUCKERS LIVE HERE. FREE FOOD. Casually, she picked her dainty way through the garden and up to the front door. Just as the sign had revealed, the man from the car opened the door and brought her an offering of food. She started hanging around the house more. She could smell that there were other cats there. One dog in the back yard, but not a very noisy one. She allowed the man to take her inside.

He gave her a room to herself, with a constantly filled food dish and a container of litter. The man, and sometimes the woman, would visit her and pet her and give her a lap to sit on. There was a window to look out of and a comfy chair and lots of shelves and bins and boxes to explore.

No barking.


“If we’re going to keep her, we need to take her to the vet for a check-up,” Dan said.

I was still trying to resist. “But are we going to keep her? I’m not ready yet. It’s too soon.”

“Even if we don’t keep her, she needs a vet-check before we can let her mix with the other cats. We can’t leave her in your study. If we do try to find her owner, it could take a while.”

“There was a sign up a couple of streets over about a missing calico. It’s probably this one,” I said.

The neighbor came to see the little calico. I made him describe her before I brought her out. She might not put up with being held very long and turn into a clawed tornado. He neglected to mention the sooty smudge on her chin or her crazy eyes, one gold, one green, and when I did bring her out for inspection, he shook his head sadly. No.

“Good luck,” I said, holding the cat firmly against my chest.


“We’ve got to name her something, if only for the vet records. And we can’t keep calling her Li’l Bit. She’s not so little any more now that she’s eating regularly,” Dan said as we prepared to put her in a carrier. “Do you have any good ideas?”

“Well, there’s Dushenka,” I offered. “It’s Russian and means ‘little soul.’ On Babylon 5, Ivanova’s father called her that as a term of endearment.”

“That’s it, then. She’s Dushenka.”


All Dushenka’s tests were fine. She did seem like she hadn’t been on the street too long – glossy coat, not malnourished, definitely not feral. Just as we were about to take her home for another round of “Should We Keep Her?” the vet said, “I should probably scan her. Lots of cats have ID chips these days.

The quick wave of a wand over her shoulders and – BEEP. Somewhere Dushenka had an owner. And it wasn’t us.

The vet called the chip registry service and the phone number they gave her, but had to leave a message. A few days later, she gave us the address and phone number too. The cat’s registered name was Carmen, and she had lived one street behind us.


We tried. We really did. We called, left messages, even put a note on the door.

And I tried not to love her. I really did. But, truth be told, she had me as soon as I saw the crazy eyes and the smudgy chin.


So we got the vet to write a letter to the chip registry about what awesome pet guardians we are and how all of us had tried to contact the registered owner. And we sent in the $25 re-registration fee. The paperwork done, her ownership officially changed hands. To this day, we’ve never heard a squeak from the neighbors who used to have her.

We’ve seen this meme since, and except for the pronouns, it’s perfect.


She’s OURS now. And we LOVE her.

New Features Coming!

What are the new features?

Books, etc. and Cats, etc.

Where do I find them?

Right here on this blog, Et Cetera, etc.

When will they appear?

Whenever I feel like it or have something to say on either topic.

Can you describe them?


Okay, smart-ass, describe them.

Books, etc., will contain book reviews, books I’m reading now or have loved in the past, musings on trends in fiction and nonfiction, the writing life. Etc.

Cats, etc., will contain true tales about my life with cats, plus occasional posts on cat care, health, behavior, and cats in the news. And cat pictures. Yours, too, if you want to send them.

Why are you qualified to write these features?

I read a lot, write some, and edit more. I have a B.A. in English from Cornell and an M.A. in English from University of Dayton.

I have been owned by at least a dozen cats (no, not all at once) and lived with more. They have all been shelter cats or ones that found us. No purebreds, so you’ll have to go somewhere else if that’s what you want.

But what about the posts, stories, and general crankiness we’ve grown to know and love?

They’ll still be here. Books and Cats will be post titles, followed by subtitles.

Can you give us examples?

Well, sure! Blog: Et Cetera, etc. (same old address); Books, etc.: Why Haven’t I Heard of Melanie Benjamin before?; Cats, etc.: Stupid Cat Tricks.

Can we suggest topics?

Absolutely. Go right ahead. I might even write about them.

When will these new features start?

See above, where I said, “Whenever I feel like it or have something to say.”

How often will they appear?

See above, where I said, see above, where I said, “Whenever I feel like it or have something to say.”

When do you…?

Don’t make me say it again.

Cats, Etc. – Fourth of July


You woke me up for this?
You woke me up for this?

Our youngest cat, doing her impression of Grumpy Cat.

This seemed like a good idea at the time. We used to call Dushenka “Li’l Bit” when she first chose us. Now she’s more like Pudgy Bit.

Either way, she did not seem thrilled to be asked to pose for a holiday picture. Not that the Fourth of July means much to cats except begging for barbecue and hiding under the bed.

They should like it though, if only to maintain their reputation for independence.

Cats, Etc.: Friday the Thirteenth Edition

This being Friday the 13th,  black cats are on my mind. I’m not superstitious, so neither the date nor the cats bother me, but they do bother a lot of people.

A pass-along this morning said that black cats (and black dogs) in shelters tend to be overlooked and are killed disproportionately. Another common rumor is that black cats are adopted at Halloween by Satanists (or teenage wanna-be Satanists) to sacrifice in horrible rituals.

Snopes.com says the evidence is inconclusive on that last point, although they also mention people who want to “rent” black cats as party decorations. I don’t know if this actually happens, but I doubt that it actually works. Cats of any color are more likely to spend a Halloween party behind the sofa or ralphing on the snack table than posing prettily in a tableau of pumpkins. (Digression: Hairballs are pretty grody, so I guess they could be considered decorations, if you’re the horror-fan sort of party-giver.)

I don’t believe cats are bad luck, because I don’t believe there’s any such thing as an all-black cat. As far as I can tell, they are required by law to have at least ten white hairs somewhere on their bodies. Show-offs prefer the chest area.

But I have a confession: I have never owned a black cat. (Digression: My mother-in-law has. No comment.) We did once have a lovely tuxedo cat named Shaker. She had, in addition to the white chest, white whiskers and adorable little white feet. She had a lot of dignity, but then spoiled the effect when she jumped off my lap at the vet’s, made a break for it as fast as her tiny little feet would carry her, and ran headlong (bonk!) into the glass door. It was so sudden that she couldn’t realistically pull off the “I meant to do that” look. Nice try, though.

We did have a black guest cat (a foster) that I named Joliet. (Digression: Here’s the story. I had a black friend named Darryl. I couldn’t call the cat Darryl because she was female (Darryl Hannah notwithstanding). My friend Darryl came from Joliet, IL, so I named her Joliet in his honor. It didn’t matter, because everyone misheard it as Juliet and called her that.)

We might have kept Joliet, but she proved to be a brazen thief. (If she were he, we could have called him Joliet Jake. Or Darryl, I guess, except Darryl wasn’t a thief. Never mind.)

One night we were eating in front of the TV and had a large steak on a plate on the coffee table. Joliet did not choose the typical cat ploy of sniffing daintily at the edge of the steak and making the pitiful “nobody-feeds-me” face. She swooped in and grabbed the whole thing, then raced across the living room with it. From our vantage point it looked like a steak with four feet and a long black tail fleeing the scene of the crime. We recovered the steak, washed it off, and ate it anyway. We were not so well off that we could afford to waste a steak.

(Digression: Once I was cruising the cheap meat (reduced for quick sale) section at the grocery. A guy, obviously embarrassed, picked up a couple of steaks and said, “I feed these to my dog.” “Yeah?” I said, tossing some into my cart. “I feed them to my husband.”)

Anyway, we decided that Joliet and another family would be happier with each other. Looking back, we may have made the wrong call. She never brought us any bad luck. We just needed to train her to steal steak from other people and bring it back to us. Then again, trying to train a cat is difficult enough, never mind trying to train one to give away stolen meat.