Ten years ago, my then-boyfriend Alex and I visited a local animal shelter where I fell in love with a kitten named Dixon.

I had been going kitten-crazy and really wanted to adopt a cat. (The previous year, my family’s 16-year-old cat passed away.) So Alex and I took a trip to the Staten Island Animal Care Center where I was honestly not planning to get a cat. I was just going to look (I swear!). However, Dixon had other plans for me. He was 3 months old, skinny, all legs & ears & tail, and he purred incessantly when an employee placed him in my arms. I wouldn’t put him down. I turned to Alex and said, “I want him.” So paperwork was filled out, credit card charges were made, and we were told to come back the next day to pick up Dixon after he’d been neutered.

That was on June 13, 2007. It has now been 10 years that Dixon has been in my life. And what a crazy ten years they’ve been! I was finishing up my Bachelor’s degree when I got him. I started grad school in 2008 and Dixon was there to keep me sane. I moved from Staten Island to Brooklyn with Dixon in tow. (He actually helped me get the apartment: the landlord was a cat lady of epic proportions and I attached a photo of Dixon when I emailed her my application.) I moved back to Staten Island. Then I moved within Staten Island.

It was around that time that Dixon had a urinary blockage. (My theory is that he was stressed out because, about two months prior, we welcomed a new kitten, Lucy, into our home.) I cried seeing him in pain and immediately drove him to the nearby 24/7 animal hospital. After the second urinary blockage a couple of weeks later, I opted for a perineal urethrostomy (“PU”) for Dixon. On New Year’s Day 2015, I picked Dixon up from the hospital after he had the incredibly invasive surgery wherein his scrotum and penis were removed and his urethral opening was widened. He hasn’t had a urinary tract infection or another urinary blockage since but he’s given me a couple of scares! I watch him like a hawk now, looking for any signs of distress.

In July 2015, I had a semi-serious bike crash on my way to work. I busted my lip open (resulting in 11 stitches, some inside and some outside my lip), chipped some teeth, and bruised some ribs and fingers. Dixon was there to comfort me as I took a week off work to recuperate. About a week later, when my almost-ten-year-old romantic relationship fell apart, Dixon was there while I sobbed and came to grips with my new reality. I then moved (again), this time into my parents’ home where I had planned to stay a year in order to save up money and buy my own place. I was considering getting a condo in Denver, CO, and starting a brand new life for myself. My mom pouted and said Denver’s too far away, why don’t I look somewhere closer, like Philadelphia?

In April 2016, I met my current boyfriend, Phil. In August of that year, I moved in with Phil when he moved back to Philly. (Mothers and their intuitions!) Dixon, naturally, came with. Shortly thereafter, my constant vigilance led to another trip to the vet for Dixon. I noticed that he was consistently cocking his head to the right. He did not exhibit any other issues to indicate that anything was wrong. However, during the exam, the veterinarian commented that Dixon would need to have a couple of teeth extracted because he had a serious case of plaque as well as a couple of resorptive teeth. In the end, the vet ended up pulling 5 teeth (1 full extraction and 4 partial ones), mostly on his right side—which is the direction in which he was tilting his head, most likely due to dental pain. Dixie was high for three days before he was back to normal. I worried about him the entire time and I was incredibly relieved when he regained his strength and his personality. I’m hoping for at least another 10 years with this fella.

The night after I visited the shelter and committed to adopting Dixon, I lay awake in bed, panicking that I’d made such a long-term commitment in haste. He’ll be there when I get married! I thought. He’ll be there when I have kids! It’s ten years later and I’m not married (and I’m not planning on getting married) but Phil and I are starting our family. We’re taking all of the necessary steps to achieve pregnancy (given my infertility, thanks to Kallmann Syndrome, medical intervention is required) and I’m thrilled that our kids may have an opportunity to get to know Dixon—and that Dixon may have the opportunity to lick the little humans until they’re raw, as he’s been doing to me for the last ten years.

Welcome, Lucifer!

Alex and I were in Oxford for a week so I could attend and present at a conference. While away, my sister watched our cat and made sure he didn’t get too lonely. It worked well because Dixon didn’t hate us when we returned late on Sunday night and he hasn’t been angrily ignoring us since we returned.

Well, not because we left him for a week, anyway. He has been slightly upset with us since Tuesday, when my parents dropped off a kitten at our place:

Nothing like a kitten!
Nothing like a kitten!

My parents have a small colony of stray/feral cats in their backyard. For some reason, they refuse to trap the females to have them spayed. (The males are much more aggressive and much more difficult to trap to have them neutered.) Instead, they’ve been watching these cats get pregnant and give birth repeatedly over the last couple of years. Some of the kittens were caught and given away. Others grew up in the colony and the cycle continued. (Others, meanwhile, perished.) With this latest litter, I think my parents finally understood what needs to be done. There’s only one adult female left who comes around (they call her “Seraya,” which means “Gray” in Russian) and they’re finally getting her spayed after this latest litter.

However, they first needed to find homes for the three kittens. They managed to give two away to friends and coworkers, leaving only the little susuwatari to be adopted out. My mom called me and said, “What if we bring her by your place? Just until the weekend.” Yeah. ‘Cause that’s how that works with kittens. You can keep them for a few days and just let them go. But how could I say no to a kitten? So they dropped her off at my place on Tuesday night.

I worked from home the next day so I could take the kitten to the vet to get her checked out. It was determined that she is, in fact, a she and that she’s about 8 weeks old. She weighed in at a tiny 2lb 3oz. She had no fleas but the vet tech did find two ticks on her face. Otherwise, though, she was deemed extremely healthy for a stray kitten. (Everyone in the clinic took a turn holding her and making all kinds of cooing noises at her.)

She was extremely docile the first 24 hours. (She must have been frightened and overwhelmed by all the new sights, sounds, and smells. Also being poked and prodded by the vet must have been nerve-wracking.) However, by Thursday, she was much more mobile and feeling frisky. She’s eating well, using her litter box, and playing with anything that moves:

Die, drawstring! Die!
Die, drawstring! Die!

All that was left was her name. I first named her Zuzu (short for susuwatari, the soot sprites in Miyazaki’s films) but it didn’t really suit her and Alex wasn’t crazy about it. I then called her “Lucy” once when it just slipped out. I told Alex about it and he liked it. So now she’s Lucy. And if her troublemaking tendencies keep up, we can call her Lucifer ;)

We’ve been keeping Lucy separated from Dixon for fear of Dixon lashing out and hurting Lucy. However, we’ve been letting them mingle more together and, while he’s not thrilled with her, Dixon has stopped hissing and growling at the newcomer. They are not friends yet, though, by any stretch: he keeps eating her food, pouncing on her when she’s playing, and chasing her through the house. However, it is now Lucy who has the upper hand: she’s been the one hissing and growling at Dixon! I hope they can forge a friendship soon, though. I love my kitties and want to be able to snuggle with them both.

Many names

These are the names I call my cat:

Cat sitting atop bookcase, staring into ceiling light.

  • Dixon
  • Dixie
  • Dix
  • Cat
  • Kitty
  • Kitty Face
  • Kitty Butt
  • Dixie Face
  • Dixie Butt
  • Butter Bean
  • Butt Bean
  • Butt Face
  • Kiska (from the Russian киска, meaning “kitty”)
  • Kiska Face
  • Kiska Butt
  • Butt
  • Bunny
  • Bunny Butt
  • Zayats (from the Russian заяц, meaning “hare” or “rabbit”)
  • Zai

This list has been seven years in the making.

But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover–
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

— T.S. Eliot, “The Naming of Cats”