• Barbara L. Ciccarelli, PhD

The Story of Two Transatlantic Cats



My divorce years ago brought a number of things — many of them wonderful. Two of these things were Doug and Ben (though later we always said “Ben and Doug” melodically.) Doug was a black short hair, and Ben, a black and brown tabby. Doug came from a litter of a colleague, and Ben came a year later from an animal shelter.


I remember when the colleague walked into my office with a box full of black kittens. Living alone at the time, I couldn’t resist. She told me she needed to keep them a little longer because they were too young, but it wasn’t long before Doug was in my home looking for his favorite spot on the corner of the couch.


My first impression of Ben was even more memorable. I remember when I walked into the shelter and on a right-side table was a huge cage with dozens and dozens of kittens. They were all sleeping except for Ben. Ben saw me and proceeded to meow as kittens do (meow-meow-meow). I thought, he has some real life in him, a survivor. I had no doubts in my mind. I took him home.


They always say that when you bring a pet home it is not definite how he or she will mesh with the other pets. This wasn’t an issue with Ben and Doug. Doug embraced Ben from the very beginning and started playing with him. A year older, he took Ben under his wing, and before you knew it, they were snuggling beside each other on the coach with Ben folded into the side of the larger black Doug. Although Ben arrived as a kitten, he even years later stayed a kitten to me because he was small for a cat and his small size was accentuated by Doug’s overweight frame.


They weren’t spoiled. I started them on a healthy hard food, and they stayed there until almost the very end when it was no longer possible. These were indoor cats so their years with me were spent mainly going from one preferred spot to another in my homes with a periodic changing of preferred spots.


They needed few visits to the vet except once for Doug on a Thanksgiving Day when the look on his face told me something was wrong. When I found an emergency practice, it turned out he had a urinary blockage and needed immediate surgery. The cost was hundreds of dollars which was hard to swallow but not as hard as the alternative.


Doug survived to my delight and after that I invested in a cat fountain. They loved it.

Ben had his own troubles, mainly a period of chasing his tail that ended in a partial amputation. I think giving the ok was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I put it off for weeks maybe a few months, making several trips to the vet to have the injured tail rewrapped, with him later at home aggressively pulling it off. In the end, the vet put his foot down and I acquiesed.


There was something about chopping off part of his body that I couldn’t handle. As you can guess, he hardly was bothered at all by the amputation. If act, I’d guess he was quite relieved. Just another learning moment from having pets.


When I planned to move to Amsterdam and had to arrange for their shipment by plane, I was quite a wreck. Ben was always adventurous, so I wasn’t so worried about him, but Doug was a homebody. He established his place in his home, and he basically wanted to be left alone in peace. A 24-hour travel program was not part of his life plan. So I did the best I could. I bought extra-large travel kennels even though it cost a lot more to ship so they would have space. I followed all the rules the best I could, including getting them a microchip and preparing the food.


As it turned out they survived the trip as the airline promised they would. They had to go through an exam at the airport, a three hour process, and there was a 100 Euros fee to pay before they could be released. The big question was, however, what kind of condition would they be in when they got to my new home.


On arrival, they immediately crawled under the table in retreat mode. This was no doubt some shock from being outside their normal element as indoor cats. Although I hated putting them through this, I can say that after this they had over ten happy hears in Amsterdam with us.


There are many more stories to tell, but I’ll just mention this one more that comes to mind.

A woman in the neighborhood had been complaining about mice and claimed they were coming from our very old building. Not a cat owner, she resented the fact that we were and that we had a solution to the problem. However, on the top floor and with cats, we had never seen any mice in all the years I had lived there. One day we left the garbage outside our front door to take out later. Within a short time, we found our two cats sitting in front of the door as if comatose. We knew right then what the reason was. We were curious as to how they were going to react as they were indoor cats and with no knowledge as far as we knew of dealing with mice. We decided to open the door.


Immediately a mouse jumped out of our trash bag and started scurrying away but Doug, despite his weight, was too quick for it. He swiped at and pounced on the mouse several times. Then as cats are prone to do, Ben and Doug started playing with the almost dead mouse, tossing it back and forth. Finally, the mouse was dead, and we intervened to dispose of it. We never saw another mouse in or near our home after that and haven’t since the deaths of our cats.


Ben and Doug were pals for life and in fact, despite the age difference, died within one month of each other from different causes. I always thought that this was no coincidence.

Throughout the 17.5 years that I was honored to be their owners, I must say they put up with me more than I put up with them. However, I showed them as much love as I could, and they never went without food or water even until the end when they refused even that because their time had come.


In fact, I made the mistake many owners make and that was to try to keep them longer than was meant to be, but it was with the relentless hope that they would recover. My partner reminds me that they had a good life. They certainly made our lives good, even grand. What more can you ask for?

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