The Odd Couple: Raising My Two Crazy Cats

If you think cats are easier to deal with than dogs, then I've got two slightly crazy felines I'd like you to meet.
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My two gray cats are polar opposites and it drives me nuts. Saturn, who's 15, is elegant, quick-witted, moody, and desperately needs a hobby. He takes medicine for his hyperthyroidism, weighs eight pounds, and is an extremely picky eater. Mercury (who at 8 years old should be in his prime) is clumsy, chubby, easygoing, and, frankly, not that bright. He takes medicine for his asthma, weighs 22 pounds, and will eat anything that isn't nailed down. Temperamentally they are the complete opposites of their names: Saturn is mercurial and Mercury is saturnine. Sigh.

If you think feeding these two is a challenge, you're right. Parents of picky eaters, I feel your pain, but at least you can try to reason with kids. Saturn is thin and needs to eat. Mercury is fat and needs to lose weight. My vet helpfully suggested I feed Saturn up high where Mercury can't go. She underestimates his will.

When Saturn is hungry he meows and jumps up onto the kitchen counter. I try to encourage him to eat, but it's not so simple. I open a couple of cans of expensive "natural and healthy" cat food, in flavors that might tempt him. He sniffs each one delicately and may even take a bite but then immediately leaves to attend to something much more important (a paw-licking session or a walk around the living room). My vet says cats in the wild don't "graze," but apparently Saturn didn't get the memo: He would like to come back later and know that his food is waiting for him.

Fat chance. And I mean that literally. Mercury lies in wait, lurking like a ninja. You'd never know this guy weighs 22 pounds when food is involved. He has figured out how to climb onto the kitchen windowsill (even when I've barricaded it with pots and pans), leap across to the kitchen counter, and wolf down anything edible.

I've tried locking Saturn in the bathroom with his food (it's the only room with a door in my New York City loft-style apartment). He won't touch the stuff in there. Because of course he doesn't want it now; he wants it later. Plus, while he's trapped, he needs to do something to show how annoyed he is, so he unrolls all the toilet paper and pulls the towels from the rack.

My sister suggested that I try putting Saturn's food in a cardboard box with an opening just the size of his skinny frame. Saturn was curious enough to step inside and even ate a bite of food. But then he left, and Mercury figured out how to push the whole contraption off the counter so the food would spill out and he could chow down.

The two are as different in their resting habits as they are in caloric intake. Fat Boy's foraging efforts quickly wear him out. If I'm sitting on the couch, reading, he'll jump up beside me, flop over, and go to sleep. In fact, Mercury is pretty happy to flop over and go to sleep 23 hours and 30 minutes a day.

Saturn would rather not sleep. Ever. He would prefer to have something interesting and important to do. If I'm peacefully reading, Saturn will jump to the back of the easy chair opposite me, turn to see if I'm watching, then stick his paw under the nearby framed artwork and bang it against the wall. When I yell, "No, Saturn!" he'll run over to the lightweight sliding closet doors nearby, stick his paw under one, and start banging that, too. Of course, I can never figure out what he wants. Food? Catnip? Brushing? Something to read? Saturn really needs a job.

He sort of gave himself one: He likes to patrol the rooftop. I know, I'm a bad mom, but I have a terrace and Saturn likes to strut along the ledge like a supermodel on, well, a catwalk. He'll stop to look over the edge at the traffic nine stories below. He knows it terrifies me and I think that gives him a thrill. I wish he wouldn't do it, but how ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree? Yes, Mercury likes the terrace, too, but mainly for taking naps in the cool dirt of the planter, no doubt dreaming of a bird flying right into his hungry mouth.

They're yin and yang, these two, and while both have qualities that annoy the hell out of me (really, you only want to eat at 3 a.m., Saturn?), they also have traits I admire and aspire to. In a totally normal, not-a-crazy-cat-lady way, of course. Seriously, I wish I could be more calm during stressful times, or sleep through anything (even a hurricane), like Mercury. He makes me laugh. And I'm inspired by Saturn's grace, determination, and absolutely unwavering belief that he is the center of the universe. In a way these two are little furry, shedding metaphors for life: Sometimes you just need to chill out and let go, and sometimes you should push hard for what you really want.

You also must accept the quirks of those you love, even the ones who scratch the couch or throw up in your designer tote bag. Well, most of the time anyway. Isn't that what family's all about?


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