But I'm of the pro-cat persuasion. My own cat is of the short-haired silver tabby variety - fairly generic as cats go. My only problem with this is that every time I walk home of an evening I pass the local pet store. And for a few days out of each week there is a lone kitten lying asleep in the cage behind the glass. That kitten calls to me in its peaceful slumber. It cries out to be taken home, to be given the company of fellow creatures, to be part of an extended family which transcends bounds of species, and simply to be loved.
So it was a sense of delight tempered by concern which filled me when I saw the small kitten curled up in Lisa's lap. I'd just entered the Amethyst Coffeehouse, claimed a mug full of Irish Breakfast tea from Galileo, and wandered over to an empty chair when I first noticed it.
Lisa saw my look and smiled up at me. "Found him," she said quietly, stroking the tiny head between the ears.
I opened my eyes wide and asked, "Where?" as I rested my tea on the arm of the chair and sat down slowly.
"In the park by the library," she answered. Her tone turned sour. "Abandoned. His siblings were dead."
"Oww," I felt my face wrinkle in distaste. It had been a cold and intermittently rainy day. "How can anyone do that?"
"I don't know," she shook her head slowly. "I'm just glad I decided to go out for some juice to have with my lunch. The park was pretty empty, with the rain. I don't think anyone else would have noticed until tomorrow."
"It's awful," commented Natasha, who was sitting on the other side of Lisa's wheelchair. I looked at her quizzically, because I knew she was definitely not a cat person. She looked candidly back at me. "I know what you're thinking, but I still think it's a shame that there are people heartless enough to do something like this to defenceless animals, of any type."
Tim spoke up in his soft Irish brogue from across the coffee table. "My Aunt Martha used to take in abandoned animals. She had fifteen cats and six dogs when she died. It took us a while to find homes for all of them. Not many people want aging dobermans. And it seems a lot want to get rid of inconvenient litters had by their pets."
"It's so silly!" Natasha exclaimed, then continued more quietly after Lisa raised a finger to her lips, "People get pets, then refuse to have them neutered, and then wonder what to do when they have babies!"
"Yes," I agreed sadly, "Quite personally, I don't think a person should have pets at all if they can't be bothered to look after them responsibly. It's cruel to the animals, and it causes a terrible social burden with all the suffering and animal welfare which becomes necessary."
"And cats are probably the worst," continued Natasha, "because they go feral so very easily. They get into wild ecosystems and play havoc with populations of small prey animals."
"It's sad, but true," admitted Lisa, looking up from her charge.
Mrs Shelley approached at this moment, bringing a small tray of things from the Amethyst kitchen. She placed it on the coffee table and sat on the table next to it, directly in front of Lisa. "How's our little beastie doing?"
"He seems okay," Lisa manipulated the kitten carefully. "Except I think these chatterboxes woke him up." She flashed a smile, then spotted the items Mrs Shelley had brought. "What do you have there?"
"Dinner. This is lactose-reduced milk," she held up a small carton. "Good for lactose intolerant humans to put in Galileo's coffees, and fine for felines too. And here we have mashed wheat flakes, for bulk. I'll just mix them together to make a mushy mess, and we can squirt it in with this." In her other hand she picked up an oversized syringe with a large plastic nozzle.
"Yeeg," said Tim, "Sounds delicious."
"Heh heh," I chuckled at him, "You're just jealous that she doesn't make you dinner. Speaking of which, I'm starving." I rose from my chair as Mrs Shelley began mixing the kitten food. "I think I'll go fix myself something. I haven't eaten since lunch."
I carried my mug of tea across the House, weaving between other groups of people engaged in their own conversations, towards the kitchen. The kitchen and a small bathroom are the only other rooms on the ground floor of the huge Victorian house in which Amethyst is situated. Since all the other rooms had gone to making the coffeehouse, the main room is quite large and, since the house had been large and well appointed in itself, so is the kitchen.
There's space in the Amethyst kitchen for both an old-fashioned wood burning stove and a new-fangled gas burning one. There are also several handy electric appliances, although Mrs Shelley firmly refuses to have anything to do with microwave ovens. But that doesn't stop people from utilising the kitchen to make themselves a meal, or just a snack, whenever they feel the urge. Lisa uses it to bake her fabulous shortbread, and a few others regularly make absolutely sinful chocolate delicacies which they share with the other guests of the House. We all make a monthly contribution, and Mrs Shelley uses it to keep the pantry and refrigerator well stocked with raw ingredients at all times.
It's a kitchen straight out of a chef's dreams. There's a huge, solid, wooden table in the centre of the room. A thick beam runs across the ceiling, supporting rows of shiny pots and pans from hooks. A wooden rack on one wall contains the knives and cleavers - you can rest the blade of one of those knives on a tomato and it'll cut through it under its own weight, they're kept that sharp. There are bunches of drying herbs from the pots in the bay windows area of the main room (or you can always go cut them fresh). And there's an open fireplace with a medium sized cauldron for preparing thick soups in the cold winter evenings.
I contented myself with making a quick "pizza" using a piece of pita bread as a base. I covered it with some of Galileo's special spiced tomato paste (there's always a supply in the fridge) and about twenty different toppings, including pepperoni, cabanossi, mushrooms, onions, olives, tuna, crab, and three different cheeses (mozzarella, matured cheddar, and a sprinkle of parmesan) - I firmly believe pizza was invented for the express purpose of loading it with as many toppings as possible. Then I put it in the oven for a few minutes, after which it emerged smelling absolutely... well, go try it for yourself.
I brought my dinner back out to the main room, got a tea refill from Galileo, and sat down to eat. Mrs Shelley had gone to chat with some other guests, but Lisa was just getting into the hang of being a mother cat, with encouragement from Natasha and Tim.
"He's sure lapping it up," said Tim, stealing a slice of my pizza.
"Uh-huh," agreed Natasha, "It looks like he'll survive. He looks eager enough at being fed."
"Yes," said Lisa, reaching for a refill of the syringe. I helped her and she smiled a contented, motherly smile at me. "It sure feels good to be able to help a poor little creature like this. One abandoned or torn from its family by the deficiencies in our society and its collective conscience."
I nodded with the mixed feelings of hope for the one we had saved and despair for all the ones we could not. "Yeah. Being able to provide something and doing so is one of the things which we manage to do right occasionally. But there's still one thing I'd like to know."
"What are we going to call him?"
The next couple of hours saw much discussion and many suggestions on this topic, though no clear consensus. The kitten finished his meal, as did I, and we both relaxed as the night wore on - him doing a little more so by falling asleep again in Lisa's lap.
Eventually I decided that I should make my way home. I said my farewells, Natasha leaping to her feet to hug me, and I bending to embrace Lisa around the shoulders without disturbing her passenger. Tim gave me a wave as I walked to the counter, rinsed out my mug, and walked out the door.
The weather had turned even chiller after sunset and the rain was coming down in sheets. And there, huddled on the step, barely out of the rain, was an old man, about in his sixties.
He was lying still, curled very tightly inside his worn jacket. I bent over him and saw that he was asleep. I shook him gently. He immediately woke and flinched away, looking at me defensively.
"Hey, it's all right," I said reassuringly, "I'm not going to do anything to you."
"You ain't gonna kick me out in that?" he asked carefully, indicating the rain with a motion of his head.
"No," I shook my head slowly. "In fact, I'd like to help you out. If you'll let me."
He looked at me suspiciously. "Whattya mean?"
"How would you like some coffee and a hot meal? In there," I indicated the door behind me. "On me. And don't worry, the people are friendly. They won't stare at you or ask you to leave." I extended a hand.
He took it and rose slowly to his feet. "Okay mister. I got nothin' to lose. But why?"
I shrugged. "You need a meal. I can afford more than my own. Now I have a question." I told him my name. "What's yours?"
As I entered Amethyst for the second time that night, this time leading this man into the friendly warmth to be found within, I knew what name we would be giving to Lisa's kitten.