Buy Photo

Alex Horvath / The Californian

Columnist Valerie Schultz

My parents not being cat people, I did not grow up with cats. We were a dog family, although my younger siblings managed a succession of outdoor cats after I grew up and moved out of the house.

My husband, on the other hand, did grow up with cats. He is both a cat lover and a cat rescuer. He gradually, sneakily, warmed me up to cats. Our first cat together, Zoot, was a Siamese mix whose mother was eaten by coyotes when Zoot and his brother were only days old.

His brother didn't make it, but my then-fiance took Zoot in and tenderly fed him around the clock with an eyedropper. I found myself helping. Zoot grew stronger, and I, by then a newlywed, became a cat co-owner.

But not exactly a cat lover.

I am still primarily a dog person. I have found that, like the tragic hero of classic literature, every cat seems to have its tragic flaw.

Take Zoot: He was a delightful cat, except that he had a chronically runny nose. When he snuggled in your lap and purred, his nose dripped and left a wet spot. It was colorless and odorless and dried without leaving a mark, but still. It was something about him that had to be explained, especially to overnight guests, with whom he always wanted to sleep. Our next cat, a black cat named Otis, spent his time running away. He once disappeared for several weeks, returning only after we had carefully explained to our young daughters about the untimely and arbitrary nature of death. At one point, we discovered that Otis was leading a double life as the pet of a disturbed neighbor, who'd named him Satan. Another Siamese mix, Sammy, thought it was a good idea to mark our bed: disgusting. Our tabby cat Milo could be counted on to try to bite, with neither provocation nor warning, the children of our friends. See? It's always something, with every cat.

Our present cat, Mowgli, is pretty mellow, although he has stranger-anxiety. He hides whenever we have company, so people don't know we even have a cat. When we adopted him, the woman who was giving away kittens told us, after we'd selected Mowgli and had him in our car, that her kids had named this black kitten Charlie. "For Charles Manson!" she cackled unpleasantly as we drove away quickly. Luckily for us, Mowgli has shown no sociopathic tendencies. His tragic flaw is his hair.

Mowgli just has too much hair. I'm not only saying that he sheds a lot. I'm saying that he is a fluff ball monster, requiring serious attention. His coat is so thick and lush that he appears three times bigger than his body without hair actually is. His ever-growing coat gets dense and matted and clumpy and tangled, and it collects all sorts of stuff on his explorations outside, which then gets scattered throughout the house. Mowgli sprouts extra hair in the winter, so that although my husband faithfully brushes him every day, by summer, he is an unholy mess.

Which brings us to the subject of shaving the cat. In summers past, the cost to have Mowgli shaved has been about two hundred bucks, because the vet staff has to sedate him to get any work done (he shows them his Manson side), and sedation requires a physical: If you are a pet owner, you know how the charges add up fast. Last summer, we skipped the shaving. My husband spent much time grooming Mowgli and allowing the clumps to work themselves to the surface, where he could them clip them off safely. Throughout this process, however, our cat looked so bedraggled and unkempt that you could have said that he looked like something the cat dragged in, if he weren't already the cat. This summer, things weren't going so well. There was some nastiness accumulating beneath Mowgli's tail, if you get my meaning.

But we felt bad putting him through the trauma of the car ride, the vet visit, and the yearly sedation, not to mention that we were hoping to save two hundred bucks. We looked into shaving him ourselves, at home. How hard could it be? There is a considerable choice of equipment for sale for this task. Fortunately, one of the first things that popped up when my husband Googled the topic of shaving the cat was a humorous article that offered the following advice about shaving your cat yourself: "Don't." Even with the right tools, an amateur shaving of the cat is most likely a dangerous misadventure that will land your cat at the vet's office anyway. And we knew, just from the ordeal of trying to trim the unmentionables around Mowgli's butt, that it was probably a terrible idea.

So two C-notes later, a skinny, Dr.-Seuss-like creature with a poofy face, who we refer to as "Alien Bob" now skulks around our house. After sedation and a close shave, Mowgli seems to find his lion-cut comfortable, if humiliating. His true tragic flaw is that he is an expensive companion, but we love him anyway.