When we met Bingley, he was in jail for vagrancy.
At the shelter they couldn’t tell us why someone found him alone, only that a man had turned in this stray cat at the local shelter. They told us that he was between a year and two years old, but couldn’t say if his people had too many cats, or if he had bitten someone, or if he had just strayed away. His paw pads were perfectly pink and soft and clean, so he hadn’t had a rough life for a long time. He was already long and thin–not starved, but hardly overfed, either.
My wife asked to see a dog-cat, a cat with the friendly, interactive traits of a dog.
The kind woman there said, “I have just the cat for you,” and she brought him out.
He ran up to my wife, jumped in her lap, and buried his face in the crook of her elbow, and he sat there cuddling for twenty minutes. When she put him down, he came over to me and did the same. Then he looked me right in the eyes and said nothing, but his look said, “I want to go home with you.”
In case you’re wondering, he’s a buff tabby with white ascot and socks and jade-green eyes.
“Let’s see if we can find another: he may need a buddy,” my wife said. The volunteer brought out a few other cats and some toys. I picked up a fuzzy ball and tossed it to Bingley, and he began to bat it around. One of the other cats came over and looked interested. Bingley batted the ball to him, and sat back to watch as the second cat played with it. I had never seen that behavior before: a cat sharing his toys. A good sign . . .
We couldn’t take him home that night–we had to go through the adoption paperwork and the checking of our references–but we got him in a couple days and took him home. None of the other cats seemed to want to interact with us, though they played with one another readily enough. Bingley wanted to cling to my shoulder, but we had to put him in the carrier for the ride home. He didn’t like the confined space of the carrier, but he still said nothing.
When we got him home, he got out of the carrier and again climbed immediately on my shoulder. We gave him a tour of the house and set him down in my study, which has a window out to the front garden: the volunteers had told us not to give him run of the house, but to keep him in one room for a couple days until he got accustomed to us and our home. We gave him food and water regularly, and he got blankets and toys, and we told him he could use the books or the computer in the if he wanted to.
On his first morning home, I went in to see if he was ready to come out. He had disappeared.
I looked all over the room, everywhere except behind the bookcase. I thought he couldn’t be there, because from my point of view the bookcase sat right up against the wall.
He had tucked himself in behind the bookcase.
I asked him if he wanted to come out for breakfast, and he came right out.
He has always been a food hound.
After the first day, we left the door to his room (formerly my study) open, but he didn’t come out until the third day, though we would stand poised by the door looking out. And he still hadn’t said anything. But at last he began to explore the house.
A few days later he told me his name. At the shelter they had named him Pilot. That didn’t work. I tried calling him that, and he gave nothing close to a response. Would you? When I heard the name, it made me think of “Pilate,” and while I’ve always thought Pontius Pilate got a bad rap in the Bible, I couldn’t call a cat by that name. So we tried every reasonable name we could think of from Spot to Shostakovich. Nothing worked.
One evening my wife and I were sitting on the couch watching Pride and Prejudice, our favorite version with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. Bingley, then still Nameless, jumped up and sat between us. That in itself was a big step: he hadn’t yet got up onto anything except us–perhaps his time in jail, caged, had kept his thoughts low to the ground. But he sat and watched the movie with us.
Shortly Austen’s character Bingley appeared on screen. You may know the character: unfailingly kind and pleasant, and everyone likes him. And the thought struck me: he’s just like the cat!
I turned to the cat: “Is that you? Are you Bingley?”
He looked back at me, then scrunched his eyes closed, nodded, and spoke to me for the first time: nothing dramatic yet, just a confirmatory “mmrow.” Then he turned his head back and watched the rest of the show.
He doesn’t watch much television, but he likes Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and tennis.
From that day he has answered to the name “Bingley,” which he chose for himself, and so far he has lived with us for more than eight and a half years, our devoted dog-cat.