We have three houseguests over winter break. Two East Coast law students, in deep rest mode, at least when not reading submissions to the various law and tax review journals where they are on staff. And a black kitten named Casper, acquired this fall by the younger boy because, well, I suppose his life wasn't complicated enough.
"He must need a cat," I said to my wife, offering as good an explanation as any.
We certainly didn't need another one, or so we thought, prior to Casper's arrival. Our loyalties were fully invested in the aged Gizmo and Natasha, resting regally 23 and a half hours a day at the foot of the bed. Plus our old house itself: how would it fare under the kitten onslaught?
It took about 15 minutes after the arrival of Casper—flown in at great expense—for me to shift from wondering how we are going to adjust to this third cat, to scheming how to convince our boy to leave him behind. This, despite a certain genius Casper had for running directly across my post-surgical thigh, with such consistency that I took to placing a pillow over it, protectively, just in case. This, uncharacteristically, did not seem to cool my feelings for the kitty.
"Just look at how happy he is!" I'd marvel, as Casper cavorted with, aka chased, our two old cats. And Kitty, our dog, was practically vibrating with enthusiasm, as if Casper were a personal present and plaything. "Having an entire house to roam in....not confined to a small apartment. It would be cruel, don't you think, to take him away from all this?"
Nice try, he said, in words and expressions.
Part of the smooth adjustment of all concerned must be credited to my wife. Unlike our cats, acquired in the early years of the 21st century, Casper is not declawed. Apparently, in recent years declawing—the medical term is "onychectomy"—the once standard procedure is now a holocaust, and the Humane Society of the United States, and other pro-pet groups have come out against it. Last year, New York became the first state to ban it, and a variety of cities, mostly in California, have done the same. A pet owner declawing a cat couldn't be held in lower regard if he ate the beast instead.
I couldn't find any recent statistics, but in 2011, 60 percent of cat owners said declawing was okay, and a quarter of U.S. cats were declawed, though those figures might have shifted to reflect a near decade of bad publicity regarding what one vet called "de-toeing"—the procedure removes not only the claw, but the nail bed and last digit of a cat's toes.
"If performed on a human being, it would be like cutting off each finger at the last knuckle," the Humane Society notes.
Not being a fan of projecting human neuroses onto the animal kingdom, I don't really get worked up about such fine points: I'm not about to apologize to Gizmo and Natasha for having them declawed (and cats, if you're reading this: it was the woman who did it.)
Me, I have an inherent ability to dismiss such matters. We rescued our dog, Kitty, from a breeder; you can judge us lightly, harshly, or anywhere in between, as you see fit. It's all the same to me. I was concerned, not how our pets would fare in intra-kitten skirmishes, but about the future of what few sticks of furniture we possess that are not already battered into ruin.
My wife, who knows about such things, urged the boy to deploy claw covers, which I had never heard of or imagined. To our mutual amazement, he did. If you are unfamiliar with the things, claw covers are basically glue-on fingernails for cats, keeping their sharp claws from inflicting damage.
Commonly referred to as "nail caps," they are inexpensive, available everywhere and—most unexpectedly—come in a variety of neon colors. Yes, I notice online that some folks are aghast at claw covers too, for a variety of increasingly implausible and esoteric reasons, the bottom line being they hate people and want humanity to die off so as not to inconvenience microbes.
Nature is cruel; claw covers are not. Having gone to Animal Care and Control to watch them gas cats, I can't get too worked up over any minor infringement on the dignity of animals. I suppose I draw the line at costumes, but it's a free world, and I wouldn't try to stop you. To me, claw covers seem a practical, easy solution—putting them on and periodically replacing them is no big deal, the boy says. They are festive, and God knows we'll need a little festivity in the long, cold, grey slog between now and Valentine's Day. Or, I keep having to remind myself, between now and when Casper and his current owner leave next week.