Cat calls, sniffles and snuffles

Cats make me sick.

Before I send cat lovers over the edge (and I’m pretty sure many of them are already pretty darn close already), I should clarify. I don’t mean I hate cats; I mean that they make me physically ill. If I am in a cat person’s house, within a few minutes, I start to choke up, my eyes start to water and my skin feels like it’s crawling. Cats are my Kryptonite.

I grew up in a family with a lot of allergies. My brothers and I were allergic to pollen, ragweed, wool and tree dust. We walked around with paper masks on in the spring, like we were expecting to ride a Japanese subway. My mother cleaned incessantly in hopes of keeping dust down. It didn’t work. We went through a box of Kleenex a day.

Luckily, one of our neighbors was a drug rep for the company that made Benadryl, which was at the time a prescription medication. Knowing that my mother had given birth to a horde of wheezing little brats, he took pity and regularly dropped off plain cardboard boxes loaded with little unmarked bottles, all filled with little red-and-white pills. My mother kept the boxes by the kitchen sink, and every time one of us sneezed, we were encouraged to pop a pill, no matter how drowsy it made us. As a result, we stumbled around the house, bleary-eyed and slack-jawed. It looked like an opium den that catered exclusively to children.

The cat problem is especially important to me because my college-age son moved back home this fall and wanted to bring his cat, Swiper, with him. I balked. It would be like asking a kid with a peanut allergy to share his room with Mr. Peanut. I offered my son a choice: He could move into the house if we found a new home for the cat, or, if he couldn’t bear to send the cat away, he could live in the garage. He chose the garage.

While a 20-year-old might be content to live in a structure meant for storage, a cat isn’t. All fall, I would have to deal with the sight of Swiper at our kitchen door, peering in, trying to make eye contact and meowing pitifully. Or at least I assumed he was meowing pitifully. It’s hard to hear him through the glass. I mouthed back, “Go away!” and kept walking. Because I’m pretty sure cats can’t read lips, I accompanied this with making an exaggerated “Shoo, shoo!” gesture with my hands. I am just grateful that cats aren’t tall enough to ring door bells.

My wife, who doesn’t seem to be allergic to much and who doesn’t understand why I would be allergic to anything, dismisses me as a hypochondriac. She also has a soft spot for pets. We already have a dog in the house, a West Highland terrier named Sophie, who sleeps on my pillow when I’m out of town. (I know this because my wife sends me pictures of Sophie dozing on my pillow.) As a result, I have a bottle of Benadryl on the bedside table.

To make matters worse, every once in a while now, I’ll come walking though the house to find Swiper walking the other way. He nods as he passes like it’s no big deal.

“Hey!” I’ll yell, “Who let HIM in!” My wife will give me an innocent shrug and tell me that she has no idea — somehow the cat just slips in when nobody’s looking!

This ongoing battle has been going on all fall, until a few weeks ago. In addition to dismissing my (severe!) health issue, my wife has a tendency to “pocket dial” me from her cell phone. I have saved messages of her singing in the car, typing at work and, every once in a while, talking about me.

The other week, though, I was getting ready to leave my office late and saw my message light on. It was a three-minute recording from just a few minutes before. The message started with my wife pulling into the driveway, turning off her car and getting out, then a rustling noise, and then the sound of her dragging in the trash barrels our son had forgotten to take in. Then came the worst part.

“Hey, Swiper!” she called out, “Come here, Babeee!” I heard her clump up on the back porch deck. “Come on, sweetie! It’s so cold out here! Come inside! Heeere, Swipey! Come on inside ….”

As the door closed, my jaw dropped and I sat down.

I put my head on my desk, reached out for my pill bottle and gave thanks that you can now get Benadryl without a prescription.

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