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The Mystique of the Marmalade Cat

Ginger cats, red cats, yellow cats, orange cats, or marmalade cats…call them what you will, they will always occupy a special corner of my heart. Now don’t get me wrong. There is not a cat (or dog, for that matter, or rabbit, guinea pig, iguana or canary—I am working up to tarantulas) that I don’t fall for and immediately upon meeting start envisioning in my own home, sleeping on my own bed, but marmalade cats have that je ne sais quoi that, as the phrase denotes, I cannot really explain. I know I am not alone in this color draw.

So many of my fellow volunteers, upon meeting Katy or Tucker or Sylvia, say the very same thing. Somewhere along the line we all fell in love with a short redheaded stranger. Once you have given your heart to a redhead, I guess you really never forget. You may move on, but the memory never moves out. My redheaded love was a guy-cat named Marilyn. Marilyn came to us when my son was about eight years old. He said there was a cat sleeping in our window box and ruining the flowers. I went out to see, and sure enough, sound asleep on a cushy bed of purple lobelia was a scrawny, beaten up orange cat with notched ears and burrs in his long fur. Not wanting to disturb such deep repose, I suggested that this kitty was probably just having a nap whilst waiting for his owners to come home and let him in. In my heart I knew this was a stray. I could tell from the dirty white paws, the scabbed over ear tip, the bony ribcage, the unkempt fur that there was no soft bed nor soft words awaiting this red-headed kitty. Night came and along with it the “little formless fears” of knowing that the dark brought with it the danger of large raccoons, speeding cars, predatory owls, at 11 p.m. I went downstairs and looked outside to the window box only to find it empty of cat. Not satisfied, I opened the front door and casually in walked our red headed visitor, not with the customary caution of the cat, but with the air of someone coming home to a loving family whose welcome was assured. That was the start of an 8-year-long love affair with the cat that we eventually called Marilyn (after my husband’s red-headed college girlfriend – his idea). No matter his gender (quickly neutered), the name stuck, and Marilyn it was and will always be. He loved us all unconditionally. He loved the mailman, the repairman, the neighborhood kids, and the cable guy, even the vet.

Everyone remarked on his temperament (and his beauty). He went from stray to stay without a hitch. I did my due diligence and checked with the neighbors and the local humane society, but stopped short of an ad in the paper. It was clear that paws other than ours made this match—Marilyn was home. He was a box, drawer and bucket sleeper. His basket was on the kitchen counter. His nighttime quarters consisted of my head. Summer and winter I slept with a furry nightcap. He spoke to me with chirrups and perps. One day I saw he looked a bit thin. Something told me to go immediately to the vet. The diagnosis was advanced kidney cancer. We tried every protocol we could find—to no avail. 6 weeks later he slipped away from us with the quiet grace that was the hallmark of his life. His calm and loving disposition never changed even in the last days when he had a transparent air about him that bespoke the end. No more cats was my cry. I can’t ever…you know the rest. One day I opened my front door and in shot a bundle of wet long hair with a wild look in its bright yellow eyes. It thumped up on a living room chair and promptly went sound asleep. This was my introduction to Rocky, our now 12-year-old Maine Coon. But that is another story.

Meanwhile, if you have a heart to give, visit Katy, Sylvia or Tucker and see if a marmalade cat will steal your heart! Or perhaps you are a tabby or tuxedo kind of cat person. A lover of quiet grey or dramatic ebony? We have those too. They are at the Center as I type, waiting to wiggle into your heart and your home. Go on, give in. Visit the Center and prepare to fall in love. CC

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