RALEIGH — A few key questions can be trusted to divide humankind into neat groups: Star Wars or Star Trek; smooth or chunky peanut butter; dogs or cats.
For me, its always been Star Wars, chunky and dogs. At one time, I owned three canines. At the same time, my parents had four and my sister had two. Thats nine dogs at Thanksgiving dinner.
So imagine the predicament that rose in my household when my 6-year-old son wrote his Christmas list with a single wish:
I want a cat. I will feeb it.
Cat Stevens? Katmandu?
No. The shed-on-your-sweater, pee-in-a-box kind.
The head-scratching began. Weve always been dog people. How had we raised a cat person? Was it Puss in Boots and all his related paraphernalia? Didnt he get enough enjoyment out of our 16-year-old Labrador, who barely moves?
First came the resistance. No way. Weve been to cat peoples houses. They ... well ... how to say this? ... they can possess a strong fragrance if youre less than vigilant. Plus, cats are famously aloof. What if Sam wakes up Christmas morning to a pet who wants nothing to do with him?
Then came surrender.
Just look at that plea to Santa Claus written in blue crayon, with the adorable backward d. Do I really want to introduce a 6-year-old to the harsh reality that wishes frequently dont come true? Do I want him to think that letters to the North Pole are a meaningless farce? All because Id prefer an animal that pees outside?
An email from my father, a longtime volunteer for Lab Rescue, cinched it: Get the kid a @#$% cat.
So we drove to Safe Haven for Cats off Durant Road, a group Ive written about before. Back in 2008, when I met Pam Miller, her no-kill shelter had just taken in 32 cats from an animal hoarder on a family farm. Theyd been crammed inside chicken-wire cages, eyes cloudy with waste fumes and paws cemented with old litter.
Safe Haven has adopted out more than 5,000 cats in the last 20 years and sterilized 15,000 more. Theyre good guys, and they introduced us to Tomas.
Big and orange, formerly feral, he curled up and sat in my lap. Here was a pet a boy could enjoy, a warm, purring companion for math homework and movies.
But while we spent time getting introduced, a black paw kept jutting out of a nearby cage, as if coming from an eager student raising his hand Arnold Horshack-style from the back row. Look at me!
Out came Brunner, smaller, black and white, one of eight cats dumped at Safe Havens door in November. He batted at fingers, toys, elbows, everything, showing off all his tricks. Pick me, judge. Im the best one.
Our only real standard for a cat was that it show undying affection, and that it behave and I apologize in advance for saying this in a doglike way.
Brunner won. Hes going to be so much fun. I cant wait to see Sams face. I almost feel like weve gotten him a brother. By the way, if you see Sam before Christmas, dont tell him. Its a surprise and stuff.
We are cat people now. We join your whiskered ranks. We will feeb it.